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Last Updated 01/12/01

Appendices


[259 cont.]

VII. JAMES INNES AND FRANCIS CORBIN.

James Innes.

In the year 1751 there sat at the council board of North Carolina Governor Gabriel Johnston and seven councillors, among whom were James Innes, Francis Corbin, James Murray, and John Rutherfurd, friends and associates, standing to each other on varying terms of [286] intimacy. Though Johnston and Corbin had been political antagonists, nevertheless the five men belonged to a common group. Innes and Murray were very intimate, for, next to Thomas Clarke, Innes was Murray’s best friend in the colony; Murray and Rutherfurd, as we shall see, came to the Cape Fear together and worked together for twenty-five years. Innes and Corbin were in constant touch personally and officially, and Mrs. Corbin was the “great friend” of Rutherfurd and his wife, named one of her slaves “Rutherfurd,” and left her property to the Rutherfurd children. It is a curious fact that two of the men who sat at the council board, Corbin and Rutherfurd, should have married eventually the widows of two of the others, Innes and Johnston.

Colonel James Innes, the first husband of Jean Corbin,—the old lady mentioned in the Journal,—was a Scotsman, born in Cannesby, county Caithness, a far-away region in northern Scotland, from which others also migrated to North Carolina. He probably came to the colony with Governor Johnston in September, 1734, and with his wife, whom in his will he calls “the companion of my life,” settled on the Cape Fear. He early became prominent in the province, holding many offices of trust, civil and military, and winning the esteem of his contemporaries as an honorable man and an honest and efficient public servant. He served as captain of the Wilmington company of North Carolina troops in the expedition against Cartagena in 1740 (Connor, History of North Carolina, I, 262), and was appointed after his return colonel of militia in New Hanover county. In 1754 he was spoken of as an old and experienced officer. His military service and close intimacy with Governor Dinwiddie of Virginia—they called each other by their first names—led to his being selected to lead the provincial troops in the Braddock expedition. His connection with that campaign is well known.

Innes played a prominent part in civil life also and served his colony in many capacities, but his aptitudes were military rather than civil and he never became a political leader or a seeker for offices. Governor Johnston recommended him for the council and he sat at the board under Johnston and his successor, Dobbs, for nearly ten years. His relations with Corbin began at least as early as 1750, when the latter, as land agent for Lord Granville, associated him with himself as co-agent, and from that time to 1754, when he was dismissed by Lord Granville, Innes acted with Corbin in the Granville interest, journeying two hundred miles through the wilderness, from the Cape Fear to Edenton, to perform his duties. None of the charges brought [287] against Corbin were ever seriously raised against Innes, and he emerges scatheless from an employment which, dependent as it was on fees and perquisites, created an irresistible itch for money. Innes died September 5, 1759, and two years afterward Corbin married his widow (shortly after October, 1761). Mrs. Jean Corbin was an “old woman” in 1775; what her age was when she married her second husband must be left to conjecture. People grew old early in colonial days; one was already “an old aged man” at sixty-one (Maryland Archives, X, 78, 165). Innes was born about 1700; she may have been a few years younger.

Francis Corbin.

The Honorable Francis Corbin, as he was frequently called, was appointed land agent for Lord Granville, September, 1744, and came to North Carolina from London in November of the same year, for the purpose of “setting off to Lord Granville one-eighth part of the colony.” He was associated in succession with five co-agents, of whom Innes was one, and managed to hold onto his own position successfully till 1760. At one time or another he was a justice of the peace, an assistant judge, commissary and judge of vice-admiralty in 1752, colonel of the Chowan militia in 1757, member of the council, deputy to the assembly, and a frequent appointee on commissions and committees in the assembly and out. He was prominent in the affairs of St. Paul’s Church, Edenton, and it is probable that his influence there was of material assistance in his political career. He was keen, efficient, and aggressive even to turbulence, but of a personality and character that has not endeared him to posterity. He was probably honest enough in his way, for, as far as we know, no charges of a dishonorable nature were ever made except in connection with his fees as Granville’s agent, and in this particular we are not sure that he did anything strictly illegal; but at the same time it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that he was deficient in some of the qualities that make for moral uprightness and political stability. One may he prejudiced, but it seems a fitting thing that Corbin should have taken a liking for a woman whom Miss Schaw describes as not of the best character or of the most amiable manners and whose evil deeds she hopes will be forgiven. The wonder is that Jean Corbin should ever have been Innes’s “loving wife.”

