Getting back to my earlier blog posts about Molly Pitcher and the question of female war heroes -- how they are portrayed and why we celebrate their achievements (or don't)... I discovered in my internet perambulations a wonderful article by Ray Raphael, which I'll direct you to here.
While you should read the full article (it isn't that long and it is fascinating), I'll offer a brief synopsis (more of a teaser) here. Raphael argues that the "real" Molly Pitcher was Margaret Corbin, the somewhat coarse character who was injured in battle. He further presents evidence that the name Molly Pitcher comes not from the battlefield but from a fortune teller in Lynn, Massachusetts. From these two sources, an entirely mythical beast was born: the Molly Pitcher of the battle of Monmouth.
Not only was this article fascinating for understanding the basis of the legend of Molly Pitcher, but it illustrates several points about female war heroism. As I've said before, we are more comfortable with "dainty" and "proper" sorts of heroes. Raphael points out that pitchers would have been impractical on the battlefield; pails and buckets were more likely (indeed, even the Currier and Ives prints show a bucket in the background!). But the image seems more feminine: a woman traversing the battlefield with a pitcher in hand... it's almost like she's serving someone at a table. That's much more appropriate than the truth. And that's why Deborah Sampson is so troublesome: she doesn't fit those "dainty" boundaries and even myth couldn't remake her story in an appropriately feminine way.
There's also the detail that the legends of Molly Pitcher weren't invented or popularized until the 1830s. When they were told, they were presented as truth. Each generation likes to make the past over in its own image. I have no trouble with this when its done under the name of historical fiction (or just fiction). In fact, that, to me, is often what good fiction does: it translates. It makes sense of something (from the past or not) and explains it in the context of the author's world. The danger of the Molly Pitcher legend is that it became accepted as truth and, in doing so, obscured the reality of the women who did serve in the war or who followed the army. It is these women whose stories need to be told.