Margaret Cochran Corbin (1751-1800)

MARGARET COCHRAN CORBIN

After taking over her husband’s cannon in battle on Manhattan Island, now called Ft. Washington, New York, Margaret Corbin was badly wounded. She was the first woman to receive a military pension. 

Margaret Cochran Corbin was born November 12, 1751.  Margaret was orphaned at a young age following an Indian attack in which her father was killed; her mother never returned after being taken captive.  Luckily, Margaret and her brother were visiting their uncle at the time of the attack. He ended up adopting them. 

In 1772 Margaret Cochran married John Corbin.  Three years after they married, John Corbin joined the militia.  Instead of staying at home, Corbin decided to follow her husband to war. She earned money by cooking and doing laundry for soldiers. She also helped take care of the sick and wounded. 

During the Battle at Fort Washington on November 16, 1776, Corbin went with her husband onto the battlefield.  Her husband was a matross, which meant he loaded the cannon.  Corbin helped him with this task.  After her husband’s partner was killed, he took over firing the cannon, and Corbin began loading the cannon.  Her husband was also killed, but Corbin continued firing the cannon alone.  Other soldiers took notice of her excellent aim. Unfortunately, so did the British who were soon targeting her with their own cannons.  The British eventually won this battle but Corbin’s cannon was the last one to stop firing. 

Corbin was later found in critical condition She was wounded with three musket balls and grapeshot.  Her jaw and chest were damaged and her left arm was almost severed.  She was unable to use her left arm for the rest of her life.  After she recovered, Corbin joined the Invalid Regiment at West Point.  Here, she performed many helpful tasks such as cooking and laundry with the other wounded soldiers. 

Corbin was poor and had no way to earn a living. Because of her injuries, Corbin had trouble bathing and dressing and needed special care. On June 26, 1776 the state of Pennsylvania gave Corbin $30.00 to help with her expenses in recognition of her bravery.  Still, this money did not go far.  Corbin had trouble getting along with the other women in town and she was said to be unfriendly and unclean.  She spent most of her time at the post smoking and conversing with soldiers. 

The Philadelphia Society of Women planned to erect a monument honoring Corbin as the first heroine of the Battle of New York.  However, when they met with her they discovered that she was a rough woman who was poor and drank too much and decided to cancel the monument. 

On July 6, 1779, the Continental Congress awarded her with a lifelong pension equivalent to half of the amount a man would receive.  She was the first woman to receive a pension.  She also received an outfit of clothing when she joined the Invalid Regiment and later received an annual clothing allowance.

Corbin remarried a fellow wounded soldier in 1782 but he died a year later.  Still much in need, Corbin requested a rum ration, which was often given to soldiers.  She was given this rum ration and the government even added in some back pay. 

Because she was well respected for her acts of bravery, many officials were compassionate and eager to help.  Her needs were recorded in the correspondence between General Henry Knox and Quartermaster William Price, which later resulted in someone to help her bathe and dress.  All of the help Corbin received from the government clearly indicates how highly her military contemporaries thought of her and appreciated her acts of bravery.  Though Corbin never got her monument, today three commemorative plaques celebrating the Revolutionary war heroine can be found in the area near the Fort Washington battle site.

Margaret Corbin’s story was passed down by local villagers and in 1926, almost 150 years later, her remains were rediscovered.  Her body was identified by the wounds she incurred in the famous battle.  She was then reburied with full military honors at West Point.  She was the only Revolutionary War veteran honored in this way. 

 

Additional Resources:


Books:

  • Berkin, Carol.  Revolutionary Mothers:  Women in the Struggle for America’s Independence.  (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005).  Diamant, Lincoln, Ed.  Revolutionary Women: In the War For American Independence. (Westport: Praeger, 1998).
  • Resmond, Shirley Raye.  Patriots in Petticoats: Heroines of the American Revolution.  (New York:  Random House Children’s Books, 2004).
  • Roberts, Cokie.  Founding Mothers:  The Women Who Raised Our Nation.  (New York:  HarperCollins Publishers Inc., 2004). 
  • Weatherford, Doris.  American Women's History. (Prentice Hall General Reference, 1994).

Works Cited:

 

Biography researched and written by NWHM Intern of Summer 2006 Albrey Diece