Questions about the validity of the Molly Pitcher legend bring up a broader gap in our understanding of military affairs during the era of the American Revolution: we have anecdotal evidence that soldiers’ wives were sometimes on the battlefield, but we don’t really know if this was common or rare, accepted or anomalous, sanctioned or surreptitious. Joseph Plumb Martin’s popular mention of a woman assisting a cannon crew focuses on the cannonball passing between her legs as being remarkable, rather than her very presence being noteworthy. Although a British officer noted that hostile fire had “killed and wounded about 20 Soldiers and a Woman a Grenadiers Wife,” he provided no details on the specific circumstances. References such as these are rare and leave us not knowing whether such events themselves were rare, or were so commonplace that they didn’t get mentioned. It is well-known that army wives were an integral part of army infrastructure in the roles of nurses, sutlers and washer women, but their place on the day of battle is little known.
There is a case of a soldier’s wife playing a role in a battle that has been largely overlooked in the lore of the Revolution. Perhaps it is because the battle itself is little-known that the event hasn’t been widely related; perhaps it is because she was the wife of a British soldier that this brave woman has not been hailed as a hero. The event took place at the Battle of Trois-Rivières (Three Rivers) on 8 June 1776, part of the rout of American forces that had attempted to seize Canada from British control the previous year. Soon after the battle a British officer wrote about it in a letter to his patron in Great Britain, closing with these remarkable paragraphs:
I must not omit telling your Lordship of one Instance of Courage that was shown at Trois Rivieres by a fair Country woman of ours, that deserves to be recorded. The wife of Middleton Soldier in the 47th Regt. quite alone took & disarmed six Provincial Soldiers, & was the means of two more being taken also. The Circumstances are thus, which [she] related to Genl. Burgoyne in my Presence. She said she went to a House about a quarter of a Mile from the River near the Wood, for some Milk to carry to her Husband the 8th of June during the Engagemt. That on opening the Door she saw six Rebel Soldiers armed, that this daunted her a little, however she took Courage, & rated them saying, “Ay’nt ye ashamed of yourselves ye villains to be fighting agst. your King & Countrymen” that they looked sheepish, therefore she said, you are all Prisoners give me your Arms, that two more remained at the Outside of the back Door, which she was more afraid of than all the rest, that however standing between them, & their Arms, she called to some Sailors at the River Side, to whom she delivered the Prisoners, & who presently took the other two.
This is exactly true, & she is, contrary to what you wou’d imagine her, a very modest, decent well looking Woman.
We’ve found no other account substantiating Mrs. Middleton’s feat, but given the closeness of the account to the actual event there is no reason to doubt its veracity. A Robert Middleton was in the ranks of the 47th Regiment at this time and had a long career in the army; unfortunately there are no surviving records showing which British soldiers were married, and at this writing no other specific reference to Mrs. Middleton has been found – not even her first name. Sadly, hers is a common case, as references to individuals among the several thousand British army wives in America are extremely rare.
Noteworthy in this record of Mrs. Middleton’s feat is that it doesn’t suggest her very presence as remarkable; that she was seeking refreshment for her husband seems to be mentioned strictly to provide context for the important aspects of the story. This lends credence to the notion that the women water-bearers of popular lore were not unusual even though primary sources seldom mention them. More information is needed before we can draw conclusions.
Regardless of prevalence, there is an interesting irony to the tales of women on the battlefields of the American Revolution: Molly Pitcher, who probably never existed, has become a cornerstone of the war’s history, while Mrs. Middleton, whose bravery is clearly documented, has been forgotten.
 Martin wrote: “A woman whose husband belonged to the artillery and who was then attached to a piece in the engagement, attended with her husband at the piece for the whole time. While in the act of reaching a cartridge and having one of her feet as far before the other as she could step, a cannon shot from the enemy passed directly between her legs without doing any other damage than carrying away all the lower part of her petticoat. Looking at it with apparent unconcern, she observed that it was lucky It did not pass a little higher, for in that case it might have carried away something else, and continued her occupation” Joseph Plumb Martin, Ordinary Courage: The Revolutionary War Adventures of Joseph Plumb Martin (Chichester, England: John Wiley & Sons, 2013) 88.
 This occurred in New Jersey on June 22, 1777 in a skirmish that began “where the Quibbletown Road meets and turns into the Amboy Road.” “Journal of the Operations of the American Army under General Sir William Howe from the Evacuation of Boston to the end of the Campaign of 1776” (this document also includes a journal of operations in New Jersey, June 11 – July 31, 1777). British Library, Egerton Manuscripts.
 Robert Middleton was born in Carlow, Ireland around 1736. He was already in the 47th Regiment when that corps arrived in America in 1773, and transferred into the 8th Regiment of Foot in 1782. He later served in the Carlow Militia, and received a military pension in 1800 at the age of 66 after 35 years and 10 months of service (not necessarily continuous). Muster rolls, 47th Regiment of Foot, WO 12/5871; discharge of Robert Middleton, WO 121/149/63; both in The National Archives, Kew, England.