The real woman behind the legend of Molly Pitcher
Margaret Corbin was one of the first women to fight in the American Revolution; Bret Baier reports on the remarkable story of Captain Molly.’
From the top of a makeshift fort, high above the Hudson River, a young woman aimed a gun at a mass of Hessian soldiers swarming up the steep, rocky slopes and dismissed. Her husband, a Patriot soldier was killed in the battle and she stepped in to take his place.
Her name was Margaret Corbin.
At 24 years old, Captain Molly” was one of the first women to fight in the American Revolution and later the first woman to receive a lifelong pension from the u.s. Congress, making her the first female veteran of the United States. For decades, Corbin’s grave at West Point — a granite monument in a sacred space of green — was honored by all who passed through the legendary cemetery.
“They deserve to be at the funeral that she deserved with her military service at the Battle of Fort Washington.”
– Jennifer Minus, the Daughters of the American Revolution
Then a shocking discovery.
An archaeological investigation of the bones buried beneath showed they were not Corbin’s, but in place of that of an unknown man. Now, the Daughters of the American Revolution is on a mission to find Corbin’s remains and bring the American heroine to her rightful resting place.
“She was a wounded warrior, a prisoner of war and a disabled veteran,” said Jennifer Min, a DAR official who first learned about Corbin when she was a West Point cadet in the early ’90s.
“They deserve to be at the funeral that she deserved with her military service at the Battle of Fort Washington,” Minus said. “We are determined to find her.”
Corbin’s heroic story began on Nov. 16, 1776, when she accompanied her husband’s military unit in the Battle of Fort Washington in north Manhattan, the cooking, washing and attending to the wounded soldiers.
John Corbin, a cannoneer, under 2,900 American soldiers to defend the fort of some 9,000 British and Hession troops when General George Washington looked out over the Hudson River.
When Corbin’s husband was killed by enemy fire, the young woman sprang into action. Well-versed in the use of a gun, that they assume an artilleryman in the position until she was hit by three grapeshot in the jaw, shoulder and chest, leaving her disabled for the rest of her life.
Very much in the minority, Colonel Robert Magaw, who was commander of the fort surrendered to the British. Corbin and some 2,800 other soldiers of the Patriot were then made prisoners of war, according to historical stories. Corbin was paroled a few days later, and then eventually enrolled in the “corps of invalids” at West Point.
On 6 July 1779, Corbin was granted a life-long Military pension from the Continental Congress for military service, although pension records show she got the half of a soldier’s pay. They also got a suit of clothes annually, and often dressed in old uniforms, which earned her the nickname of “Captain Molly.”
After her death in 1800 at the age of 48, Corbin faded in obscurity and was almost forgotten.
In 1926, the DAR clearly what the group believed was Corbin’s grave a few miles south of West Point in the vicinity of a cedar stump on the old country estate of banker j.p. Morgan. The excavated remains were taken to West Point and is buried under a monument that has the Corbin.
But by the end of 2016, cemetery excavators accidentally hit the grave, in which the officials to the high-tech testing on the disturbed remains. A forensic examination concluded that the remains belonged to an unknown man from the nineteenth century.
“There is really no doubt that the bones of a human being,” said Dr. Elizabeth DiGangi, who conducted the research.
DiGangi, an assistant professor in anthropology at Binghampton University, also noted that the remains in question do not show injuries consistent with those sustained by Corbin during the fight.
“I found none of the injuries that I would expect to see, especially in the shoulder,” says DiGangi. “There was nothing to indicate any form of healing.”
On 1 May, the DAR held a dedication ceremony for Corbin in West Point, where Ann Turner Dillon, DAR president, promised to find her remains.
“I have asked why we continue to search for Margaret Corbin,” Dillon told the other DAR members who had gathered on a spring morning to pay tribute to the war heroine in the West Point Cadet chapel.
“Our motivation is the core of our organization,” said Dillon. “The Margaret Corbin’s story is important to the DAR because it embodies the reason that our organization was founded … to preserve the memory and spirit of those who contributed to the securing of American independence.”
Corbin’s influence also spreads beyond the members of the history and genealogy-minded DAR. Her tomb was built at West Point, about 50 years before the first female cadets, and her story has served as a model of undaunted courage and sacrifice for women in the U.S. army.
“When I think of Margaret Corbin, I think of the hero, trail blazer, the first, and bravery,” said Leslie Frankland, a 23-year-old West Point cadet.
“I am hopeful that one day we will find her,” said Frankland. “But I think that this monument represents her well, regardless of whether or not she is found.”
Note from the editors: Cristina Corbin, is a distant relative of Margaret Corbin’s husband, John. She is the eleventh generation American and has 31 ancestors who fought in the Revolutionary War.
Cristina Corbin is a Fox News reporter in New York. Follow her on Twitter @CristinaCorbin.