Dictionary of Virginia Biography

Gawin Corbin (15 December 1739–19 July 1779), member of the Council, was the eldest son of Betty Tayloe Corbin and Richard Corbin, later a member of the governor's Council and deputy receiver general with close ties to many of the colony's leading families. He grew up at the Laneville plantation in King and Queen County and received an education intended to prepare him to take his own place at the apex of Virginia's elite. Corbin attended a private school in England, enrolled in Christ's College, University of Cambridge, on 26 January 1756, and on 11 February of that year entered the Middle Temple to study law. He was admitted to the bar on 23 January 1761 and returned to Virginia soon thereafter. On 17 November 1762 Corbin married a cousin, Joanna Tucker, of Norfolk. They had five daughters and one son and resided at Buckingham, his paternal grandfather's plantation in Middlesex County.

Rather than practice law, Corbin became a gentleman planter. Appointed a justice of the peace soon after settling in Middlesex County, he became county lieutenant, or commander of the militia, in December 1767. He won election to the House of Burgesses in the autumn of 1764 and served through June 1770. Corbin was usually a member of the Committee of Propositions and Grievances and in May 1769 became a member of the Committee for Religion. There is no indication that he attended the session of July 1771, for which he was eligible, and he did not make a rapid move into the ranks of the House leaders. In the mid-1760s his father lobbied unsuccessfully to secure for him the lucrative post of collector of customs for the district of the upper James River, but from 8 September 1767 until 10 October 1775 Corbin was comptroller for the York River customs district.

Early in the 1770s Corbin or members of his family began pressing for his appointment to the governor's Council, the highest office to which a Virginian could normally aspire. It was undoubtedly his family's prominence and devotion to the Crown, not his record of public service, that convinced officials in London to comply when a vacancy occurred at a critical time. On 21 February 1775 the king signed the royal warrant of appointment, giving Corbin and his father the rare distinction of serving together on the Council. That service, however, was extremely brief, consisting of about three and a half dramatic weeks beginning on 1 June 1775 when the Council and House of Burgesses met together for the last time as the General Assembly of the colony.

The Corbins were loyal to the Crown during the American Revolution, but family members suffered little overt harassment and had no legal impediments imposed on their private lives. Corbin's father even retained the respect of the new political leadership of Virginia. Among Gawin Corbin's younger brothers, John Tayloe Corbin was briefly detained at the beginning of the war, Thomas Corbin served in the British militia in the mother country and later procured a commission in the regular British army, and Francis Corbin, later a member of the Convention of 1788, spent the Revolutionary years in England completing his education. Early in the Revolution the family's Loyalism cast a shadow over their sister's husband, Carter Braxton, who signed the Declaration of Independence. Gawin Corbin apparently lived quietly and undisturbed at his estate in Middlesex County until he died on 19 July 1779. His family proudly had his appointment to the Council recorded on his gravestone. In 1941 the surviving family gravestones at the Buckingham plantation were moved to Christ Episcopal Church, in Middlesex County.

Sources Consulted:
Birth, marriage, and death dates and children identified in Gawin Corbin family Bible records, Accession 36353, Library of Virginia (LVA); J. A. Venn, comp., Alumni Cantabrigienses, pt. 2 (1944), 2:136 (variant birth date of 29 Dec. 1738 and death date of 10 July 1779); Sir Henry F. MacGeagh and H. A. C. Sturgess, comps., Register of Admissions to the Honourable Society of the Middle Temple (1949), 1:350; some letters to Corbin in Richard Corbin Letter Book (1758–1768), Richard Corbin Papers, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, Williamsburg, Va.; Council appointment in Colonial Office Papers 324/43, 150–151, Public Record Office, National Archives, Kew, England; Henry R. McIlwaine and John Pendleton Kennedy, eds., Journals of the House of Burgesses of Virginia, 1619–1776 (1905–1915), 1773–1776, 173; Henry R. McIlwaine, ed., Legislative Journals of the Council of Colonial Virginia (1918–1919; 2d ed., 1979), 3:1590; Colonial Papers, folder 50, no. 22, Record Group 1, LVA; gravestone inscription giving precise age at death printed in Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 30 (1922): 313.

Written for the Dictionary of Virginia Biography by Brent Tarter.

How to cite this page:
Brent Tarter,"Gawin Corbin (1739–1779)," Dictionary of Virginia Biography, Library of Virginia (1998– ), published 2006 (http://www.lva.virginia.gov/public/dvb/bio.asp?b=Corbin_Gawin_1739-1779, accessed [today's date]).

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