Historical Society of Southwest Virginia


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By Gordon Aronhime



All material on these pages are copyrighted by Ganell Marshall

Joseph Martin is a fine example of the gifted pioneer leader of the Old Southwest in the Eighteenth century. He lived a life of folk-lore proportions, held many offices in several states, and died almost forgotten.

This pioneer was the son of another Joseph Martin. Born in Bristol, England, Joseph Martin, Sr, was the second son and middle sibling of a wealthy merchant. Since, in those days, the younger son inherited the name only, Joseph was shipped as supercargo to America that he might provide for himself. He sailed on a ship called the Brice, a name he gave to his eldest son and which has remained in the family. (1)

Joseph Martin, Sr., remained in America. About 1729, he came to Albemarle Co., then Goochland Co., VA, where he met and married Susanna Childs, daughter of a well-to-do farmer. Hearing of this "degrading" act, his father in Bristol, England, disinherited his second son. Joseph, Sr., remained in Albemarle Co., VA, dying there in 1760, leaving five sons and six daughters. General Joseph Martin was the third of these sons. (2) Colonel William Martin, son of General Joseph, thus characterized the grandfather he never saw: "My grandfather, on his death in 1760, left a pretty good estate. He was a perfect Englishman. Large and athletic, bold, daring, self-willed and supercilious with the highest sense of honor. And in him was depicted, as my father has told me, the completest form of the aristocracy of the British Government." (3) Of the brothers and sisters of his own father, William Martin wrote that they were of large physical stature, but, save for his own father (General Joseph Martin) and two aunts, they were of "mental mediocrity." (4)

General Joseph Martin was born in Albemarle Co., VA sometime in 1740. From childhood, he was wild, undisciplined, intellectually lazy, and shiftless. Unusually large, he treated school as a joke, often running away, sometimes combining with other reprobates to form a neighborhood menace. His father, unable to curb him, apprenticed him to a carpenter.

That Joseph revolted against such a fate must not have much surprised his parents. He ran away and joined the army, the French and Indian War having just begun. William Martin's version was that his father and Thomas Sumter, later the famed Revolutionary General, ran off together to Fort Pitt. This does not seem correct, for Joseph Martin was paid for patrolling the frontiers in Augusta Co., VA, prior to October 2, 1775. (5) It is more likely that Martin joined Sumter, who was six years his senior, in 1756 for the trip to Fort Pitt. Again, on November 30, 1757, though then only seventeen, Martin was paid for frontier services in Augusta County as a sergeant. (6)

An amusing episode arose on the return from the Fort Pitt tour of duty. Sumter and Martin got separated on their return. When Joseph arrived at Staunton, he was astonished to find his friend jailed for debt - astonished not at Sumter's being in debt or in jail, but at his being in jail for debt! Martin asked, and was granted, the boon of remaining in jail overnight with his friend. He had ten guineas and a tomahawk. The latter may have come from anywhere, but the former was probably the fruit of martin's ruling vice - gambling. He left both the guineas and the tomahawk with Sumter, who used the gold to effect his release. It was thirty years before the two men met again, but Sumter then repaid the money. (7)

In 1762, Joseph Martin married Sarah Lucas, who according to her son William, was "a woman of the first order, but poor." (8) Faced now with not only realities, but responsibilities, Joseph Martin settled down to a livelihood that ill suited him - farming. An event occurred at this time which, at least in retrospect, is dramatic. Martin's English relatives, feeling remorse at the elder Joseph having been denied his patrimony because he had married in America, offered to share the estate, were a representative sent to England. Since Joseph, Sr. was dead, the family chose young Joseph to represent them. Passage was booked on a ship, but, as often happened in the eighteenth century, Joseph was delayed and the ship sailed without him. It was lost at sea with all aboard.

