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Margaret Corbin & The Battle of Fort Washington

The American Revolution

The American Revolution started on April 19, 1775, with the Battles of Lexington and Concord (April 19, 1775). The commercially prosperous and relatively autonomous colonies were upset over increasing taxes and trade issues. The colonists became increasingly upset after the Seven Years War (1756-1763), when trade, tax, and westward migration disagreements increased. The First Continental Congress occurred in September 1774, where a petition to the King was drawn up and then dispatched to him. After the King rejected the petition, a Second Continental Congress occurred resulting in the United States’ Declaration of Independence, which was signed by the 56 colonial delegates on July 4, 1776.


Battle of Fort Washington 

The Battle of Fort Washington occurred on November 16, 1776, at Washington Heights (located on Manhattan Island) in New York. Just prior to this battle, General George Washington and the Continental Army had suffered a defeat to the British at White Plains (on October 28, 1776).

To conserve the strength of the Continental Army, Washington had issued a discretionary order to American General Nathanael Greene to remove the men from the fort to New Jersey. However, Colonel Robert Magaw who was in command of the fort refused to abandon it.  


Margaret Corbin

Margaret Corbin had followed her husband John Corbin into the war as he was serving with a unit from Pennsylvania. Prior to the Battle of Fort Washington, she provided laundry services and nursing to the soldiers. During the battle, she disguised herself as a man and joined her husband in the defense of Manhattan Island. When her husband died during the battle, she heroically took over firing the canon at the British troops. During the battle, she was severely wounded to her left arm and left breast. The British under the command of Lieutenant General William Howe and Lieutenant General Hugh Percy led their troops to victory. Margaret Corbin became one of the prisoners of war and was later paroled and returned to a Revolutionary hospital. On July 6, 1779, she became the first woman to receive a military pension from the Continental Congress.

A memorial to her exists on the grounds of The United States Military Academy. The Academy has named The Corbin Women’s Leadership Forum after her, whose topics include diversity and inclusion.


Women In the Military Today

Today, women serve in all branches of the military. In 2021, 17.3% of the active-duty force and 21.4% of the National Guard and reserves are female.


Interested in Learning More About Women in the Military?

Join us on November 9th for a free Education Webinar as we welcome Kate Hardy of the National Park Service to learn about the courageous activities of women during the War of 1812.




Further Reading on Women in the Revolutionary War 


Print Books


Heroism Begins With Her, by Winifred Conkling; Illustrations by Julia Kuo

Revolutionary Summerby Joseph J. Ellis

The War Before Independence, by Derek. W. Beck

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