86th Corbly Reunion

The 86th reunion of the John Corbly Descendants Association was held June 25, 2017 at the John Corbly Baptist Church in Garards Fort.  Attending the reunion was a sixth generation great- grandson of Reverend Corbly, Ross Reeder, from Lafayette, Indiana who travelled with his parents to see first-hand the place where his famous ancestor lived, farmed, preached and died. Ross, an Eagle Scout, currently is enrolled at Purdue University with a double major in management and accounting. He became interested in learning about Corbly while completing a six-year genealogical project with his 4-H club.  The project, which included an essay about Reverend Corbly, garnered 2nd place at the Indiana State Fair.

Also attending the 86th reunion were sixty others from twelve states, the District of Columbia and British Columbia, Canada.  In addition, the congregation from the John Corbly Memorial Baptist Church was well represented.  The church, first named Goshen Baptist, was renamed for Rev. Corbly in 1907.  Last year, it was recognized as the 2nd oldest continually operating Baptist church in the United States.

Rev. Corbly was early settler in Greene County and is credited with starting over 30 Baptist churches in his lifetime.  He participated in the Revolutionary War with the George Rogers Clark expedition to the Falls of the Ohio and platted the city Louisville.  He was one of 30 individuals from southwest Pennsylvania who were arrested during the Whiskey Rebellion and marched to Philadelphia for trial in December 1794.   After losing his wife 1st wife Abigail Kirk, with whom he had 4 children, he married Elizabeth Tyler and fathered 5 children.   In 1782 Elizabeth and 3 children were massacred as they were walking to church in Garards Fort.  Keeping his faith after this horrendous event, Rev. Corbly continued his ministry and was key in organizing churches into the Redstone Association.  He and a third wife, Nancy Ann Lynn, had 8 more children.  He died at his Garards Fort home in 1803 at the age of 70.

Reunion activities began with a church service led by Reverend Gary Whipkey at the John Corbly Baptist Church, Garards Fort.  Following the church service, President Bill Miller called the meeting to order and attendees introduced themselves, relating their Corbly lineage and interest in local history.  The following individuals were recognized:  Robert J. Rice, Waynesburg, PA and Ross Reeder, Lafayette, IN,  oldest and youngest attendees, respectively; Tony and Martha Sullivan, Courteway, British Columbia, Canada and Robin Reid Simons, Garards Fort, PA who travelled the longest and shortest distances to attend the reunion.  Many of the out-of-town participants initially learned of the reunion through the website  https://johncorblydescendants.org.    Descendants from Rev. Corbly and his first and third wives, Abigail and Nancy Ann, were in attendance.

President Miller discussed some lesser known aspects of Rev. Corbly’s life such as his first land  grant of 52 acres from Lord Fairfax  on the Great Cacapon in 1765.   Corbly would have lived there with his first wife Abigail and their 4 children.    Today, the land tract would now be identified in Morgan County, West Virginia.  From 1787 to 1790, Rev. Corbly served as a trustee for Washington Academy, now W &J College.   He is considered a founder of the Redstone Association of Baptist Churches of Western Pennsylvania, Virginia (now West Virginia) and Maryland.  His Goshen Baptist Church had a membership in 1792  of 167, the largest in the association.    Corbly and Rev. David Philips of Peter’s Creek were serving as officers for that organization in 1802-03.  With the death of Rev. Corbly , no meeting was held in 1803 and Rev. Phillips  preached at Rev. Corbly’s funeral.

The featured Reunion speaker was Rebecca Kichta Miller of Pittsburgh who is President of the Western Pennsylvania Genealogy Society. She discussed the pros and cons of DNA-based genealogy.    To enhance the benefits of DNA testing, she noted that as many relatives as possible should be tested and a compilation on a spreadsheet is essential. When possible, the oldest male members of the family should be tested first.  There are at least four commercial services available and pricing varies from $90 to $150 for an individual test.   Their database sizes range from a half-million to 4 million but such numbers are miniscule since the world population is over 7.5  billion people.  A DNA test cannot confirm that someone is your great-grandfather; however, it can confirm that he is not.  Also, DNA tests cannot tell you if you have a specific heredity disease.   Ms. Kichta Miller also mentioned the importance for women for keeping their maiden name included on vital records for genealogy purposes.   She also expressed privacy concerns in sharing personal genealogy records (e.g. your mother’s maiden name is a common security question).

At the conclusion of the business meeting, a brief memorial service was held for descendants who had passed away since the last reunion.  Photos were taken of descendants from each of the Corbly’s wives.  A special “whiskey cake”, prepared by descendant Lena Galing was auctioned.   Interestingly, the high bidder was Bonnie Corbly, the only descendant in attendance with the last name of Corbly.   Following the luncheon in the church social hall, some descendants visited the Garards Fort cemetery.  The grave sites of Rev. Corbly, his 2nd and 3rd wives and eleven children, a are on the cemetery grounds as well as a memorial for the Corbly massacre.

Next year’s reunion will be held Sunday June 24,  2018.  The event is open not only to Corbly descendants but anyone interested in local history.  For more information, contact William Miller at  [email protected]  or 724-627-7129.