Henry Corbyn (1628 or 1629–ca. 1676)

Henry Corbyn, a member of the governor's Council, was a key associate of Sir William Berkeley. The native Englander ventured to Virginia in 1654 and married into the colony's most powerful families three years later. Corbyn became a major landholder and was known for his hospitality. His success, and that of his relatives who used the more familiar spelling of their surname, spawned an old Virginia expression, "as rich as Corbin." He acquired important local offices, and was sitting on the Council by the spring of 1663. MORE...

 

Corbyn was the son of Thomas Corbyn and Winifred Grosvenor Corbyn and was born probably at Hall End, in Polesworth, Warwickshire, England. Contemporaries spelled the family name variously as Corbin, Corbyn, and Corbyne. He signed his surname as Corbyn, but by the end of the seventeenth century Virginia members of the family all used the spelling Corbin. Although tradition states that Corbyn fled England after assisting in the escape of the exiled King Charles II from the battlefield at Worcester in September 1651, documentary proof of such an exploit is lacking. It is more likely that as a young man engaged in commerce, Corbyn was already attracted to opportunities in Virginia. In 1652 he received a bequest from a Virginia colonist, and two years later, while living in London and working as a draper, he acknowledged receipt of his legacy from his father's will.

Corbyn sailed for Virginia early in 1654, but his ship was blown off course and landed in Maryland. There in a deposition dated June 23, 1654, he gave his age as twenty-five and his occupation as merchant. His testimony concerned the tempestuous voyage and the mariners on board the Charity who had accused an old woman of witchcraft and executed her at sea. Corbyn probably entered Virginia soon thereafter. The earliest dated evidence of his presence is the bond he executed on January 3, 1657, for his intended marriage to Alice Eltonhead Burnham, the recently widowed mother of four children. During the next fifteen years they had five daughters and three sons. The union tied Corbyn into the complex kinship networks of the colonial political elite; his wife's sisters had married William Brocas, John Carter (ca. 1613–1670), and Ralph Wormeley (d. 1651), all members of the governor's Council, and Sir Henry Chicheley, later a member of the Council and lieutenant governor.

Through purchase and patenting unsettled land, Corbyn acquired several large and valuable properties between the Mattaponi and Rappahannock rivers, including one that he purchased in 1660 with a proviso that he settle it as soon as the Native Americans who resided there had departed. He acquired plantations known then or later as Corbin Hall, Machotick, and Peckatone, and he resided at Buckingham, one of the finest houses of its time, in the portion of Lancaster County that became Middlesex County about 1669. Well-liked and hospitable, Corbyn along with three associates built a banqueting house in 1670 for entertaining friends and guests at Peckatone. His success and that of several close relatives gave rise to a Virginia phrase, "as rich as Corbin."

In the several counties in which Corbyn transacted business or owned land, his name frequently appeared in the records as an officeholder, as party to land transactions or disputes, as a trustee of property, and as attorney in fact for a third party. On June 6, 1657, he became a justice of the quorum in Lancaster County (that is, one of the members of the county court whose presence was required for the conduct of business), and he may have also sat on the court of Rappahannock County as needed. At least one session of the Lancaster County Court, that of November 17, 1657, met at his house, as did many gatherings of the vestry for Christ Church Parish, on which he also sat. As a landowner and as a justice of the peace Corbyn dealt with local Native Americans several times and in several roles. He presided over cases concerning land disputes, protection of a young man known as Indian Ned from his tribal enemies, and injuries inflicted on Indians in violation of the peace treaty. In 1659 Corbyn won election to represent Lancaster County in the one-week session of the General Assembly that met that spring, when he served on the Committee for Private Causes. A colonel in the militia by April 1668, he was also a deputy escheator and collector of customs for the Rappahannock River district.

On an unrecorded date during or before the spring of 1663, Corbyn became a member of the governor's Council. His first documented responsibility was to take part in negotiations with Maryland to reduce production of tobacco in order to raise its price. The agreement then reached never took effect. Corbyn's tenure on the Council, which continued until his death, is not well documented because the surviving records are incomplete, but he was a trusted adviser to Governor Sir William Berkeley. In October 1669 the governor entered an unusual order, probably to resolve a local controversy, granting Corbyn authority to issue marriage licenses in Rappahannock County and directing that "noe Clerkes of County Cort. are to meddle in it." Corbyn's service on the Council spanned most of the so-called Long Assembly of 1661–1676; the failed Berkenhead Conspiracy of 1663, in which indentured servants from Gloucester and York counties planned to march on Jamestown to demand their freedom; the Second and Third Anglo-Dutch Wars, which required large outlays for defense; and the first hints of trouble with Native Americans that led to Bacon's Rebellion (1676–1677).

