ENTRY

Hannah Lee Corbin (February 6, 1728–by October 7, 1782)

SUMMARY

Hannah Lee Corbin was a member of the Virginia gentry and an early advocate of women’s rights. She was born on February 6, 1728, at Matholic, the Westmoreland County plantation of her parents, Thomas Lee and Hannah Ludwell Lee, and grew up at Stratford Hall. In about 1747, she married Gawin Corbin, a cousin from another prominent Virginia family. Gawin Corbin died sometime during the winter of 1759–1760, and Hannah Corbin was left control of his vast property until their one daughter came of age with the stipulation that she not move from Westmoreland County or remarry. She took part in the Baptist revivals of the 1760s as her plantation Peckatone thrived under her management. She lived at Peckatone with Richard Lingan Hall, a Baptist physician. Corbin supported the American Revolution, and in 1778 wrote to her brother Richard Henry Lee questioning why propertied widowed women such as herself should be taxed without representation since they did not have the right to vote. However, unlike some other Baptists and Virginia revolutionaries, she did not free her enslaved laborers and owned sixty-four people at the time of her death around early October 1782.

Corbin was born on February 6, 1728, at Matholic, the Westmoreland County plantation of her parents, Thomas Lee and Hannah Ludwell Lee. Her immediate family was one of the most prominent in Virginia. Her mother’s Harrison and Ludwell kinsmen included many wealthy planters and burgesses and several members of the governor’s Council, and her father was president of the Council and acting governor when he died in 1750. Her brothers included a member of the Council, Philip Ludwell Lee; two signers of the Declaration of Independence, Francis Lightfoot Lee and Richard Henry Lee; a member of the Convention of 1776, Thomas Ludwell Lee; and two of the first United States diplomats during the American Revolution, Arthur Lee, who also served in the Confederation Congress, and William Lee, who was an alderman and sheriff of London on the eve of the Revolution.

Lee grew up in the family’s new Westmoreland County mansion, Stratford Hall, was educated by private tutors alongside her brothers, and read widely in her father’s well-stocked library. On an unknown date, but probably about 1747, she married Gawin Corbin, a cousin whose family was almost as prominent as hers; his brother Richard Corbin and nephew Gawin Corbin (1739–1779) both served on the governor’s Council, and another nephew, Francis Corbin, was a member of the Convention of 1788. Hannah Corbin and her husband lived at his Peckatone plantation in Westmoreland County, about twenty miles downriver from Stratford Hall. They had one daughter, Martha Corbin, born in 1748. Gawin Corbin died sometime during the winter of 1759–1760. Under the terms of his will, which named his wife one of the executors of his large estate, she was to control and profit from her husband’s vast property until their daughter married or reached age twenty-one; but his will also stipulated that Hannah Corbin must reside in Westmoreland and not remarry in order to retain her interest in his estate.

Though presumably displeased by the constraints her husband’s will imposed, Corbin flourished in widowhood. Peckatone prospered under her careful management, as she oversaw operations on the plantation and dealt directly with London merchants who bought and marketed her tobacco. Corbin’s brothers, several of whom were themselves great planters, respected her business and managerial skills and sometimes solicited her advice.

Corbin found spiritual fulfillment in the Baptist revivals of the 1760s. Virginia authorities, however, sought to suppress the Baptists, who challenged the privileged position of the established Church of England and whose egalitarian views threatened to undermine the social hierarchy. On May 29, 1764, a Westmoreland County grand jury presented Corbin and Richard Lingan Hall for not attending Anglican church services. Hall was a Baptist physician who had attended Gawin Corbin during his final illness, and by 1762 he had fallen in love with Hannah Corbin and was living with her at Peckatone. Both financial and religious considerations discouraged Corbin and Hall from marrying. If Corbin had remarried, she would have lost the property she controlled after her husband’s death. Baptist convictions enabled the couple to justify their choice inasmuch as only marriages performed by an Anglican clergyman were legally valid in the colony. It is possible a Baptist minister married them extralegally.

