Thursday, June 18, 2015

MARGARET CORBIN the REVOLUTION'S Fort Tryon Heroine By Polly Guerin

The 1909 memorial at Fort Tryon Park, NYC
Margaret Corbin (nee Cochran) looms as important an American Revolutionary heroine as does many other women who fought bravely for our country's Independence. Margaret Corbin, however, has due recognition that is permanently etched into the historical lore of New York City. At the site of the  1776 battle defending Fort Washington in northern Manhattan, now known as Fort Tryon Park; its drive and entrance are named after this bold and feisty woman who fought heroically against British attack.
   A FEISTY COMPETITOR: At the age of 21, in 1772, Margaret married a Virginia farmer named John Corbin. When the war began, John, like other patriots, enlisted in the First Company of Pennsylvania Artillery. The custom of that time brought women to the forefront of the conflict. Margaret, like other women, went along with their husbands serving on the battlefield. Margaret is known to have declared,"You might be a soldier, John Corbin, but I am your wife and my place is by your side."  At first she joined other patriot women who brought pitchers of water, to the parched soldiers and water to cool the over-heated cannons during battle as well as cooking, washing and caring  for wounded soldiers. Margaret became a feisty camp followers and accounts of her bravery remember how she stood side-by-side with her husband at the cannon.
   FORT WASHINGTON On November 16, 1776 after the American forces retreated into New Jersey following the battle of Long Island and later the battle of White Plains, about 600 American soldiers remained on the hill in present-day Fort Tryon Park. Margaret passionately worked the cannon side-by-side with her husband John, an artilleryman, who was in charge of firing a small cannon at the top of a ridge.  On November 16, 1776, an assault by 4,000 Hessian mercenaries under British command attacked the outnumbered Maryland and Virginia riflemen who were defending the position. John and Margaret in tandem worked one of the two cannons the defenders possessed. When John was shot and killed, leaving his cannon unmanned, Margaret swept into action. and immediately took his place.
Margaret Corbin Recharging the Cannon
   MARGARET AT THE CANNON Stepping up into the footsteps in history after witnessing her husband's death, in the heat of the battle, Margaret continued to man the cannon and fired shots until she, too, was wounded; her arm, chest and jaw were hit by enemy fire.Legend has it that if it were not for a passing doctor who administered to her wounds she was would have been left for dead.
   The British ultimately won the Battle of Fort Washington, and Margaret and her brave comrades were subsequently captured. The British subsequently renamed the spot for Major General Sir William Tryon, who was also the last British governor of colonial New York. Although the Continental Army ultimately succeeded in winning the War of Independence, the site continued to be referred to as Fort Tryon. It is interesting to note that in the 1970s there was a movement to rename the park for an American hero. Serendipitously at that time Margaret Corbin's story resurfaced and, honoring her memory, the park's plaza and drive were named for Corbin and the park retained the Tryon name.
  HONORING THE HEROINE: As the equivalent of a wounded soldier, Margaret was more fortunate than most of the men, Though her injuries were not fatal,
Margaret Corbin memorial at West Point cemetery
Margaret's wounds crippled her for life. Officers from her regiment, remembering her bravery, successfully petitioned for Corbin to receive a pension and on July 6, 1779, the Continental Congress granted Corbin one-half the monthly pay of a solider in the Continental Army. With this act, Congress made Margaret the first woman warrior in the United States to receive a lifetime military pension. After Congress's decision, Margaret was affectionately known as "Captain Molly" and served in the Invalid Regiment, created by Congress for wounded soldiers. In 1781, the Corps of Invalids became part of the garrison at West Point, New York. Corbin was discharged from the Continental Army in 1783, and died in 1800, at the age of 48 as a result of her war injuries. Her heroic legacy lives on to inspire generations of women warriors now, and all the tomorrows to come.
   In 1982, a plaque honoring Corbin was  placed by the Chamber of Commerce of Washington Heights on the eastern of the two stone plynths which mark the start of the Margaret Corbin Drive. For Art Deco enthusiasts, a large Art Deco mural depicting the Battle of Fort Washington scene decorates the lobby of a nearby apartment building at 720 Fort Washington Avenue. It is interesting to note that at one time local schools developed a curriculum about Corbin and in 1982, a plaque honoring the heroine was placed at 190th Street and Fort Washington Avenue.
  What conditions created a feisty patriot like Margaret Corbin? Perhaps it was her early life in West Pennsylvania. She was born on November 12, 1751 and her parents were Robert Cochran, a Scots-Irish immigrant, and his wife, Sarah. It was a frontier upbringing with Indian savages on the prowl. In 1756, her parents were attacked by Native Americans; her father killed, and he mother kidnapped, never to be seen again. With such a wrenching memory five year old Margaret, early on, must have developed a strong constitution that served her well in later years as one of the first women warriors to fight for independence from British rule during the American Revolution. .


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