By Frank R. Stockton
Originally published in 1896
This Web version, edited by GET NJ, COPYRIGHT 2003
The next day General Greene went to Molly, whom he found in very much the condition in which she had left the battlefield, stained with dirt and powder, with her fine feathers gone and her cocked hat dilapidated, and conducted her, just as she was, to General Washington. When the commander in chief, heard what she had done, he gave her warm words of praise. He determined to bestow upon her a substantial reward ; for any one who was brave enough and able enough to step in and fill an important play, as Molly had filled her husband's place, certainly deserved a reward. It was not according to the rules of war to give a commission to a woman; but, as Molly had acted the part of a man, Washington considered it right to pay her for her services as if she had been a man. He therefore gave her the commission of sergeant, and recommended that her name be placed on the list of half-pay officers for life.
Every one in the army soon came to hear of the exploit of Molly Pitcher, and it was not long before she was called Captain Molly. The officers of the French regiment on the American side were particularly pleased with this act of heroism in a woman, and invited Molly to review their troops; and as she walked down the long line of soldiers, nearly every man put a piece of money in the cocked hat which she held in her hand.
This was the last battlefield on which Molly Pitcher appeared, but it had not been her first. Not long before, she had been with her husband in Fort Clinton when it was attacked by a very large force of the British. After a vigorous defense, the Americans found that it was impossible to defend the fort, and a retreat was ordered. As the soldiers were rushing out of the rear of the fort, Molly's husband turned away from his gun, threw down his match, a piece of rope soaked in combustible substances, and slowly burning at one end, which was used in those days for discharging cannon, and ran for his life. Molly prepared to follow him; but as she saw the glowing match on the ground, and knew that her husband's gun was loaded, she could not resist the desire to take one more crack at the enemy. So she stopped for an instant, picked up the match, touched off the gun, and dashed away after her husband. The cannon which then blazed out in the face of the advancing British was the last gun which the Americans fired in Fort Clinton.
Molly did not meet with the reward which was accorded so many other Jersey women who were of benefit to their State and country. She died not long after the close of the war; and if she had known that she was to be famous as one of the heroes of the Revolution, there is no doubt that she would have hoped that people would be careful to remember that it was a man's service that she did to the country, and not a woman's.
But Captain Molly was not the only Jersey woman who was willing to act a man's part in the War for Independence. Among those of whom there is historical mention was Mrs. Jinnie Waglum, who lived near Trenton. At the time when Washington was arranging to march upon Princeton, she was visiting her friend, whose husband was the landlord of The True American Inn, just out of Trenton; and this tavern was Washington's headquarters at the time. In this way Mrs. Jinnie heard of the intended advance; and she also heard that there was no one in the American forces who knew the country well enough to conduct the army from Trenton to Princeton by any route except the highways, on which the advance would he observed by the enemy.
She therefore sent word to Washington that she would guide the army if he wished, and that there was no one who knew the country better than she did. Washington was a man who had sense enough to avail himself of good service whenever it was offered; and when he had made inquiries about Mrs. Waglum, he was perfectly willing to put his army under her guidance, and very glad indeed that she had offered her services.
When a woman acts the part of a man, it is not surprising that she likes to look like a man; so Mrs. Jinnie put on a soldier's coat and a soldier's hat, and, mounting a horse, she headed the Continental army, commanded by Washington. This was a proud position, but she was equal to it; and on she rode, with all the cavalry and the infantry and the artillery and the general and staff following behind her. She took them along by Sand Town and Quaker Bridge, by roads over which she had often traveled; and the American army reached Princeton in good time for the battle which took place next day.
"History of New Jersey." J. C. Raum.
"Historical Collections." Barber and Howe.