Denied fortune this way, another avenue opened in the life of this remarkable man. The "Long Hunts" which began about this time were quite in the province of Joseph Martin. He made four of these annual, immensely profitable hunts, though these seem to have been in another area than the Southwest Virginia-East Tennessee locale in which he was so well known in later years. Martin had the qualities for this life. He was, as an expert gambler, willing to take bold risks; he was a hard drinker and a good fighter, yet quite-tempered; he was assuredly a fine woodsman and he was a veteran of three years of frontier militia fighting. All these qualities combined to make his hunts successful enough to start him on the road to comparative riches. The last of Martin's annual "Long Hunts" ended in 1768. (9)
He then became overseer for a wealthy relative whose name is given simply as Minor in existing records. Mr. Minor was also closely connected by both blood and business with Dr. Thomas Walker. Perhaps Minor suggested that Walker secure Martin's services for a proposed trip of separation and settlement in Southwest Virginia; perhaps Walker had known this wild, unruly, but able, natural leader of men for many years since both were from Albemarle Co. At any rate, his selection of Martin to head the expedition to Powell's Valley furnished the first of two great, decisive turning points in General Joseph Martin's life. (10)

Western exploration and settlement was quite chaotic at the opening of the year 1769. The Royal Proclamation of 1763 had closed the area on tributaries of the Mississippi to all settlement, although traders to the Cherokee nation went back and forth freely. Some loopholes in the closed frontier were nowbeginning to appear. Dr. Walker was in the inner circle of Virginia government. With Colonel (later General) Andrew Lewis, Walker had been a representative for the Virginia government at the treaty of Fort Stanwix in May, 1769. It had been Walker alone, however, who had spoken for Virginia. (11) With the consummation of the treaty of Fort Stanwix, Walker was ready to try to open his western lands for settlement. The lure he cast before Martin was irresistible, the terms liberal, the backing irreproachable.

Twenty years earlier, a group of Virginians, including Dr. Walker, had formed the great Ohio Company which was given a grant of 800,000 acres of land. The terms of this grant did not limit the company to any one area within the domain of the Colony of Virginia for location of this land, and it did not require that tracts of land so located by of any specified size - merely that the total acreage taken up by the company could not exceed 800,000 acres, and that there be no prior valid claim.

Dr. Walker had made a trip of exploration in 1770 which had led to his discovery of what is now the State of Kentucky, and his path then led through Powell's Valley, which had been named for one of his party. It was to solidify his claim to the fertile reaches of Powell's Valley, adjacent to strategic Cumberland Gap, that Walker organized his expedition and promised Martin 21,000 acres of land plus pay for services. The only condition was that the Martin expedition must be the first to settle on the land. If this condition were not fulfilled other comers would get a thousand acres each and Martin's group nothing; if the condition were successfully met by Martin's forces, they were to have a document from Dr. Walker assuring them of the validity of their claim. This would serve as a deterrent to other would-be settlers. It was a gamble, and nothing appealed to Joseph Martin as much as gambling.

The leaders of this expedition, in addition to Joseph Martin, were his brother Brice and friend William Hord. The party set out from Albemarle and spent four days in reaching Staunton, where they spent several days "competing business," which seems to have meant gathering supplies at this frontier town. The little expedition arrived at Ingles Ferry on March 14, 1769. This crossing of the New River, in use till relatively recent times, was located a few miles upstream from the present Radford, VA. (13) Here, Martin sent his brother Brice forward with the slaves and the baggage, and waited for the arrival of Captain Hord and Dr. Walker. Two days later, the captain and the doctor arrived. On the next day, March 17, 1769, Dr. Walker returned to Albemarle and Hord and Martin headed for the wilderness. (12)

They heard disturbing news upon their arrival at the Holston river. A group headed by a man named Kirtley, and including Captain Rucker and others, had already left for the valley, having paid a guide five pounds to pilot them. This guide was reputed to have known a way six days closer than the Martin route. Like all professional gamblers, Martin did not panic under stress. He ordered flour reduced to one quart per person. All other rations were to be sold, and the party to rely on the bounty of nature and the marksmanship of the men. Hiring a guide, they pushed off into the wilderness on the 18th. Two days later, they realized they were lost. (12)