When Corbyn wrote his will on July 25, 1675, he stated that although he was in reasonably good health, he was "of short memory." Family tradition holds that Corbyn died at the hands of Indians on January 8, 1676, but there is no known documentary record of the date or circumstance of his death. His brother wrote in April of that year that on the day of the funeral Indians carried off and killed about forty people and that they later attacked the widow's plantation. Corbyn most likely was buried at Buckingham, but if his grave was marked by a stone it had disappeared by the time the family gravestones were moved to the yard at Christ Episcopal Church in Middlesex County. Corbyn's widow married Henry Creyke within a year of her second husband's death, and in April 1681 in Corbyn's memory they donated his silver trencher plate, engraved with his coat of arms, to Christ Church.

Time Line

  • 1628 or 1629 - Henry Corbyn is born at Hall End, in Polesworth, Warwickshire, England.
  • September 1651 - Henry Corbyn supposedly flees England after assisting in the escape of the exiled King Charles II from the battlefield, but documentary proof for this is lacking.
  • 1652 - Henry Corbyn receives a bequest from a Virginia colonist, and two years later, while living in London and working as a draper, he acknowledges receipt of his legacy from his father's will.
  • Early 1654 - Henry Corbyn sails for Virginia, but his ship is blown of course and lands in Maryland.
  • June 23, 1654 - Henry Corbyn testifies about the tempestuous voyage to North America and the mariners on board the Charity who had accused an old woman of witchcraft and executed her at sea. Henry Corbyn enters Virginia soon thereafter.
  • January 3, 1657 - Henry Corbyn executes a bond for his intended marriage to Alice Eltonhead Burnham, the recently widowed mother of four children. They will have five daughters and three sons.
  • June 6, 1657 - Henry Corbyn becomes a justice of the quorum in Lancaster County (that is, one of the members of the county court whose presence is required for the conduct of business), and he may have also sat on the court of Rappahannock County as needed.
  • 1659 - Henry Corbyn wins election to represent Lancaster County in the one-week session of the General Assembly that meets that spring, when he served on the Committee for Private Causes.
  • ca. 1660 - Henry Corbyn purchases several large and valuable properties between the Mattaponi and Rappahannock rivers and plantations known as Corbin Hall, Machotick, and Peckatone.
  • Spring 1663 - By this time, Henry Corbyn becomes a member of the governor's Council. His service on the Council spans most of the so-called Long Assembly of 1661–1676; the failed Berkenhead Conspiracy of 1663; the Second and Third Anglo-Dutch Wars; and the first hints of trouble with Native Americans that led to Bacon's Rebellion in 1676.
  • April 1668 - By this time, Henry Corbyn is a colonel in the militia, and also a deputy escheator and collector of customs for the Rappahannock River district.
  • July 25, 1675 - Henry Corbyn writes his will, stating that he was in good health, but that he was "of short memory."
  • January 8, 1676 - Henry Corbyn's family tradition holds that he dies at the hands of Indians on this date, but there is no known documentary record of the date or circumstance of his death.

References

Further Reading
Billings, Warren M. A Little Parliament: The Virginia General Assembly in the Seventeenth Century. Richmond: Library of Virginia, 2004.
Billings, Warren M. "Growth of Political Institutions in Virginia, 1634 to 1676." William and Mary Quarterly, 3d ser., 31 (1974): 225–242.
Harbury, Katherine E. "Corbyn, Henry" In The Dictionary of Virginia Biography, Vol. 3, edited by Sara B. Bearss et al., 468–470. Richmond: Library of Virginia, 2006.
Cite This Entry
  • APA Citation:

    Harbury, K. E., & the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. Henry Corbyn (1628 or 1629–ca. 1676). (2013, September 23). In Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved from http://www.EncyclopediaVirginia.org/Corbyn_Henry_1628_or_1629-ca_1676.

  • MLA Citation:

    Harbury, Katharine E. and the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. "Henry Corbyn (1628 or 1629–ca. 1676)." Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 23 Sep. 2013. Web. READ_DATE.

First published: April 15, 2013 | Last modified: September 23, 2013