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Delaware County, Iowa


 Biography Directory

John Winthrop Corbin


Delhi Twp.



        Delaware county owes a debt of gratitude to her pioneer settlers. No one who has never lived upon the far western frontier can realize the conditions which faced the early settlers nor know how difficult and oft times dangerous it was to meet these conditions. Among those connected with the development and upbuilding of this county from pioneer times to the present is J. Winthrop Corbin, now residing in Delhi. For many years he has been closely connected with farming and stock raising and shipping interests and is classed with the enterprising citizens of the community.

John Winthrop Corbin

 He was born in South Fork township, January 7, 1841, and claims the distinction of being the first white male child born in Delaware county, Iowa. The grandfather, Winthrop Corbin, was a native of Connecticut. At that period the family name was spelled Corbyn. He claimed that the family were related to the Winthrops one of whom was governor of the state for fourteen consecutive terms. Winthrop Corbin married Roxa Warren, who was a granddaughter of Dr. Warren of Revolutionary fame. The Americanized Encyclopedia Britannica states that General Warren left a wife and four children in destitute circumstances and that in 1778 Benedict Arnold came to their relief with a contribution of five hundred dollars and obtained from the continental congress a general's half pension for the wife until the children were of age. There is nothing known concerning the antecedents of J. Winthrop Corbin in the maternal line save that his grandmother's maiden name was Esther Densmore and that she came from the blue mountains of Vermont.

        His father, John Corbin, who was born in Chenango county, New York, February 12, 1812, emigrated to Michigan in the spring of 1837 and there secured a claim but left it in the fall of that year and made his way on foot to the Mississippi, which he crossed on the ice at Dubuque, landing at Eads' Grove in the winter of 1837-38. He remained in this county about a year and a half, during which time he entered a claim on Plum Creek, in South Fork township, and built thereon a log cabin. In the fall of 1839

J. Winthrop Corbin


he returned to his native state and found that his fiancé, Miss Eliza H. Phillips, had removed with her father's family to Marietta, Ohio. Accordingly, early in the spring of 1840, he started for Ohio with a good team of horses and wagon and at Marietta wedded the daughter of Simeon and Esther Phillips. The following year Mr. Phillips and his family came to Delaware county and took up land on Wolf Creek, three miles east of Delhi. He was one of the first county commissioners.
     With a few household goods Mr. and Mrs. Corbin started for their claim in Iowa. Arriving at Chicago, he was offered forty acres of land on the river, where the business center of the city now stands, for his team and wagon arid five hundred dollars, but he refused, believing that the land would never be worth much for farming. On their arrival at Dubuque, Mr. Corbin purchased a window containing six glass, each six by eight inches, and his cabin became known as the "house with a window in it." It was completed without a nail. The roof of shakes was held down by heavy poles. The floor was of puncheons, hewed out with a broad axe, as were the doors and casings. A crane hung over the fireplace from which was suspended the kettle in which the family meal was oft times cooked. The family met all of the experiences, privations and hardships of pioneer life. Mr. Corbin sold dressed hogs in Dubuque each winter at an average of about two dollars per hundred and with the money thus obtained he would enter forty or eighty acres of land adjoining his original property. Occasionally he would sell a few loads of wheat at Dubuque, for which he usually received fifty cents per bushel. His son, J. W. Corbin, the fall after he was three years old, began riding one horse and leading another, tramping out wheat laid on the ground in a circle. When the grain was out, the father would throw off the straw and spread down another layer. When the chaff became too thick he would rake it up in a pile in the center and then start over again, and on a windy day he would winnow the chaff by throwing it into the air. It would blow away and the wheat fall to the ground. Occasionally, by going a distance of ten or twelve miles, he could borrow a fanning mill and then his son had a steady job. The first threshing machine that J. W. Corbin ever saw was one drawn by a pair of oxen and was a primitive affair compared with the modern thresher, although then regarded as a most wonderful machine. With the public interests of the community the father was actively identified and made the first assessment of Delaware county.
     In 1847 J. Winthrop Corbin attended the first public school taught in his part of the county, the sessions being held in the log courthouse in Delhi, with Roxa Brown as the first teacher, and according to the custom of the day, she "boarded round." Delhi at that time contained but five houses. About the same time the community was visited by the circuit preacher, who came on horseback and held meetings in private houses. He preached "everlasting hell fire" and the burning lake, carrying terror to the minds of his hearers, and on one occasion the minister preached upon the awful sin of vanity, directing his remarks at Mr. Corbin’s mother, who had on a calico dress like her neighbors but had adorned it with a bow and a ruffle.
     It was not an unusual thing in this day to see a herd of deer, while the wolves went in droves and bears were also plentiful. When Mr. Corbin was four years of age his mother called him to the window to see a large black bear that was in their yard. The blood curdling scream of the panther was frequently heard and as late as 1853 panthers killed the sheep in the Corbin barnyard. On one occasion a young lady of the neighborhood, returning horseback to her home, was attacked by a pack of wolves and nothing was ever found of her save a piece of one shoe and a scrap of her dress. On another occasion Mr. Corbin's father was treed by wolves but was in shouting distance of his home and, calling his dog, they successfully scared the pack away. Such were some of the conditions amid which the pioneer settlers lived.
       In the fall of 1856 John Corbin sold his farm on Plum Creek and removed to Oberlin, Ohio, but after three years returned to Delaware county and purchased the farms of James and Simeon Phillips on Wolf Creek, three miles southeast of Delhi, there residing until his death in 1883. His wife removed with her daughter, Esther, to Bellingham, Washington, where she passed away at the age of eighty years.
      After the return from Oberlin, J. Winthrop Corbin taught in the district school for a year and in the fall of 1861 enlisted in Company B, Fourth Iowa Cavalry, under Captain J. H. Peters. His regiment, commanded by Colonel Porter, reached Rolla, Missouri, in March, 1862, and on a raid from Rolla Mr. Corbin had the distinction of personally making the first capture made by the Fourth Iowa, securing a noted rebel bushwhacker who had many murders and other crimes to his credit. The Fourth Iowa joined General Curtis after the battle of Pea Ridge and went on the memorable trip from Batesville to Helena, a trip that for hunger, privations and hardships has been classed with the early trips from Skagway to Dawson by people who participated in both. While stationed at Helena the cavalry was kept busy in various expeditions and minor battles. While leading a detail from the Fourth Iowa, acting as advance guard, Mr. Corbin ran into the Twenty first Texas Rangers and his horse was shot to pieces and he was left on the field with two bullet wounds. For about fifteen minutes he was held a prisoner but was soon abandoned in the flight of the rebels. The Fourth Iowa was the only regiment of cavalry with Grant's army when he crossed the Grand Gulf, although there were portions of other regiments. The Fourth Iowa led Sherman's advance to Jackson and after its capture was rear guard of Sherman's army on Grant's right wing in the investment of Vicksburg. During the siege of that city the Fourth Iowa was constantly in the saddle and on one of these expeditions against Johnson's army Mr. Corbin was wounded and sent up the river to the hospital at Memphis. He was mustered out in December, 1864, having served three years and four months. On arriving home Mr. Corbin engaged in farming, which has been his chief life occupation. In 1871 he took an outfit of seven teams to Fargo, North Dakota, and graded several miles of the Northern Pacific Railroad between Fargo and Bismarck. Later for several years he was a prominent buyer and shipper of hogs, cattle and horses at Delhi. In 1883 he sold his farm and moved to Mitchell, South Dakota, where he engaged quite extensively in raising wheat, but hail, drought and low prices made this venture a failure. In 1888 he returned to Delhi, where he has since resided.
     On the 13th of December, 1866, at Shullsburg, Wisconsin, Mr. Corbin was married to Miss Augusta H. Plash, who was born in Hanover, Germany, Febru­ary 27, 1843, and passed away May 14, 1879. They had two sons, Guy Winthrop and Ira Hyde. The former married Cora Annis, of Mitchell, South Dakota, and is now a prominent stockman of North Dakota. Ira H. is now a resident of Athabasca, Alberta, Canada. On the 10th of June, 1880, Mr. Corbin was united in marriage to Miss Lida E. Gleason, of Delhi, a daughter of Benjamin F. and Eliza Gleason. She was born in Adams, Jefferson county, New York, June 19, 1853, and they have two daughters, Dorine Lida and Inez Lyle. Mrs. Corbin was postmistress of Delhi for four years under Cleveland's last administration and was manager of the Delaware County Telephone Company at Delhi Central for more than twelve years. Her father and his family came from Jefferson county, New York, to Iowa in I860, and Mr. Gleason was a leading millwright of that day. He placed the machinery in the Quaker mills at Manchester, in the mills at Forestville, Hartwick and other places and he died at the home of his daughter, Mrs. Corbin, at the age of eighty eight years, having for twelve years survived his wife.
     Mr. Corbin held the office of sheriff of Delaware county in. 1876 and 1877, being elected on the democratic ticket. He has always been regarded as a democrat although he has been very liberal in politics. He cast his first vote for Lincoln while in the army, voted for Governor Kirkwood and later for Roosevelt, but in county affairs has ever considered the capability of the candidate more than his party connections. In 1877 he became a Mason and has been a member of the Grand Army of the Republic since its organization. No history of this county would be complete without extended reference to Mr. Corbin, who is one of the pioneer settlers and has ever been a public spirited citizen, as true and loyal to his country in days of peace as when he followed the old flag upon southern battlefields.



~ source: History of Delaware County, Iowa and its People, Illustrated, Volume II. The S. J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1914, Chicago. Page 374-380.  Call Number 977.7385 H2m; LDS microfilm #934937.

~transcribed and contributed by Constance Diamond for Delaware County IAGenWeb


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