This type of emergency often proves the making of men of real ability and Joseph Martin rose to this minor occasion. It was agreed that a rendezvous would be maintained at the present camp and each man would range out seeking the trail. On the third day, the agreed-upon triple blast of the hunting horn signaled that the Hunter's Trace had been found. This welcome signal came from the hunting horn of Joseph Martin. When the weary, but elated, men reassembled, it was only with difficulty that Martin restrained his men from committing mayhem upon the hapless "Guide." Exhausted by anxiety, the men felt a rest of two days was needed before they pushed on once more. On March 26, 1769, they found Powell's Valley. (13)

Exactly a week later, the baggage detail under Brother Brice Martin came into camp. It was still another two weeks later before the Kirbley-Rucker faction arrived in the Valley. Martin's party staked off a 21,000 acre tract near the present village of Rose Hill, VA. Here, they built a large stockaded fort. It proved useless. The Indians ran Martin's men off before the corn ripened. They went wearily back to Albemarle County, but retained title to their land. (13)
Little is known about Martin's activities between the summer of 1769 and that of 1774. In a letter to him dated September 23, 1771, Dr. Walker writes Martin that his land was been "saved by the honesty of the Cherokees." This appears to mean that the Cherokees who accompanied Colonel John Donelson, then running the so-called Indian line, insisted on Martin's land being included in the settler's side of the land by virtue of an offset. (14)

Martin was commissioned a captain of Pittsylvania County militia by Lord Dunmore, Virginia's last colonial governor, on August 25, 1774. (15) With the outbreak of Dunmore's War, though a Captain, martin was sent to serve as a lieutenant under Abraham Penn on New River. Since Penn was old and relatively infirm, Martin commanded the company, even receiving from Colonel William Preston, on November 4, 1774, the letter ordering disbandment of the company. (16) Martin returned to his farm to give commands to plow horses, not men. His commission as captain was routinely renewed when Dunmore's rule was superseded by theCommittee of Public Safety when Virginia became a Commonwealth. (17)

A few months prior to the renewal of Martin's commission by the Public Safety committee, an event took place on the banks of Watauga river which influenced Martin's life. This was the largest American real estate transaction, the "sale" of thirty-two million acres of land for fifty thousand dollars in merchandise - the noted Transylvania purchase. Judge Richard Henderson made this transaction at the site of Elizabethton, TN on March 17, 1775. Although Martin was not present at the sale, he was appointed agent and entry take for Powell's Valley by Henderson.

In the intervening year, Martin seems to have shuttled back and forth between Henry (then Pittsylvania) County and Powell's Valley. (18) In midsummer, 1776, he received a letter from Colonel John Donelson, Andrew Jackson's future father-in-law, ordering him to assemble his militia company and march immediately to the Long Island of the Holston. (19) Joseph Martin was now thirty-six. Had he died at this point, there would be no need for surprise and regret that he has been bypassed by history. The events of the next fourteen years on the frontier were to change this.

One of Martin's soldiers in his Pittsylvania company, William Alexander, had this to say in his pension declaration: "In the month of June, 1776, he entered the service of the United States in the county of Pittsylvania, VA, as a volunteer for six months in a company commanded by Capt. Joseph Martin. He was marched from thence direct to the Long Island of the Holston where they joined the troops under the command of Col. Christie, or Christian. After being stationed at the Long Island of Holston for about six weeks during which time other troops were collecting and those that were there engaged in the erection of a Fort, they marched to the Towns." (20) This campaign was the largest of the many launched against the Cherokees by Virginia. Colonel William Christian, the youthful commander, had forty companies of perhaps fifty men each, plus drovers and wagon men. The strength of the expedition always approximated two thousand men, although it varied from time to time, since the forces gathered slowly at the Long Island and there were many men ill during the fall months. The troops marched to the Indian towns of Chota and Chilhowee and burned them, but met no opposition. They returned almost immediately; being gone perhaps a total of but six weeks. (21)

On the return of the troops, Martin and his company, which had his two brothers, Brice and John, as lieutenant and ensign, were stationed at the newly-built fort Patrick Henry, located at the upper end of the Long Island and on the north bank of Holston river. Since it was customary to man local forces with local troops, it is strange that Martin's company was chosen to garrison Patrick Henry. Martin was undoubtedly influenced in this by his large land holdings in Powell's Valley and his position with the Transylvania Company. It is an interesting commentary on his popularity with his troops that, although free to leave the company when the six months tour was over, the entire company of four sergeants and fifty men remained with their commander at Patrick Henry. (23)