In 1769 Corbin’s daughter took possession of her inheritance, including Peckatone, and two years later Corbin and Hall moved to Corbin’s Woodberry estate, in Richmond County. They had one son, whom they named Elisha Hall Corbin, and one daughter, whom Hall sometimes referred to as Martha Corbin and Corbin as Martha Hall or as her Baptist daughter.

Religious heterodoxy and Corbin’s association with Hall, who died late in the spring or early in the summer of 1774, did not damage her relations with her family, with whom she shared in the patriotic opposition to British policies before the American Revolution. Corbin may have expected the Revolution to improve the status of women. Writing to her brother Richard Henry Lee in March 1778 (a letter that is now lost), she applied the Revolutionary dictum of no taxation without representation to propertied single women and widows, such as herself, who, like American colonists faced with Parliamentary levies, were taxed without their consent because they had no right to vote. Although Lee took seriously his sister’s complaint and privately stated that he supported enfranchising such women, he never said so publicly. Nor, for that matter, did she.

Corbin’s outspoken and unconventional life suggests the possibilities and limits of women’s independence in eighteenth-century Virginia. Wealth, connections, and ability combined to allow her to live independently as a widow for more than two decades. Financial imperatives and religious conviction, which contemporaries increasingly identified as a hallmark of feminine virtue, won her relationship with Hall grudging acceptance, even if not outright approval. Access to books, to newspapers, and especially to influential men led her to express political opinions and ponder the role and status of women in a revolutionary world. Corbin’s legacy, however, was ultimately conservative. She never challenged marriage as an institution. She expected her own daughters to marry and took no steps to create separate estates to preserve their property rights after they married. Unlike some other early Baptists and other Virginia revolutionaries, she never freed her enslaved laborers. Her call for suffrage, for which she is chiefly remembered, was more an individual protest against taxation without representation than a broader assertion of women’s rights.

Corbin died, probably in Westmoreland County, still owning sixty-four enslaved people and more than 1,700 acres of land in Caroline, Fauquier, King George, Richmond, and Westmoreland Counties. The date of her death is not recorded, but it probably occurred not long before her will was proved in the Richmond County Court on October 7, 1782.

MAP
TIMELINE
February 6, 1728

Hannah Lee Corbin is born at Matholic, the Westmoreland County plantation of her parents, Thomas Lee and Hannah Ludwell Lee. Her family is among the most prominent in Virginia.

About 1747

Hannah Lee marries Gawin Corbin, a cousin from another prominent Virginia family. They live on his Peckatone plantation.

1748

Hannah Lee Corbin and Gawin Corbin’s daughter, Martha, is born. 

Winter 1759–1760

Gawin Corbin dies, leaving control of his property to Hannah Lee Corbin until their daughter comes of age, with the stipulation that Corbin not leave Westmoreland County or remarry.

May 29, 1764

A Westmoreland grand jury presents Hannah Lee Corbin and Richard Lingan Hall, a Baptist physician, for not attending Anglican church services. Hall lived with Corbin at Peckatone, but they were not married.

1769

Hannah Lee Corbin’s daughter Martha takes possession of her inheritance, including Peckatone.

1771

Hannah Lee Corbin moves to her Woodberry estate in Richmond County with Richard Lingan Hall. Corbin and Hall have two children.

Late Spring or Early Summer 1774

Richard Lingan Hall dies.

March 1778

Hannah Lee Corbin writes a letter to her brother Richard Henry Lee in which she applies the Revolutionary dictum of no taxation without representation to propertied single women and widows.

1782

Hannah Lee Corbin dies, likely in Westmoreland County, owning sixty-four enslaved people and more than 1,700 acres of land.

CITE THIS ENTRY
APA Citation:
Kierner, Cynthia & Dictionary of Virginia Biography. Hannah Lee Corbin (February 6, 1728–by October 7, 1782). (2024, June 05). In Encyclopedia Virginia. https://encyclopediavirginia.org/entries/hannah-lee-corbin-february-6-1728-by-october-7-1782.
MLA Citation:
Kierner, Cynthia, and Dictionary of Virginia Biography. "Hannah Lee Corbin (February 6, 1728–by October 7, 1782)" Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Humanities, (05 Jun. 2024). Web. 21 Jun. 2024
Last updated: 2024, June 12
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