Mid-Atlantic Irwin’s helped create history during countries bid for independence

Final rsesting place of "Molly Pitcher", Carlsile Old Graveyard. Soldier; "Capt" Dylan Thomas A.O.H.Photo by Dave Thomas

Final rsesting place of “Molly Pitcher”, Carlsile Old Graveyard. Soldier; “Capt” Dylan Thomas A.O.H.Photo by Dave Thomas

I’ve been researching early Pennsylvania history for an article I’m working on for the Army, specifically Pennsylvania’s contribution to the Early American Army (Continental Army created June 14, 1775)
And as luck would have it I found some interesting Irwin ties. I’ve already posted articles about General (Dr.) William Irvine, but there is more to his story. More on that in a minute.
The first commissioned Col in the new Army was William Thompson, and his battalion came to be known as Thompson’s Rifle battalion or the 1st Pennsylvania battalion. This unit saw action in every major battle of the war and were deadly marksmen, using the Pennsylvania long rifle in lieu of the muskets issued to most units. Pvt. Murphy from this unit is credited with firing the shot that caused the surrender at Yorktown.
As the unit enlisted its ranks from central PA, its’ ranks swelled with Irish and Scotch-Irish (Ulster Scots) and went on to enlist German immigrants in Berks county. Well as history would have it one Charles Irwin was one of the first to enlist, so far I have no other information regarding other than he was not captured or killed while in the battalion.

Other officers that served during the period (and if their home of record is known) are Capt. James Irvin (Philadelphia county), Quartermaster General Mathew Irvin, James Irvine, Major General and Commander at Fort Pitt, Lt. Col. Samuel Irvine (Cumberland county), Captain James Irwin (Cumberland county), Captain Samuel Irwin (York) Captain Nathaniel Irwin (Chester).

So now with the rest of the story, many know the story of Molly Pitcher hero of the battle of Monmouth, who took over her husband’s cannon position when he became wounded. She is also known as Mary Ludwig Hays McCauly, Mary Hays, Mary Ludwig (or Ludwick), Mary McCauly (various spellings), Sergeant Molly, Captain Molly. Her grave is now located in Carlisle alongside other Revolutionary heroes, like William Thompson.

So how does she tie in with the Irwin family? Well About 1769, Mary went to Carlisle, Pennsylvania, to be a servant to the family of Anna and Dr. William Irvine. (did I ever mention that the author is William and my wife Anna? go figure.) There, she married William Hays (or John Casper Hays, according to some sources) on July 24, 1769.

Dr. Irvine organized a boycott of British goods in response to the British Tea Act in 1774; William Hayes was listed as one helping with the boycott. On December 1, 1775, William Hays enlisted in the First Pennsylvania Regiment of Artillery, in a unit commanded by Dr. Irvine (also called General Irwin in some sources). A year later, January 1777, he joined the 7th Pennsylvania Regiment.
After her husband’s enlistment, Mary Hays first stayed in Carlisle, then joined her parents where she was closer to her husband’s regiment. Mary became a camp follower, one of the many women attached to a military camp to take care of support tasks such as laundry, cooking, sewing and other tasks.

In 1778, William Hays trained as an artilleryman under Baron von Steuben; the camp followers were taught to serve as water girls.

William Hays was with the 7th Pennsylvania Regiment when, as part of George Washington’s army, the Battle of Monmouth was fought with British troops on June 28, 1778. William (John) Hays’ job was to load the cannon, wielding a ramrod. According to the stories told later, Mary Hays was among the women bringing pitchers of water to the soldiers, to cool the soldiers as well as to cool the cannon and soak the rammer rag.

On that hot day, carrying water, the story told is that Mary saw her husband collapse — whether from the heat or from being wounded is not clear, though he certainly was not killed — and stepped in to clean the ramrod and load the cannon herself, continuing until the end of the battle that day. In one variation of the story, she helped her husband fire the cannon.

According to the oral tradition, Mary was nearly hit by a musket or cannon ball that sped between her legs and ripped her dress. She is said to have responded, “Well, that could have been worse.”

Supposedly George Washington had seen her action on the field, and after the British retreated unexpectedly rather than continuing the fight the next day, Washington made Mary Hays a non-commissioned officer in the army for her deed. Mary apparently began calling herself “Sergeant Molly” from that day forward.

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2 Responses to Mid-Atlantic Irwin’s helped create history during countries bid for independence

  1. Barb Edelman says:

    Bill,

    Great article. I could be wrong, but the Nathaniel Irwin of Chester Co. is the hero of the Irwin Reunion that Sherrie, Pat, Suzi etc. and I attend every Aug. This group has cleaned up and maintained the Seceder Cemetery and Clan Irwin contributed toward a gorgeous plaque for the wall surrounding the cemetery. I think the reunion also restored the wall. The plaque was never mounted on the wall for fear of it being stolen, but it is displayed at the reunion. Some fun.

    How is Ann doing? I hope she is ok.

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