Although the opening months of 1777 were no busier than any other in martin's crowded life, it might be well to consider them in detail rather than in board outline as heretofore. He was engaged in a number of overlapping and relatively important activities. Stationed as he was on the very brink of the Cherokee territory, he was subjected to constant skirmishes and parleys with the Indians as the first line of defense of the settlements. While he was at Fort Patrick Henry, the new county of Washington (Virginia) was formed. Being selected as a member of this initial court of the first political entity named for George Washington and first county established on the present TVA watershed, Martin rode horseback up the Island road, spending the night of January 27, 1777 with his friend, Anthony Bledsoe. He reached Black's Fort (now Abingdon) the next day.

(24) His duties as frontier commander did not allow him to remain longer than the initial court of 28 January, and he returned to Patrick Henry Fort on the 30th, only to find that his company was to be transferred to a wilderness fort on the Clinch. This fort was called by the government Fort Lee, but the natives stubbornly continued to call it, as they had since 1774, or earlier, "Rye Cove." There was no more westerly, hence no more dangerous, fort than this on the Virginia frontier, exposed as it was to both the Cherokees and the dreaded "Shawnasee," as the settlers called the northern Indians. (25)

While at Fort Lee, he had a dangerous skirmish with the Indians in adjacent Powell's Valley in which two of his best spies, the brothers Bunch, were seriously wounded. (26) Meanwhile, the Washington County court had appointed him to take the tithables of the county in the section north of the river Clinch, a difficult, tedious, and dangerous task that involved long, lonely rides over roughest terrain to secure the names of the scattered settlers. He was also commissioned a captain of the Washington County militia; he was appointed to distribute the flour sent from the east to aid the besieged and distressed settlers; and he was appointed a commission member to sell lands donated for the county seat of Washington. (27) As if defending the frontier at its most vulnerable spot, distributing flour to the hungry inhabitants, taking the tithables on the westernmost perimeter of the frontier, deliberating on the methods of selling lands to finance a courthouse, in addition to the regular duties of commanding a company of garrisoned troops were not enough, Martin had an additional task. He and his men built a new and strong fort at "Rye Cove" between 9 February and 9 April of that year. (28) His stay at Lee, was terminated in midsummer because of the treaty negotiated with the Cherokees at Long Island. In this treaty, the Indians relinquished a large region, retaining title only to Long Island which they did not cede until 1810. (29)

The most climactic event in Martin's life occurred on November 3, 1777 when Governor Patrick Henry appointed him superintendent of Indian Affairs for the Commonwealth of Virginia. (30) The appointment specified that martin was to take up his residence in the Indian nation, yet he preferred to remain close to his holdings in Powell's Valley. He used an ingenious method to solve his dilemma, establishing residence on the Long Island of Holston, presumably on the lower, more fertile, end of the thousand acre Island. He added to the residence, for his comfort, an Indian "wife" having at the same time his lawfully wedded wife, Sarah Lucas Martin, at home in Henry County. It is likely that some of Martin's neglect by his contemporaries and by posterity is due to this irregular act. Yet, with the exception of his son, William, none of the family in Henry County was in the least outraged by this act. There is strong evidence that this connection not only saved Martin's life, but that of the entire lower settlements on a number of occasions, for his Indian "wife" was no ordinary person, but the daughter of Nancy Ward, herself perhaps the most famous Indian woman at the close of the eighteenth century. Nancy Ward was the niece of the "Little Carpenter," or Attacullaculla, the "emperor" of the Cherokees. Colonel William Martin has left an excellent defense of his father's conduct in a letter of July 7, 1842 to Lyman C. Draper. (31)

