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Margaret Corbin

(November 12, 1751 Ė January 16, 1800)

 Margaret Corbin was a woman who fought in the American Revolutionary War, and has been called the first woman to do so. 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.

 Margaret Corbin was born in West Pennsylvania on November 12, 1751 in what is now Franklin County. Her father was Robert Cochran, a Scottish-Irish pioneer. In 1756, when she was five years old, Margaretís parents were attacked by Native Americans. Her mother was kidnapped and her father was killed. At the time, Margaret and her brother John were not at home, and so escaped the raid. Margaret lived with her uncle for the rest of her childhood.

 In 1772, at the age of 21, Margaret married a Virginia farmer named John Corbin. When the war began, John enlisted in the First Company of Pennsylvania Artillery as a matross, someone who worked with loading and firing the cannons. As was common at the time for wives of soldiers, Margaret became a camp follower, accompanying John during his enlistment. She joined many other women in cooking, washing, and caring for the wounded soldiers. On November 16, 1776, Fort Washington, where John's company was stationed, was attacked by the British. John, an artilleryman, was in charge of firing a small cannon atop a ridge, today known as Fort Tryon. During an assault by the Hessians, John was killed, leaving his cannon unmanned. Margaret had been with her husband on the battlefield the entire time, and, after witnessing his death, she immediately took his place at the cannon. She fired away until her arm, chest, and jaw were hit by enemy fire. The British ultimately won the Battle of Fort Washington, resulting in the surrender of Margaret and her comrades. As the equivalent of a wounded soldier, Margaret was released by the British on parole.

 After the battle, Margaret went to Philadelphia, completely disabled from her wound, and would never fully heal. Life was difficult for her because of her injury, and in 1779 she received aid from the government. On June 29, the Executive Council of Pennsylvania granted her $30 to cover her present needs, and passed her case on to Congressís Board of War. On July 6, 1779, the Board, sympathetic to Margaretís injuries and impressed with her service and bravery, granted her half the monthly pay of a soldier in the Continental Army and a new set of clothes or its equivalent in cash. With this act, Congress made Margaret the first woman in the United States to receive a pension from Congress. After Congressís decision, Margaret was included on military rolls until the end of the war. She was enrolled in the Corps of Invalids, created by Congress for wounded soldiers. In 1781, the Corps of Invalids became part of the garrison at West Point, New York. She was discharged from the Continental Army in 1783.

 She received financial support from the government after the war, the first woman to do so. She died in Highland Falls, New York, on January 16, 1800, at the age of 48. In 1926, the Daughters of the American Revolution had Margaretís remains reburied and erected the Margaret Corbin Monument in the West Point Cemetery, making her the only Revolutionary War soldier to be buried there.