Where’s Capt. Molly? Search on for Rev­o­lu­tion­ary hero grave

Daily Times (Primos, PA) - - NEWS - By Michael Hill

Where is the body of Cap­tain Molly?

Rev­o­lu­tion­ary War hero Mar­garet “Cap­tain Molly” Corbin was long thought to be buried be­neath her gran­ite mon­u­ment at the U.S. Mil­i­tary Academy at West Point, New York. The Daugh­ters of the Amer­i­can Rev­o­lu­tion moved her re­mains there in 1926 from an un­marked grave nearby. But it’s now clear they re­moved the wrong re­mains.

The mys­tery lingers as West Point plans Tues­day to honor the largely for­got­ten woman who stepped in to fire a can­non af­ter her hus­band was killed in bat­tle.

And that both­ers Corbin’s ad­mir­ers in the DAR. Mem­bers of the his­tory and ge­neal­ogy-minded group are lead­ing an ef­fort to find Corbin’s grave — for real this time — as they shine new light on the hero.

“Nine­teen-twenty-six was kind of un­fin­ished busi­ness. And so we want to make sure that we close that,” said Jen­nifer Mi­nus, a DAR of­fi­cial who was a West Point cadet in the early ‘90s when she first learned about Corbin.

In 1776, Corbin was 24 years old and fol­low­ing her hus­band’s mil­i­tary unit, likely cook­ing and clean­ing for the sol­diers. She took an ar­tillery po­si­tion af­ter her hus­band was killed dur­ing the Bat­tle of Fort Wash­ing­ton in Man­hat­tan and was hit by grapeshot. She was left with a griev­ous shoul­der wound.

Corbin’s ex­ploits may have been an in­spi­ra­tion for the leg­end of Molly Pitcher, who gave wa­ter to the sol­diers in bat­tle. But Pitcher also could have been an­other woman or a com­pos­ite of mul­ti­ple women.

Corbin trav­eled up­river to West Point with the “corps of in­valids” and spent the lat­ter part of her life as a boarder. Mil­i­tary of­fi­cials fret­ted about finding liv­ing ar­range­ments for some­one de­scribed as in­firm and trou­ble­some. She be­came the first woman to earn a pen­sion from the mil­i­tary, which also sup­plied her with old uni­form items to wear. The uni­forms ap­par­ently earned her the “Cap­tain Molly” nick­name.

Corbin died in 1800 at the age of 48 and was buried in a mod­est grave, likely near West Point. By the time the DAR de­cided to honor Corbin with a re­burial in 1926, any marker on the 126-year-old grave was gone.

Re­ly­ing in part on passed-down in­for­ma­tion from lo­cals, the DAR pin­pointed Corbin’s grave a few miles south of West Point near a cedar stump on the old river­side es­tate of banker J.P. Mor­gan. The dis­in­terred re­mains were placed in a silk-lined cas­ket and driven by hearse to the sto­ried ceme­tery in West Point and a new mon­u­ment de­pict­ing Corbin be­side her can­non.

End of story. Un­til Oc­to­ber 2016.

Ex­ca­va­tors work­ing near the mon­u­ment ac­ci­den­tally dis­turbed the grave, start­ing a chain of events that led to high-tech tests on the ex­humed re­mains. Tests showed the skele­tal re­mains be­longed to a male, prob­a­bly one who lived in the 19th cen­tury.

Corbin’s miss­ing re­mains are not stop­ping the DAR from host­ing a West Point reded­i­ca­tion cer­e­mony at the mon­u­ment on Tues­day. It will be a larger ver­sion of the an­nual cer­e­monies Mi­nus at­tended as a cadet. The Vir­ginia res­i­dent said she hopes to re­search pos­si­ble grave sites with DAR di­rec­tor of pub­lic re­la­tions Bren Lan­don when they’re in the area for the cer­e­mony.

Were DAR’s dig­gers 92 years ago off by a few feet or miles? The women have lit­tle to go on so far be­yond the in­for­ma­tion their fore­bears re­lied on nine decades ago. One old photo shows a sweep­ing land­scape with an ar­row point­ing to the grave — an in­dis­tinct point in the dis­tance.

“The mys­tery, I stay up nights think­ing about it some­times,” Lan­don said.

Lan­don thinks a re­burial at Corbin’s mon­u­ment would be ap­pro­pri­ate, but they are nowhere near propos­ing that. Even if they find a likely site, it may no longer be ac­ces­si­ble since the old es­tate is now home to a housing devel­op­ment and a sewer plant. And it would be hard to ver­ify re­mains through DNA, since Corbin had no known chil­dren.

Just as im­por­tant to Lan­don is the crowd­sourc­ing project to find more in­for­ma­tion about Corbin. DAR mem­bers and his­tor­i­cal re­searchers are be­ing asked to tackle dozens of ques­tions. Can they con­firm Corbin’s birth in Penn­syl­va­nia? What do they know about the In­dian raid that al­legedly left her fa­ther killed and her mother was cap­tured when she was 5?

Lan­don con­cedes the multi-front ef­fort could take years, but feels it’s worth it for a woman who fought for her coun­try and died in ob­scu­rity.


This 1926 photo pro­vided by the Daugh­ters of the Amer­i­can Rev­o­lu­tion (DAR) shows a cas­ket that was ex­humed by the DAR on the es­tate of banker J.P. Mor­gan in High­land Falls, N.Y., with two women who were DAR re­searchers, right, and two Army of­fi­cers,...

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