“Activated by the most glorious cause that mankind ever fought in, I am to defend this post to the very last extremity”
Margaret Corbin was five years old when her family was attacked by Native American Indians; leaving her father killed and her mother kidnapped. She and her brother (who were not at home at the time of the attack) grew-up living with their uncle. At age 21 years, Margaret left home to marry a Virginia farmer, John Corbin. When her husband enlisted in the Pennsylvania Artillery, Margaret decided she would accompany him as a “camp follower.”
She and her husband were stationed at Fort Washington, in Northern Manhattan, in November of 1776. There had been rumors of a sneak attack by the British and Hussein troops and they were preparing to defend their ground. When the forces attacked, Margaret’s husband was operating a canon. Unfortunately he was hit by enemy fire and was killed instantly.
In spite of the fact her husband had been killed, Margaret heroically grabbed the canon and began firing. She proved to be an excellent gunner and fought to the bitter end of the nighttime battle. Unfortunately, the fight lasted over four hours with the British capturing Fort Washington. Further, the battle left Margaret severely injured; injuries from which she would never fully recover.
In 1779, she became the first woman in the United States to receive a pension from Congress. Margaret was awarded $30, a lifetime disability pension for her participation and bravery in the War (half the monthly pay of a soldier in the Continental Army) and a new set of clothes or its equivalent in cash.
She is considered to be the first female American soldier for her active combat participation in the Revolutionary War. She died in New York at the age of 48 years. A monument commemorating her bravery was erected in 1909 in New York City's Fort Tryon Park (what used to be the location of Fort Washington), and the entrance to the park is named Margaret Corbin Circle. Visit the lobby of a nearby building (720 Fort Washington Avenue) to see an Art Deco mural depicting the battle scene.