85th Corbly Reunion

2016 Corbly Reunion

During the 85th reunion of The John Corbly Descendants Association, held June 26, 2016, Dr. Jeffrey Johnson, head of the American Baptist Churches of Pennsylvania and Delaware, presented a plaque stating that the John Corbly Baptist Church of Garards Fort, PA is the second oldest continually operating Baptist church in the United States.

Reverend Corbly established the Goshen church, now renamed the John Corbly Baptist Church, 243 years ago after coming to America from Ireland as an indentured servant.  Living in the 1750-60’s first in eastern Pennsylvania, then Virginia and finally settling in Garards Fort, Corbly established over 30 churches west of the Appalachians, spanning a region from Bridgeport, WV to Peters Creek near Pittsburgh, PA.  In addition to this accomplishment, Reverend Corbly served as a Revolutionary War soldier, chaplain and militiaman, a delegate to the General Assembly in Williamsburg and a trustee of Washington Academy (now W&J College).  Also he surveyed and platted the city of Louisville, Kentucky and was arrested for his outspoken views against the whiskey tax during the Whiskey Rebellion.  Later he was exonerated of all charges. Corbly had three wives and seventeen children.  Descendants from eleven of these children have met at his home church in Garards Fort the last Sunday in June since 1932.

This year’s reunion, the 85th, began with a worship service led by Reverend Gary Whipkey.  Association President Bill Miller called the meeting to order.  After attendees introduced themselves and related their Corbly lineage and interest in local history, the following individuals were recognized:  Robert Rice, Waynesburg, PA and Jack Arnold, Houston, TX, the oldest and youngest attendees, respectively; Jesse Stewart, Port Hadlock, WA and Larry Stevenson, Garards Fort, PA who travelled the longest and shortest distances to attend the reunion.  Three others, each in their nineties, were recognized:  Jim Hawkins, Pansy Six and Eugene Everly.  Over 80 individuals representing 15 states, ranging from Florida to the state of Washington, were in attendance.  Many of the out-of-town participants initially learned of the reunion through their website  https://johncorblydescendants.org.

President Miller discussed the families of Reverend Corbly’s three wives.  His first wife, Abigail Kirk, died  in  1768 while they were living in the Great Cacapon valley of northern Virginia.  Abigail’s parents, Roger and Jean Bowen Kirk, were Quakers.  They had a large farm and mill outside Nottingham, PA and employed Corbly as an indentured servant.

Elizabeth Tyler, the second wife, was massacred by Indians as the family walked to church at Garards Fort in 1782.  Elizabeth and three children were killed while two daughters survived after being scalped.  Elizabeth’s family came from Shepardstown, VA and homesteaded near Carmichaels, PA in the early 1770’s.  Elizabeth’s parents, Edward Jr. and Nancy Anne Langley Tyler, then travelled with George Rogers Clark in 1778 to the Falls of the Ohio, now Louisville, KY, and eventually settled there.  The Blackacre Preserve, outside of Louisville, is part of a 1,000 acre tract initially claimed by Edward Tyler Jr.  Elizabeth’s brother, Moses Tyler, was the subsequent owner.  The house that his son, Presley, built on the property now serves as the headquarters and museum for the Blackacre Preserve.

Two years after the massacre, Reverend Corbly married Nancy Ann Lynn, the daughter of Colonel Andrew Lynn Jr. and Mary Ashercraft Lynn.  The Lynn family came from New Jersey via Maryland to Fayette County, PA where Andrew Jr. tomahawked land claims north of Brownsville.  Colonel Lynn served throughout the Revolution while his wife raised the family and ran the farm enterprise plus a grist mill on the Big Redstone.  They are buried in an unknown location of the family homestead, “Crabtree Bottom”.

Featured speaker for the reunion, Mary Beth Pastorius of Sewickley, PA, discussed preservation options for the Corbly house. As a historical preservationist who has restored several buildings in Waynesburg, Ms. Pastorius serves as a trustee of the Pittsburgh History Landmarks Foundation.

The John Corbly house, built on his land tract Slave Gallant, is on Carmichaels Road approximately one mile from Garards Fort.  Ms. Pastorius reviewed the construction practices and materials based on an on-site visit as well as a description from the National Register of Historical Places application which was approved in 1984.  The 1796 building is a two-story brick house with ten rooms and a large parlor, apparently used for worship services.  The hand planed mantle pieces are unique and the bricks were fired on site.  Some of the bricks were over-fired, resulting in a blackened appearance.  The windows indicate that they were replaced in the mid-1800’s, since the present large glass panes would not have been used in the initial construction.  The house is in need of very significant repairs both inside and out.  In the partial cellar, log beams were found that may have been from an earlier cabin at the site.  It was suggested that dendrochronology techniques could be used to date these logs.  Preservation options for the Corbly house were compared with other local buildings such as the log courthouse in Waynesburg, the Thomas Hughes house in Jefferson and the Colonel Edward Cook house near Belle Vernon, PA.  With its historical significance and the fact that the cabin portion may be the oldest structure in Greene County, the Corbly house deserves preservation.  Ms. Pastorius encouraged descendants and people interested in local history to pursue options for saving the house.  She will be working with the Corbly Association to further document the history and architectural features of the dwelling.

The reunion concluded with a brief memorial service for descendants who have passed away since the last reunion and photos of descendants from each of the three Corbly wives.  Following a luncheon in the church social hall, tours of the Garards Fort cemetery were given.  The graves of Corbly, two wives and eleven children as well as memorials for the Corbly massacre and highlights of Corbly’s life are on the cemetery grounds.

Next year’s reunion will be held June 25, 2017.  The event is open not only to Corbly descendants but also to anyone interested in local history.  For more information, contact William Miller at [email protected] or 724-627-7129.