Select Corbett Surname Genealogy

Corbett comes from the Old French corbet, meaning raven.  It might at one time have been a nickname for someone with dark hair.  But the raven is also a symbol in heraldry signifying ferocity. 

Hugh Corbet arrived with William the Conqueror from Normandy and bore this symbol on his crest.  He was granted lands in Shropshire and Corbet became a Shropshire name.  The surname Corbet began to give way to Corbett from the 16th century.

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England.   Corbetts were first found in Shropshire.
  The Corbet line there started with Hugh Corbet, the Norman lord, and his son Roger. Their first base was Caius castle.  Later the ancestral home was Moreton Corbet near Shrewsbury.  They controlled most of what went on within the county and their name was law. 

One branch of this family, based in Longnor Hall, dates from the 1500's.  The last in this line was Jane Corbett who married the archdeacon Joseph Plymley.  He assumed the name of Corbett and was, as his preserved diaries have revealed, a strenuous campaigner against the slave trade. 
The Corbetts of Merrington were another Shropshire line and Corbetts were also to be found at Wigmore in Herefordshire and in Montgomery by the Welsh border.

By the 19th century, many Corbetts had moved away from Shropshire into neighboring counties. Joseph Corbett, for instance, had gone to Brierley Hill in Staffordshire where he ran a canal transport business.  His son John became known as the salt king.  He made a fortune
in the late 19th century from his salt works at Droitwich. 

Elsewhere  There were two Corbett outposts from the 18th century, one in Northumberland on the Scottish border and the other in the Channel Islands between England and France:
  • The Corbet name at Kirknewton in Northumbria dates back to the 13th century and connects with the Norman Corbets who had been landowners across the border in Roxburgh.  One family history traces back to a John Corbett who was a yeoman farmer at Allerwash in the late 1600's.
Scotland.  In the early twelfth century, a Corbet branch had secured lands in Roxburgh on the Scottish borders. They held sway there for many generations.  Corbet Tower in Teviotdale is a relic of those times. Robert Corbet was the provost of Dumfries at the time of Bonnie Prince Charlie.  Corbets also owned lands in Clydesdale and their name in Scotland became more concentrated later on in Glasgow and Lanarkshire. 

Ireland.  With the border region depressed, many Corbets moved away to Ireland.  They settled in Ulster counties such as County Down and Tyrone, and their name was also to be found further south in Tipperary and Cork.  However, these Corbetts may not have been Scots, or even English.  The Irish surname Corban, from the Gaelic O’Corbiun, was often in those days anglicized to Corbett.  

Again, economic hardship, this time in Ireland, caused an exodus.  Most left in the hopes of a better life; while some, like James Corbett from Tipperary, were forcibly removed as convicts.  John Corbett, a Scots-Irish Ulsterman, was an early trans-Atlantic crosser, settling in Bucks County, Pennsylvania in the 1690’s.  Later emigration took place to New York, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. 

America.   Robert Corbett was an early arrival in New England, settling in Mendon, Massachusetts.  A descendant was the Daniel Corbett who married Mary Holbrook in 1741.  They were the first names that were entered into the Corbett family Bible that was presented by Eldad Corbett to his daughter on December 27, 1825.  These Corbetts were later to be found in Pennsylvania and New York.

There were a number of variants of the Corbett name in early America - Corbett, Corbet, Corbit, Corbitt, and Corbitts:

  • Jesse Corbit came to Maryland from Ireland in the late-1700's and fought in the Revolutionary War.
  • a Corbitt branch still flourishes in SW Virginia.  John Corbitt was one of the first settlers in the Wiregrass region of SE Georgia.  His family later moved onto Florida.
  • some Corbets are to be found in Guernsey county, Ohio where a number of Guernseymen, including Peter and Elizabeth Corbet, had gone in the early 1800's. 
  • while most Corbetts entered via Virginia and either settled there or in North Carolina or in other states of the south. 
Two doughty men were the products of Corbett Irish stock.  The first, Gentleman Jim Corbett, born in San Francisco, was crowned heavyweight champion of the world in 1892; the second Jack Corbett, somewhat less known, was a grizzled sea veteran who became the guide and mentor to the great Wall Street financier, Alfred Hatch.  A book Jack Corbett: Mariner, recently published, celebrated his life. 

Caribbean.  William Corbett had arrived in the Caribbean on the sloop Catherine in 1679.  His family were, for generations, sugar planters near Johnson’s Point in Antigua.  However, their way of life came to an abrupt end in 1833 with emancipation.  Edward Corbett, the planter then, was imprisoned for his mistreatment of slaves on a boundary dispute and died in jail, reportedly “from rage.”  

Canada.  The early Corbett immigrants came mainly from Ireland.  There was
a cluster of Irish Corbetts at Chapel’s Grove in Newfoundland from the 1790's.  Around the same time Alexander Corbet sailed from Scotland on the Lucy to Prince Edward Island.  Later in the 1850's, from Ireland, came James Corbett and Patrick Corbett to New Brunswick.  The latter, from county Clare, was said to have crossed the Atlantic with a priest and seven brothers. 

Scots born but of Irish roots, Joseph Corbett arrived with his brother John in 1856.  Five years later, he received a land grant in Bentinck township, Ontario and settled there.  Joseph was an expert in the growing and grafting of apples and his orchard survived there until the 1930's. 

Australia.  The early Corbett arrivals were mainly Irish, either as convicts or as free settlers. 
Two sides of Ireland were to appear later - the Catholic priest (James Corbett from Limerick) and the sporting journalist (William Corbett and his son Claude who were born in Sydney).

Alexander Corbet sailed from Scotland on the Eagle in 1859.
  He first headed for the Victoria goldfields.  Later his family moved to Gympie in Queensland where they became engaged in the timber trade.  This business has now passed through five generations.  .      

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If you would like to read more, click on the miscellany page for further stories and accounts:

Select Corbett Names

Hugh Corbet, who came over with William the Conqueror and settled in Shropshire, is the acknowledged forebear of the Corbetts. 
Denys Corbet was a Guernsey poet and painter.

John Corbett from Staffordshire was the salt king of England in late Victorian times, through his salt works at Droitwich.
Gentleman Jim Corbett won the heavyweight boxing championship in 1892.  He is sometimes called the “father of modern boxing” for his scientific approach to boxing.
Jim Corbett, from an Irish family, was a celebrated big-game hunter in India.
Harry Corbett was the puppeteer known for his Sooty glove puppet character in the 1950's.
Ronnie Corbett was a popular British TV comic actor, best known for his appearances on The Two Ronnies.

Select Corbetts Today
  • 18,000 in the UK (most numerous in Lancashire)
  • 8,500 in America (most numerous in North Carolina).
  • 16,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)

PS.  You might want to check out the surnames page on this website.  It covers surname genealogy in this and companion websites for more than 800 surnames.

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