Friday, July 23, 2010

The Mystery of Washington Corpse

In Thomas B. Helm's History of Allen County, Indiana, published by Kingman Brothers in 1880, an unusual name appears among the list of early settlers of Maumee Township. On page 165, staff writer L. H. Newton relates: "Prominent among the other early settlers of this township were Jabez Phillips, James Johnson, Charles Harding, Benjamin Johnson ___ Flint, ___Crapo, Washington Corpse, J. N. Sweet, Geore Platter, and James Shirley." Many of these names are instantly recognizable. But Washington Corpse? No such person appears in the land grant or deed records of Allen County (indeed, the surname "Corpse" seems virtually unknown). He does not appear inthe 1830, 1840, or 1850 census anywhere in the United States, and further, he is absent from the court record indices for the Circuit Court of Allen County and from the probate records.

So who was Washington Corpse? Was Newton having a bit of fun with his readers, inserting a comical, fictious name among the list of settlers, seeing if he could get away with it? Washington's name was repeated in Robertson's Valley of the Upper Maumee River, published in 1889 (1: 387), but when I was compiling the Maumee Township chapter for the new Allen County history (published in 2006), I still had my initial doubts, so I left out Washington's name, thinking he was a figment of Newton's imagination.

But Newton provided us another small clue by stating in the Springfield Township chapter that Corpse had been the first to marry in Springfield Township, and that his bride was one Miss Runnells, with the marriage performed in the spring of 1837. An examination of the Allen County marriage records reveals this record with a slight variation: Washington Corp and Angeline Reynolds, married 26 November 1836, Marriage Book 1-B, page 34.

So Washington existed after all, even though Newton had butchered his name. But who was he, exactly? The surname "Corp" or "Corpe" is slightly more common than "Corpse," but we still could find no records in the land or court records. The online index of land grant records of the Bureau of Land Management in Washington, D.C., shows that Harvey W. Corpe bought land in Elkhart County from the Fort Wayne Land Office in 1837 and 1844, as did his brother, Benjamin F. Corpe. Going to, we do find Harvey Washington Corpe, son of Joseph and Sarah (Tombe) Corpe, born in Clinton County, N.Y., on 24 October 1801, and died in Union County, Oregon, on 5 December 1882. Could he be our Washington? Probably not.

A submission on the Ancestry site shows that Harvey married Fannie Belinda Durkee on 6 November 1823 in New York, and she was still listed as his wife in Elkhart County on the 1850 census. So either Washington Corp of Allen County was a bigamist, marrying Angelina in a clandestine marriage while squatting on land in Allen County and then moving with his wife to Elkhart, or the two men were not the same. Perhaps our Washington Corp was using an alias.

The mystery, at this point, cannot be solved. We do not know what became of Washington and Angelina (Reynolds) Corp. Except for their marriage record, they generated no records here, and they both appear to have died without a trace.

The story illustrates how local history and genealogy can be a fickle thing. Not everyone who settled in Allen County left behind a paper trail. Not everyone had descendants to remember them. Some people fall through the cracks of our local history and are forgotten in the mists of time. Washington Corp seems to have been such a person - though he did actually exist. Perhaps more information will be uncovered from a family Bible that will establish his identity, but for the moment, he remains lost. Washington, we hardly knew ye!


  1. I have just come across this post while searching for Washington Corpe. He was my husband's 4th great grandfather. His 4th great grandmother was Angelina Reynolds. I do not know what happened to Washington, but Angelina remarried twice: first to Jacob Ashton in 1847 and second to Augustus Smith. Washington and Angelina had three children that I am aware of at this point: William H. Corpe, James Corpe, and Elizabeth Corpe. If you have come across any further information, I would love to get a response.

    Thank you.

  2. I also found this: