Legacies of Enslavement at Christ's
Life 1738 - 1779
Matriculation year 1756
Place connected Virginia, North America
Gawin was born in Virginia, and was sent to be educated in England. He attended school in Essex and matriculated at Christ's in 1756. He returned to Virginia in 1761, where he was elected to sit in the House of Burgesses from 1764 until 1770, and was appointed by the king to the Governor's Council to serve briefly in early 1775.
Connection to enslavement
Gawin Corbin was the eldest son of the Virginian landholder, Richard Corbin, whom he predeceased (Richard died in 1790, whereas Gawin died in 1779).¹ ² ³
The Dictionary of Virginia Biography describes Gawin as a 'gentleman planter', thereby implying that he may have owned enslaved people working on his and his family's plantations.²
Gawin's father, Richard, had been bequeathed 'several parcels or tracts of Land cattle and negroes' from his father, including a total of 50 enslaved people, given to him by his father 'soon after [his] marriage was consummated'.⁴ Indeed, Richard's father's will specified that the 50 enslaved people already given to Richard should be 'made up to the number of one full third part' of all those he owned, implying that Richard inherited even more enslaved people when his father died.⁴
Moreover, Richard obtained all of his fathers lands in King and Queen County, all those Middlesex County, and c. 6,000 acres of land in Spotsylvania County. Both of his brothers were also left a share of their father's enslaved people (one third each), and thousands of acres of land in his will.⁴
It would be valuable to locate Gawin's will (though he may have died intestate), to ascertain definitively whether he owned enslaved people as his landowning father did. Nonetheless, his father's will (proved in 1790, 11 years after Gawin had died) indicates the extent of the family's ownership of enslaved people. Richard left various plantations - together with the 'slaves, stocks of cattle, sheep and hoggs' on the lands in question - to two of his surviving sons.⁵ Notably, in addition to other property, he left the Reeds Plantation (in Caroline County, Virginia) and the enslaved people working on it to his son Francis Corbin.⁵
In Richard's will, he alludes repeatedly to his grandson, Richard Henry Corbin, who was less than 21 years of age in 1790, and to whom he left various estates and plantations in Middlesex County, Virginia, as well as the enslaved people working on them.⁵ This bequest resembles those made to two of Richard's sons, in that it includes large tracts of land and enslaved people.
It is possible that this Richard Henry was Gawin's son, who was effectively taking Gawin's place in Richard's will. Richard Henry appears to have been admitted to St John's College, Cambridge, in 1794, though further research would be valuable in order to confirm whether this Richard Henry Corbin was definitely the son of Gawin and the grandson of Richard.⁶
Francis Corbin - one of Gawin's younger brothers, who inherited lands and enslaved people from their father - was elected to Virginia's House of Delegates for ten one-year terms between 1784 and 1794. By the late 1790s, he had retired to focus on managing the Reeds Plantation (inherited from his father), which the Dictionary of Virginia Biography records had grown to over 3,700 acres by 1811.⁷ At his death in 1821, Francis owned 70 enslaved people, despite his long-standing public opposition to the institution.⁷
Overall, it is clear that Gawin's grandfather, father, siblings, and possibly his son, all owned enslaved people. His and family members' status as 'gentlemen planters' appears to be confirmed by their ownership of large tracts of land in Virginia. It is likely that Gawin's education in England was financed with wealth derived at least in part from his father and grandfather's use of enslaved people in the Virginian plantation economy.
¹ Venn, J.A., ed. (1944) "Corbin, Gawin". Alumni Cantabrigienses (Part 2). Vol.2, Cambridge University Press - via Internet Archive. ² Tarter, Brent, 'Gawin Corbin (1739-1779)', Dictionary of Virginia Biography (Library of Virginia, 2006) http://www.lva.virginia.gov/public/dvb/bio.asp?b=Corbin_Gawin_1739-1779 [accessed 20th August 2022]. ³ Evans, Emory G., 'Richard Corbin (1713 or 1714–1790)', Dictionary of Virginia Biography, (Library of Virginia, 2006) https://www.lva.virginia.gov/public/dvb/bio.php?b=Corbin_Richard [accessed 3rd August 2022]. ⁴ Fleet, Beverley, Virginia Colonial Abstracts, Vol. IV (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1961), p. 56-58 [accessible via the HathiTrust Digital Library, digitised by the University of Michigan: https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/009915585]. ⁵ Fleet, Beverley, Virginia Colonial Abstracts, Vol. IV (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1961), p. 63-66 [accessible via the HathiTrust Digital Library, digitised by the University of Michigan: https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/009915585]. ⁶ Venn, J.A., ed. (1944) "Corbin, Richard Henry". Alumni Cantabrigienses (Part 2). Vol.2, Cambridge University Press - via Internet Archive. ⁷ Hackett, Mary A., 'Francis Corbin (1759 or 1760–1821)', Dictionary of Virginia Biography, (Library of Virginia, 2006) http://www.lva.virginia.gov/public/dvb/bio.asp?b=Corbin_Francis [accessed 20th August 2022].