LOCAL HISTORIC PROFILE: Margaret Cochran Corbin, Revolutionary War heroine

Illustration by Sabina Mollot

By Sabina Mollot

Last December, Manhattan Congress members announced legislation aimed at renaming the Manhattan VA Medical Center after Margaret Cochran Corbin, who fought in the Revolutionary War and was the first woman to receive a veteran’s pension.

While the fate of the East 23rd Street hospital’s name is still up in the air, the legislation is expected to be reintroduced in Congress this year.

Corbin is remembered for her bravery during an attack by the British and Hessians  (German troops hired by the British) on Fort Washington in Upper Manhattan on November 16, 1776.

Her involvement in the military began when her husband John enlisted in the Continental Army’s First Company of Pennsylvania Artillery. Corbin, then 25, joined him. Working alongside the soldiers was what many wives and sweethearts did at the time and were tasked with things like cooking, washing and sewing. But when John was killed in the battle at Fort Washington at the cannon he’d taken over for the gunner who’d also been killed, his wife was standing at his side. Not stopping to grieve, Corbin quickly took John’s place, loading and firing the cannon as she had seen him do. Then suddenly, she too was struck by a grapeshot, a cluster of metal balls in a sack that had been fired from a cannon. Seeing her fall, other soldiers carried Corbin away to where the wounded were being tended. The Revolutionaries ended up losing this battle and the survivors were taken prisoner, including Corbin. However, they were released.

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LOCAL HISTORIC PROFILE: The Hendrix family, Stuyvesant Town integrationists

Illustration by Sabina Mollot

By Sabina Mollot

Even seven decades later, the fact that Stuyvesant Town was the site of an epic battle for racial equality is well known among the complex’s residents. It is, after all, hard to forget how members of the community first developed their reputations as fighters, warriors even against formidable opponents, when the cause is important enough.

What perhaps not everyone knows is that it was mainly 21 activist families who’d put their own leases on the line by demanding the landlord, then Metropolitan Life, de-segregate the complex and allow black veterans to move in. This activist group, the Committee to End Discrimination in Stuyvesant Town, was led by Lee Lorch, a mathematics professor who’d allowed a black family, the Hendrixes, to live in his apartment when he left to teach at Penn State. The late Lorch is still a well-known figure, at least by historians and local activists. But little has been said over the decades about the Hendrixes’ role in the story, specifically their quiet brand of activism, simply living their lives — albeit illegally — in Stuyvesant Town.

The members of the Hendrix family (Hardine, his wife Raphael and their son Hardine Jr.), like Lorch, are now deceased, Hardine Jr. having died before his parents in a car accident. Hardine, an army veteran, died in 1999 at the age of 78 and is now buried at Calverton, a brief bio on the website ancientfaces.com states.

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LOCAL HISTORIC PROFILE: Harry Burleigh, singer, composer

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By Sabina Mollot

Henry “Harry” Thacker Burleigh was a baritone singer, composer and arranger who worked for over half a century at St. George’s Parish in Stuyvesant Square as a soloist. He also sang for 25 years at another Manhattan religious institution, Temple Emanu-El, and at both institutions, he was the first black singer to be hired.

Burleigh (December 2, 1866-September 12, 1949, pronounced “burly”) received his earliest musical training from his mother, according to a Library of Congress profile, while a Wikipedia bio also notes he learned about spirituals and slave songs from his grandfather, Hamilton Waters, who’d bought his way out of slavery in 1835. Burleigh’s father, Henry Thacker Burleigh, Sr., a naval veteran in the Civil War, was the first black juror in Erie County in 1871.

As for the younger Burleigh, called Harry, even without formal training, he was able to find employment as a soloist in several churches and synagogues in his native Erie, Pennsylvania. When he came to New York, he sang with Free African Church of St. Philip’s on West 25th Street, the first black congregation of Protestant Episcopalians in the city, according to the Dvořák American Heritage Association. Burleigh then became situated in part of a large black community there that established itself around St. Philip’s.

At the age of 26, Burleigh was accepted, with a scholarship, to the National Conservatory of Music in New York City at the age of 26. The conservatory was then run out of two homes where the Washington Irving High School campus currently exists today.

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Local historic profile: Harriet Quimby, pioneer aviator

July26 HarrietQuimby edit2

By Sabina Mollot

Harriet Quimby was the first woman in America to receive a pilot’s license, which she then made good use out of by flying over the English Channel in a Bleriot monoplane in 1911. This too was a first for a woman. Before and during this time, Quimby also wrote screenplays for silent films and worked as a journalist and drama critic for the magazine Leslie’s Weekly.

While there is debate about where she was originally from, Quimby lived in New York City for a few years, on 27th Street and Broadway in what was then The Victoria Hotel.

But, noted local historian Alfred Pommer, author of The History of Gramercy and Union Square, Quimby’s connection to Manhattan wasn’t just her address. She was often seen at 11 East 14th Street, which was home to an early silent film studio. Along with her journalism work, Quimby wrote seven scripts that were made into silent films, directed by D.W. Griffith, and did a bit of acting.

“She was the first successful female screenwriter in America,” said Pommer. Still, he added, “She was most well-known for her airplane flights.”

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