Remembering a Revolutionary Hero
By Pamela Moore, student, SUNY Empire State College
May 5, 2016
Countless Revolutionary War stories are filled with instances of honor, bravery, patriotism, heroism and even personal sacrifice by soldiers whose names aren’t as recognizable as those of Washington, Jefferson, Adams or Franklin. Today, May 3, 2016 members of the Daughters of the American Revolutions traveled from all corners of New York and some surrounding states to honor the hero of one such story, Margaret “Captain Molly” Cochran Corbin, on the 90th anniversary of her re-interment. Though the skies were misty and overcast, the ceremony at the Old Cadet Chapel on West Point grounds was made vivid, as a blue-and-yellow floral wreath was placed upon her grave and the cadet honor guard provided a gun salute before the solemn sound of taps filled the cemetery grounds. Corbin’s ceremony was a fitting representation of what the DAR stands for – to honor patriots, remember their stories and never forget that our freedom was earned through much sacrifice and strife by so many.
Corbin, like many other wives and children, accompanied her husband, John, on his duty with the Continental Army, where he was stationed at Fort Washington in northern Manhattan. On Nov. 16, 1776, nearly 4,000 Hessian and British forces assaulted Fort Washington, overwhelming the mere 500 Continental soldiers. When her husband, a gunner, was shot and killed by enemy forces, Corbin didn’t stop to grieve. Instead, she took up his position at the cannon, loading and helping to fire off the six-pound cannon until she too was shot, sustaining serious wounds to her cheek and left side, including her arm, shoulder and chest. Reports confirmed that her cannon was the last to fall silent that day. She was taken prisoner when the fort was captured and, alongside the remaining wounded Continental soldiers, was treated medically and paroled, before returning home to Pennsylvania.
Corbin never fully recovered from the devastating wounds, nor did she regain use of her left arm. Eventually, the Continental Congress awarded her a half-pay pension for the rest of her natural life, making her the first woman to receive such a payout. Letters from General Henry Knox document that she had special care needs, particularly with bathing and dressing. She was listed in the Invalid Corps and placed in the care of a woman known as Mrs. Putnam, in what is now Highland Falls, N.Y., right outside the gates of the United States Military Academy at West Point.
Corbin was only 49 when she died in 1800 and was buried on a hill above the Hudson River with no honors or ceremony, and only a simple stump to mark her grave. Time and history nearly forgot her, but due to the persistence of the New York State Chapter of the DAR, her overgrown grave was finally identified in 1926. Her remains were placed in a silk-lined casket, draped with an American flag and moved to West Point, where a surgeon identified Corbin’s body from the heavy bone damage. She then was buried with full military honors next to the Old Cadet Chapel and a large monument now stands in testament to her fortitude in the face of certain defeat.
As a genealogy and history buff, when I discovered I had a Revolutionary War patriot in my family tree, I joined the DAR. The organization’s mission is to promote patriotism, preserve American history and secure America's future through better education for children. Members volunteer countless hours to their communities on beautification projects, provide memorial markers for patriots, contribute to restoration and heritage projects, maintain historic sites and work to identify and honor Revolutionary War patriots in their local areas.
For more information about the DAR, its causes or how to research a patriot in your own family tree, go to www.DAR.org.