Always quick to realize the potential value of property, Martin took up a large tract of land on the site of the present city of Kingsport, TN. (32) Meanwhile, he led a rather uneventful life in the uneasy quiet of the year 1778 on the Holston. Early in 1779, he was offered a major's command in the nautical expedition of Colonel Evan Shelby to Chickamauga, but refused it. (33) Without relinquishing his membership in the Washington Co., VA Court, Martin took the oath of office as a member of the newly formed Sullivan Co., NC court at ceremonies held at Looney's Fort in February, 1780. (34) At the close of 1780 and in the first few days of 1781, he was a battalion commander in Colonel Arthur Campbell's successful Cherokee campaign. He is especially mentioned in Campbell's report to Governor Thomas Jefferson. (35) Six weeks later, having visited the camp of General Nathaniel Greene in Piedmont Carolina, martin stopped on his way home to deliver to Colonels William Preston and William Christian, copies of a commission from General Greene appointing the three men, Martin, Preston, and Christian, to treat with the Cherokees for peace. (36)

The succeeding years were full of overlapping posts, honors, and duties, all of which Martin seems to have successfully discharged without consideration of his own comfort or personal feelings. Because these are so numerous and overlapping, they are only summarized here. In 1783, he was a commissioner with Isaac Shelby and Colonel John Donelson, the latter now a resident of middle Tennessee and the former of Kentucky, to treat with the Chickasaws at French Lick (Nashville). Sarah Lucas Martin died in 1782 and Joseph married Susanna Graves in 1784, all the while retaining Betsy Ward, the Indian "wife" - a fact he did not at all withhold from Miss Graves. Just before his second marriage, Martin became involved in the questionable matter of the lands of the "Great Bent" of the Tennessee with two men he rather unwisely trusted - John Sevier and William Blount. Although his scheme failed, Blount had the effrontery to urge Martin to open a land office at his Indian Agency on Long Island. Martin, a man of honor refused. By Christmas of 1785, he was in Tugaloo, GA, and seems at that time, although a citizen of Virginia and Indian Agent for that state, as well as a member of the North Carolina Legislature, to have been elected to the Georgia Legislature! In 1787, on the resignation of Evan Shelby as brigadier for upper western North Carolina (now East Tennessee), Martin was appointed Brigadier General of the Militia. He was also made Indian Agent for North Carolina the same year. (37)

A change in his fortunes, though not in his fortune, came in 1789, as the Indian affairs now became a federal matter and his long tenure as agent ended. He sold his huge holdings in Powell's Valley and his land near Long Island and returned to Henry County to live. (38) His Indian "wife" went to South Carolina to live with her aging mother, Nancy Ward. It is interesting that Betsy Ward came once to Henry County to visit the family and was graciously received by the second Mrs. Joseph Martin. In 1790, Martha was prominently mentioned for and many expected that he would become governor South of the River Ohio, but he was passed over in favor of the candidate of the North Carolina faction, William Blount. (37)