In the performance of their duties as agents for Lord Granville, [288] Corbin and his first colleague, Child, were charged with acting “in concert to make the most that they could of the fees and perquisites of his Lordship’s office for their own emolument, at the expense of the people, by which means they procured great sums for themselves and little for his lordship.” When Bodley became co-agent, the complaints became so insistent and the abuses apparently so flagrant that the assembly appointed a committee to inquire into the matter. Though the committee reported that in the main the charges were true, the assembly took no further action and in consequence a number of Granville’s grantees, exasperated because of their failure to obtain legal redress, marched to Corbin’s house near Edenton, seized that gentleman, carried him off in his own chaise to Enfield, the county seat some sixty or more miles away, and there compelled him to sign a bond to disgorge. This riotous proceeding so scandalized the assembly that at its next session, in May, 1759, it sought to secure the punishment of “the authors of [the] several riots, routs, and unlawful assemblies within Lord Granville’s district.” But the effort came to nothing, and the chief interest in the incident lies in its reflection upon Corbin’s character and the attitude of the assembly, and in its place in the history of the colony as a forerunner of the Regulators' War.

Though unmolested by the assembly, Corbin did not escape so easily in his conflict with the governor. In 1748 he had joined with others in a letter to Secretary Bedford, charging Johnston with misfeasance in office, but the secretary took no action, the Privy Council dismissed the charge, and Corbin continued to sit on Johnston’s council. When, however, in 1758 he espoused the cause of the assembly against Dobbs, that excitable upholder of the prerogative suspended him from the council for prevarication and non-attendance, and removed him from his positions as assistant judge and colonel of militia. In 1760 he was dismissed by Granville from his post of agent also. Despite these humiliating experiences, perhaps because of them, Corbin was immediately elected to the assembly from Chowan county, and acting with Child, Barker, and Jones, whom Dobbs characterized as the “northern junto,” resisted the efforts which Dobbs was making, during the remaining years of his administration, to maintain in unnecessarily arbitrary fashion the legal claims of the crown. Though Tryon suggested that Corbin be restored to the council in 1766, nothing came of the nomination, probably because of his death, which took place sometime in 1766 or 1767. He left no will, and his estate, except such portions as were given his wife in the marriage [289] settlement of 1761, was disposed of at auction, at which his wife bid in some of her husband’s personal property.

Corbin spent the greater part of his life in Chowan county, on a plantation two or three miles from Edenton.1 In 1758 he began the erection in Edenton of the Cupola House, a famous old building which is still standing and which bears on its gable-post or ornament the initials “F.C.” and the date “1758,” but it is doubtful if he ever lived there.2 When he went to the Cape Fear we do not certainly know, but it was before his marriage with Mrs. Innes;3 He could have continued to represent Chowan county, even though living at “Point Pleasant,” provided he retained in the county for which he stood real estate to the extent of at least one hundred acres. He was buried, as Miss Schaw says, at the bottom of the lawn on the “Point Pleasant” plantation, not far from the grave of James Innes, between whom and Corbin the old lady herself at last found rest “in a very decent snug quarter.”


FOOTNOTES

1The exact location of this plantation seems to be unknown. In his marriage settlement Corbin describes his own property as a half acre of land and a wharf in Edenton, and Strawberry Island near Edenton, with houses, outhouses, and improvements. Dr. Dillard identifies this island with the present John Island. Perhaps the plantation referred to was there, but the identification is far from certain.

2In 1760 Corbin made a deed leaving the Cupola House to his prospective wife, Jean Innes and after her death to his natural heirs. It went eventually to his brother, Edward Corbin (North Carolina Booklet, XV, 205-217).

3In October, 1761, he is spoken of as “late of Chowan County,” so that he must have left the Albemarle region before that date (Register’s Office, Conveyances, E, 88-94). His marriage was solemnized shortly afterwards.



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