Thursday, 5 February 2015

Margaret Cochran Corbin - First female Revolutionary War heroine.

Margaret Cochran Corbin (Captain Molly) 1751 - 1800

Margaret Corbin was the first woman to fight in the American Revolutionary War. On November 16, 1776 she and her husband, John Corbin, both from Philadelphia, along with some 600 American soldiers, were defending Fort Washington in northern Manhattan from 4,000 attacking Hessian troops under British command. John and Margaret crewed one of two cannons the defenders possessed. After her husband was killed, Margaret took over firing his cannon until she was seriously wounded. Three years later, she became the first woman in the United States to receive a pension from Congress.

In 1751, Margaret Corbin was not born into a life of luxury and ease, but into a hardy Scotch-Irish (Ulster-Scots) family on the frontier in what was then, Cumberland County. In June of 1756, during the 'French & Indian War' her father Robert Cochran was killed and scalped during the 'Ft. Bigham Massacre' in the Tuscarora Valley, while her mother and her brother, were also taken captive by the Indians during the same attack and never returned. Orphaned at five years old, Margaret and another brother, John, were raised by a maternal uncle. 

Fort Bigham was located between forts Granville & Patterson

Margaret grew up to be strong and tall, she was five feet, eight inches in height. She met a Virginian farmer named John Corbin, and in 1772 they got married. They lived in Franklin County.

 Four years later, during the outbreak of the Revolutionary War John Corbin joined a unit in the army; the Pennsylvania Artillery, Continental Line. Margaret went too. She became a camp follower. Camp followers were women, men, and children who followed after a group of soldiers. They helped by carrying bundles, cooking for the soldiers, mending and washing their clothes, and caring for the sick and wounded. When there was a battle most camp followers stayed in the camp. Margaret went to the battlefield to help her husband.  

Fort Washington, New York

On November 16, 1776 John’s division was stationed at Fort Washington, New York. This was an important fort on Manhattan Island. John was stationed at a pair of cannons on Forest Hill. The fort was attacked by Hessian troops (German auxiliaries) under British command. When John Corbin was hit and killed, Margaret took his place at the cannon, she continued loading and firing the cannon by herself until finally she was severely wounded by grapeshot which tore apart her shoulder, mangled her chest and lacerated her jaw. The fort was eventually captured by the British, the wounded American soldiers were later paroled.

Margaret Corbin gravely wounded at the Battle of Washington Fort
'Captain Molly', as she became known, never fully recovered from her wounds. She was left disfigured and without use of her left arm for the rest of her life.  In 1779, the Continental Congress granted her a pension ("half the pay and allowances of a soldier in service") due to her distinguished bravery. She continued to be included on regimental muster lists until the end of the war in 1783. Margaret Cochran Corbin died near West Point, New York prior to her 50th birthday. 

Margaret's burial & memorial site at West Point
In 1926, the Daughters of the American Revolution had her remains moved from an obscure grave and re-interred with full military honours at West Point military academy where they also erected a monument to her. She was the only Revolutionary War veteran honored in this way.  Near the place of the battle, in Fort Tryon Park in New York City, a bronze plaque commemorates Margaret Corbin "the first American woman to take a soldier's part in the War for Liberty"

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