Margaret Corbin Rededication Ceremony

Written by: Ann Dillon, President General
June 7, 2018

In May I had the pleasure of taking my first trip to the United States Military Academy at West Point and it was an honor to be at that historic site in order to celebrate a historic woman. For those of you unable to join us at the Margaret Corbin Rededication Ceremony, I wanted to share some of the special moments and remarks from the event.

View a photo gallery of the rededication ceremony       

When more than 200 of us gathered at the West Point Cemetery on the morning of May 1, we could not have asked for a more beautiful day to celebrate the legacy of this brave patriot. Attendees filled the historic Old Cadet Chapel for the ceremony which was arranged by the New York State Officers Club. While it was a ceremony they had hosted at West Point for the past 92 years, this year’s ceremony had added meaning after recent developments revealed Margaret was not in fact buried on the grounds as it had been believed since 1926. In partnership with Army National Military Cemeteries and the U.S. Military Academy, the DAR set out to make this year’s ceremony extra special with the purpose of rededicating Margaret’s valor and re-committing ourselves to celebrating her legacy regardless of where she may be buried.

Jennifer Minus, President of the New York State Officers Club, led the remarks with a brief history of Margaret Corbin as well as the history of her monument at West Point. She then brought us up to the present addressing the current situation:

“Although we now know that Margaret Corbin was not reinterred here in the West Point Cemetery in 1926, we think (hope!) that our intrepid committee was just slightly off in locating her original resting place. With new information and technology, the DAR is committed to reviewing all of the original source material and hopefully finding new information not available in 1926 to ensure the true facts of Margaret Corbin’s life are part of our nation’s history. It is important to remember that Margaret Corbin’s life and actions are not a story; they are not folklore – she was an actual woman who lived, fought, and was recognized by name in Congressional acts and War Department correspondence up to 1790. Margaret Cochran Corbin: military spouse, military widow, wounded warrior, prisoner of war, disabled veteran; an inspiration to serve.”

Colonel Diane Ryan, USA (Ret), was asked by Superintendent LTG Robert Caslen to bring remarks on behalf of the U.S. Military Academy. COL Ryan had retired from active duty earlier in the year, but prior to that she spent nine years as the Officer in Charge of the Corbin Forum at the Academy, which she described as her most significant contribution and definitely the fondest memories of her 29-year career in the Army. In her remarks she described the mission of the Academy in educating, training and inspiring the Corps of Cadets as leaders of character, and explained:

“What is proven strategy for developing leaders of character? To create a culture where inspirational role models who reflect our values are memorialized and celebrated. Role models from diverse backgrounds and experiences so that every cadet, no matter who they are or where they come from, can see themselves in someone they aspire to be. As you wander around the central area of West Point you can’t help but notice that all of the artifacts – monuments, buildings, and street names have one thing in common – they exclusively represent men. So where do the more than 4,500 women who have worn dress gray turn to see an inspirational role model who looks like them carved in granite? Right here in the West Point Cemetery… [Margaret Corbin] is not just a role model for female cadets, she is an example to all Americans of what women are capable of when put to the test. Let this monument serve as a reminder to us all.”

Karen Durham-Aguilera then followed COL Ryan’s remarks. Ms. Durham-Aguilera is the Executive Director of Army National Military Cemeteries, and, as such, oversees the perpetual care for Arlington National Cemetery as well as 39 Army cemeteries across the country, including the one at West Point. She recounted the events that set in motion our gathering at this ceremony, including the forensic and archaeological recovery that her organization oversaw:

“As we all have come to understand, the overall findings are that the remains were consistent with those of a man from the Colonial era and not of Molly Corbin. With these results in mind, my next engagement was with President General Dillon. We both agreed, regardless of this circumstance, Captain Molly’s story is one that is both enduring and compelling. The absolutely right thing to do was to rededicate her valor and honor her legacy with today’s ceremony. If we take a moment to reflect, the West Point Cemetery has interred many distinguished soldiers, Medal of Honor recipients and notable leaders in recognition of their heroic actions or valor. Yet, Captain Molly was the first woman laid to rest here with full military honors. And just like those I mentioned, her place in history was earned and not given. Nearly 250 years after the Battle of Fort Washington, her bravery and legacy as one of the first women to fire an artillery cannon in the defense of our nation, continues to transcend and inspire women in military service even today.”

As the President General of the Daughters of the American Revolution, I was honored to give the concluding remarks and I focused not only on the importance of preserving history, but also to looking to the future:

“I have been asked why we are continuing to search for Margaret Corbin. Our motivation truly lies at the core of our organization. The Margaret Corbin story is important to the DAR because it epitomizes the very reason our organization was founded in 1890; to preserve the memory and spirit of those who contributed to securing American independence… We are committed to preserving Margaret’s story and educating the public about hers as well as the many patriots whose lives and legacies formed America. Through these preservation and education efforts we hope to inspire patriotism throughout the country, particularly as citizens consider the nation’s birth. As we approach the 250th anniversary of our founding, which we will celebrate in 2026, it is important to research and share as many accurate and inclusive patriot histories for future generations to understand these early sacrifices. This, of course, includes women and many others whose stories have been ‘hidden from history.’ … We honor Margaret Corbin’s bravery and service, we honor her legacy; and by doing so we ensure that as a nation we honor the service of all our military women, those currently serving and our veterans who have led the way.”

At the conclusion of the ceremony, we followed the U.S. Military Academy Honor Guard procession outside to the Margaret Corbin Monument. After rededication remarks, two Past New York State Officers Club Presidents, Betty DeVries and Priscilla Davis, along with three Cadets from the Class of 2018 (who are also DAR members) Leslie Frankland, Haley Robinette and Blake Warnock, helped to unveil the newly refurbished monument. We then placed a wreath at the monument and the Honor Guard presented honors with three volleys of shots fired and the playing of Taps. It was a beautiful and meaningful ceremony and an experience I will not soon forget.

We are so pleased that the story of Margaret Corbin was shared in an Associated Press article just a couple days before our rededication ceremony and it was picked up by many national outlets including ABC News, FOX News, The Washington Post, The Army Times, local outlets and even some international outlets such as the Daily Mail in the UK and The Japan Times. The article highlights the ongoing mystery of where Margaret Corbin’s remains may actually be and the efforts of the DAR to find her grave while shining new light on the heroine. You can read the article here: “Where’s Capt. Molly? Search on for Revolutionary hero grave”

We are just a few weeks away from the 127th Continental Congress when we will honor this year’s Margaret Cochran Corbin Award winner at our National Defense Night Ceremony on June 23, 2018. I hope many of you will be able to join us as we celebrate Vice Admiral Nora Tyson, US Navy (Ret), an incredible woman who is carrying on Margaret’s legacy through her own distinguished military career. We will also have a special video presentation that night with highlights from the Margaret Corbin Rededication Ceremony and a look at this fascinating historical mystery that we are determined to crack!

As we continue this ongoing search for Margaret, we welcome any of your insight or research into her story. But you can also help honor Margaret’s legacy by exploring and researching other women Revolutionary patriots who have also been obscured by time. Let us strive to shine light not just on Margaret’s story, but also educate the public about other women who contributed to securing our nation’s independence.

 

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