Martin, on his return to Southside Virginia, began a long membership in the Virginia House of Delegates. In 1793, he was appointed Brigadier General for his militia district by the governor of Virginia. Several years later, he was on the commission to settle the line between Virginia and Kentucky. Ten years later, in 1803, he served on the commission that finally solved the Virginia-Tennessee boundary which with its double lines of Walker and Henderson had harassed the border inhabitants since 1779. In the summer of 1808, he made a long journey at the request of the government through the Indian territories, armed with a safe-conduct signed by the Secretary of War. He returned in the autumn of 1808 feeble and worn-out. Soon after Thanksgiving, he suffered a stroke. He died quietly on December 18, 1808, at the age of 68, after a life which, remarkable as it is in rich detail, is not half so astounding as the fact that it has been completely ignored by historians. (37)
FOOTNOTES: (1) Colonel William Martin to Lyman C. Draper, Dixon Springs, TN, June 1, 1842 (Draper MSS 8ZZ2, 15 pages) This is the basic reference for information on the Martin family and the childhood of General Joseph Martin. (2) Will book 2, page 112, Albemarle Co., VA. "Joseph Martin of Frederickville. Wife Ann, sons Brice, William, Joseph, John, and George; daughters Susannah, Mary (sic) Hammock, Sarah Burris, Martha Ann and Olive." (3) Draper Mss 8ZZ2, p. 2 (4) ibid (5) Order Book 4, page 491, Augusta Co., VA (6) Draper Mss 6QQ112 (7) Draper Mss 3 XX35, 8ZZ2, page 5 (8) Draper Mss, 8ZZ2, page 6 (9) Draper Mss, 8ZZ2; 1XX15 (10) Draper Mss, 8ZZ2, pp. 7-8 (11) Proceedings of the American Antiquary Society, N. S. XVIII 391; papers of Sir William Johnson, VI, 297-298; 316-317 (12) This account of the expedition to Powell's Valley of 1769 is entirely from a letter written from Powell's Valley on May 9, 1769 by Martin, but apparently never sent (To Colonel
Syme, it would seem). There appears to be no other account preserved of this expedition. Two copies of the letter of May 9, 1769 are to be found in the Draper Collection (but not the original letter.) These copies are 3XX29 (3-5) and 3XX7 (3-5). (13) This ferry was established in November, 1762. The authority for its establishment and rates for the year 1762-1763 are to be found in Hening 7, 588. Map references to this ferry are to be found on plates 56, 59, 61 and 63 of ATLAS OF AMERICAN HISTORY, J. T. Adams, editor. Charles Scribner's Sons, New York, 1943. On November 2, 1767, William Inglis (Ingles) gave bond with Israel Christian his surety for public ferry on his land - Will Book 4, 67, 21, 1767 to be used as the starting point of new road construction - Deed book 9, 251, Augusta Co., VA. (14) Draper Mss 1XX1 (15) Draper Mss 1XX2 (16) Draper Mss 1XX3; 1XX4; 1XX5; 3XX18 (17) Draper Mss 1XX7 (18) Draper Mss 1XX8; 1XX9. For a reasonably accurate and fairly comprehensive brief
account of the Transylvania Purchase, see T. P. Abernethy; Western Lands and the American Revolution. Russell and Russell, Inc. New York, 1959. Chapter IX covers this event. (19) Draper Mss 1XX12 (20) Draper Mss 2DD204-208 (21) Draper Mss, 8ZZ72 (3, 39). No satisfactory or even adequate, account of Christian's Cherokee Campaign of 1776 exists. Christian, brother-in-law of Patrick Henry, is one of the most interesting figures in the crowded tapestry that is the Holston Frontier. Born in 1743, he was killed by the Indians in Kentucky on April 9, 1786. A sketch of him appears in the Dictionary of American Biography. Perhaps the best account, by default, of his 1776 Cherokee Campaign is to be found in Chapter VI of Samuel C. Williams' Tennessee During the Revolution. Nashville, 1944. This account, as is unfortunately common with older Tennessee historians, distorts the perspective to favor their state above the truth. See also Draper Mss 1XX31 and 4QQ74. (22) Draper Mss 1XX11; 1XX31. Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. 7, page 2 (23) Draper Mss 1XX19 (24) World Book 1, page 1 Washington Co., VA (25) Draper Mss 1XX20; 1XX24 (26) Pensions Statement of James Kincaid, National Archives P. S. S-16907 (27) Order Book 1, pp 3, 7, 8, 9, Washington Co., VA (28) Draper Mss 1XX32 (29) Draper Mss 4QQ150-153, 155, 156, 157 (30) Draper Mss 1XX29 (31) Draper Mss 3XX4 (32) Deed Book 1, page 104 (Land Grant #196) Sullivan Co., Tn, October 10, 1783 - "400 acres to Joseph Martin on north side of Holston river in Long Island Flatts (sic)." (33) Draper Mss 1XX38 (34) North Carolina State Records, Vol. XIV, 136-114 (35) Calendar of Virginia State Papers, Vol. I, 481 ff (36) Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Vol. 5, 231, Princeton University Press, 1951. (37) Deed Book 1, 104 (Land Grant #196) Sullivan Co., TN 3XX13. Data on Martin as prospective Governor of the Territory South of the river Ohio is from Draper Mss 3XX55 and from Territorial Papers of the United States, Vol. 4, 21, Note 39. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC (38) Russell Co., VA, Deed Book 1, pp 24, 28, 30, 32, 99, and 101. In these deeds Martin sells a total of 2,400 acres of land for the sum of L760. See also Calendar of Virginia State Papers, Vol. IV, 428.

Pages 83 to 96
Publication No 2



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