Patriot, Soldier, Legislator and Minister: Reverend John Corbly
By Abigail Phillips
Forming over 30 Baptist churches, aiding in the Whiskey Rebellion, as well as facing one of the most horrific tragedies in the region, Reverend John Corbly was an essential figure in Southwestern Pennsylvania. Corbly was born near London, England on February 23, 1733, and immigrated to Pennsylvania at the age of 14 as an indentured servant. When he finished his duties, he moved to Virginia and eventually married his first wife Abigail Bull having four children with her. Their names were Margaret, Rachel, Priscilla, and John Corbly Jr.
It was in Virginia he was introduced to being a Baptist, eventually getting arrested for his vigor. When he was finally released, his wife Abigail passed away shortly after and Corbly moved back to Pennsylvania. There he founded what is now known as John Corbly Memorial Baptist Church and he married his second wife, Elizabeth Tyler. With Elizabeth, he had five children, Delilah, Elizabeth, Isaiah, Mary Catherine, and Nancy. It was with this family that Reverend Corbly’s biggest tragedy occurred.
Known as the Corbly Family Massacre, the tragedy happened on Sunday, May 10, 1782. Early in the morning on the family’s way to a worship service that Corbly was going to minister, Corbly backtracked to his cabin to retrieve his Bible. A group of Native Americans attacked his wife and children. On Corbly’s way back to the family, he heard the screams of his wife. Upon arrival to the scene, he was outnumbered and fled towards the nearby fort for help. He returned to find his wife Elizabeth, son Isaiah, daughter Mary Catherine, and infant child Nancy brutally slaughtered. His son John narrowly escaped with the help of his dog, and his daughters Elizabeth and Delilah survived though both being badly injured. Elizabeth eventually succumbed to her wound years later at the age of 21. Settlers of the fort chased the Native Americans down until they hit the Ohio River with the attackers getting away.
A few years after this brutal attack, Corbly got married for his third and final time to Nancy Ann Lynn. Together they had eight children named Mary, Andrew, Pleasant, Cassandra, Sarah, Amelia, Nancy, and William.
Almost 10 years after the Massacre, Corbly became involved in what is now known as the Whiskey Rebellion. Corbly was angry at the government for the unfair taxation of the farmers creating whiskey, as well as the government’s inability to protect the frontier from Native American attacks. Vocal in his support for the rebellion eventually caused Corbly to be arrested and made to march to Philadelphia. He was eventually acquitted and sent back home.
Reverend John Corbly passed away on June 9, 1803 in Garards Fort, PA leaving behind his legacy and many descendants. Those descendants live on today sharing their history with one another and anybody who joins them. Meeting regularly on the last Sunday in June, descendants hold an annual reunion. If you want to learn more about the legacy of the Corbly family, the event will be held on Sunday, June 25, 2023 beginning after the 9:30am church service. You can also find many monuments and markers displaying important moments in time throughout the area. Including a Corbly family monument and a memorial to symbolize the tragic massacre in the Garards Fort Cemetery.