Fort Tryon Park

Margaret Corbin Circle

This text is part of Parks’ Historical Signs Project and can be found posted within the park.

Margaret Corbin (1751–1800Α), for whom Fort Tryon Park’s drive and entrance are named, took control of her fallen husband John’s cannon and fought during the 1776 battle at the site of what is now known as Fort Tryon Park. The only woman buried in the cemetery at West Point, Margaret Corbin was wounded during the clash; her story was largely buried until Washington Heights residents sought to commemorate her in the 1970s.

Corbin was born in Franklin County, Pennsylvania, in 1751. Her father was killed by Native Americans and her mother captured when she was five years old; she survived because she was away visiting an uncle, who then raised her. She married John Corbin in 1772. He later enlisted in the First Company of Pennsylvania Artillery, and she joined her husband in the Revolutionary War effort.

After American forces retreated into New Jersey following the Battle of Long Island and later the Battle of White Plains, about 3000 soldiers remained on the hill in present-day Fort Tryon Park. The Continental Army fortified the battlement during the summer of 1776, taking advantage of the site’s steep terrain.

On November 16, 1776, 4,000 Hessian mercenaries fighting on behalf of the British attacked the outnumbered Maryland and Virginia riflemen who were defending the position. It was here that John and Margaret Corbin fought. After John Corbin, a cannoneer, was shot and killed, Margaret, who had helped to clean and load the cannon, took over for her husband, continuing to fire shots until she was hit by gunfire as well and subsequently captured.

Though not fatal, the wounds in her shoulder crippled her for life. She received one-half of a soldier’s pension, as decreed by the Continental Congress in 1779. Corbin later moved near the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, where she worked until her death, around 1800. In 1926, Corbin’s body was disinterred and buried in the West Point Military Cemetery. A monument to her was erected by the Daughters of the American Revolution.

After capturing the American soldiers, the British renamed the spot for Major General Sir William Tryon (1729–1788), and the last British governor of colonial New York, and although the Continental Army ultimately prevailed, the site continued to be referred to as Fort Tryon. Noting this irony in the 1970s, in the wake of the bicentennial of American independence, a movement to rename the park for an American hero took shape, and Corbin’s story resurfaced. Ultimately a compromise was reached where the park’s plaza and drive were named for Corbin and the park retained the Tryon name.

In 1977, the City Council voted unanimously to name the drive for her. Councilman Henry J. Stern (b. 1935), who co-sponsored the bill to commemorate Corbin, noted that despite growing up in the neighborhood and using the park’s playground as a youth, he never realized he was “honoring a Tory.” Subsequently, local schools developed a curriculum about Corbin, and in 1982 a plaque honoring the heroine was placed at 190th Street and Fort Washington Avenue.

Directions to Fort Tryon Park

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