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General Joseph Martin

Henry County, Virginia

Gen. Martin Monument

Whatever the reason, General Joseph Martin has been undeservedly forgotten, and as an act of historical justice I am appealed to write this sketch of him to re-emphasize the importance of his career on the Virginia-Carolina border and in the early emigration to Kentucky.

He was the sort of figure out of which border heroes are made.  In youth he was a daring adventurer.  In the evolution and development of American character, the difficulties incidental to colonial life, the struggle with the wilderness and with the savage environment produced a type of men whose best examples are to be found in the Indian fighter and back-woodsman of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

  1. First General Officer Appointed from Henry County, Virginia.
  2. Explored Powell’s Valley as early as 1761 before establishing a fort.
  3. The history of his whole life indicates that his character commanded the esteem and confidence of whites and Indians alike.
  4. During the Shawnee War of 1774, Lord Dunmore commissioned Joseph Martin as Captain of the Pittsylvania Militia, later appointed him to command the Virginia scouts.
  5. 1775, built Revolutionary Fort, Martins Station near Cumberland Gap in Powell’s Valley.
  6. General Martin’s greatest achievement was the pacification of the Indians during the time the British General Cornwallis was overrunning Georgia and South Carolina, which finally enabled the frontiersmen to give General Cornwallis a blow at Kings Mountain from which he never recovered.  Colonel Ferguson was killed during this battle.  That was a critical event in the Revolution.  In Professor Steven B. Week’s opinion, it entitled General Martin to be enrolled among “the heroes of 1776.”
  7. November 3, 1777, Governor Patrick Henry commissioned him as Agent and Superintendent of Indian Affairs for the State of Virginia, a position which he continued to occupy until 1789.
  8. In March, 1781, Martin was made a lieutenant colonel of the Washington militia.
  9. May 17, 1783, he was commissioned Indian Agent of North Carolina.
  10. In 1788 General Martin severed his connection with the Powell Valley settlement by selling all his 25,000 acres in the area of today’s Lee County, Virginia.
  11. 1784 thru 1787 he was a member from Sullivan County of the North Carolina legislature.
  12. December 15, 1787, appointed by Governor Caswell, brigadier general of Militia of North Carolina.  This made him head of the military organization in Tennessee.
  13. As a result of General Martin intervention with John Sevier, he brought the difficult Sate of Franklin to a successful conclusion and on April 17, 1788, was able to write to Governor Randolph, “I am happy to inform your Excellency that the late unhappy dispute between the State of North Carolina and the pretended State of Franklin is subsided.”
  14. In June, 1788, in an emergency, he was appointed by Congress, Agent to the Cherokee Nation and in August, Agent to the Chickasaws.
  15. December 11, 1793, he was commissioned, by Governor Henry Lee of Virginia, brigadier general of the Virginia Militia.
  16. Martin was at the Hillsboro convention in 1788, when the adoption of the Federal Constitution was voted on for immediate ratification which was adopted in 1789.

Indian fighter and Indian friend, warrior and peace-maker, border leader and Virginia planter, statesman and man of affairs, advocate and arbitrator, he was a remarkable and admirable combination.  General Joseph Martin was the most important influence in maintaining peaceful relations with the Indians from the beginning to the completion of the early settlements of the Southwestern border.  From 1775 to 1790 he, of all men, held the Indians there in restraint.  It was the greatest service that could be performed for the people of that territory and gives him valid claim to be regarded as one of the most important, if not the most important, figure in its history.  General Joseph Martin deserves to be remembered.

By Colonel Joseph Martin
G, G, G, G Grandson of General Joseph Martin
June 16, 2008

*Some information extracted from the Filson Club Historical Quarterly and comments made by Professor Stephen B. Weeks and Dr. Lyman C. Draper

Revolutionary War Army Officer, Virginia planter/farmer, husband, father, and devoted son.  Brice was the son of our Immigrant Martin ancestor, Joseph Martin, Sr., from Bristol, England.  He was born in Albemarle County, Virginia.  He migrated to Henry County, Virginia and owned a large farm on the west side of Smith River, a short distance from his brother, General Joseph Martin’s “Scuffle Hill Farm” approximately two miles southwest of Martinsville.

Brice was described as tall, muscular and very active.  He had dark hair; married Unity Barksdale and they had two sons, Joseph and William.  Both, eventually migrated to Tennessee, lived and died in Overton County.  William died about the time of his father, around 1819ca.  Joseph was still living in Tennessee in 1840.

A court settlement there reveals the children of William and Mary Fearney Martin were:  Unity, Thomas, Brice, John B., and Joseph.  Major Brice eldest son Joseph and wife Ruth White’s children were:  Bethiahl, Brice E., William W., Eunice, Robert Milton, George W., Milton E., Jacob Burris, Rachael Lucas, and Joseph Martin.

A son, Robert Milton Martin migrated to Little Shasta Valley, California in 1849 and established Martin’s Dairy and the Table Rock Ranch which today is still owned and operated by one of his descendents, named Brice Martin.  Brice and his family operate the 4,000+ acre cattle ranch and four Brice Martin’s lived on the ranch today.

Table Rock Ranch furnishes all the beef for the famous Harris Restaurants in California and their beef are shipped all across the United States to other famous restaurants by the Harris Cooperation of Restaurants.

Major Brice traveled on many frontier expeditions with his brother, General Joseph, and General Joseph’s son Colonel William L. Martin for most of thirteen years.  All three of these Martins plus another younger brother, Colonel John “Jack” Martin were involved in establishing Martin’s Station near Cumberland Gap, in Lee County, Virginia.  Many stories, manuscripts and books have been written about this area and General Joseph Martin, he being the leader of the western movement into Kentucky and Tennessee.  Daniel Boone spent several days at Martin’s Station during his venture into Kentucky and was surprised to find Joseph Martin there with about 25—30 men.  Joseph was appointed the United States Indian Agent and chose to live in the Cherokee nation establishing his Headquarters at Long Island, today Kingsport, Tennessee.

Major Brice was named after the ship, “Brice” in which their father came to America on.  The name has since been a family name.  During one of the expeditions he took up lands under Henderson & Company in Powell’s Valley, near Beaver Dam Creek, some 8 miles from Martin’s Station.  He was at Long Island by the Holston River for a while with General Joseph Martin.  In 1802, he or his nephew of the same name was one of the surveyors to the Tennessee and Virginia Boundary Commission.

He shared the hardships of the settlers and protected them with the company of rangers under his command.  He was sometimes stationed in a fort, was often times pursuing marauding Indians, sometimes opening up channels of travel by which the 200,000 plus emigrants could more easily reach the forming frontier settlements, especially those going to Kentucky and the Ohio Valley.

Brice’s military experiences are given in many Virginia magazines and from Pittsylvania and Henry County records and other historical documents as follows:

  • Major Brice Major Martin’s Company of Henry County Militia received orders on March 11, 1781 to march to Guilford Court House, Hillsboro, North Carolina to assist General Green.  Most historians credit this successful battle and the Kings Mountain Battle as the turning point for our American forces in the Revolutionary War.
  • In 1769 Brice accompanied his brother, then Captain Joseph Martin, Jr. to Powell Valley, Southwestern Virginia in his attempt to establish a fort, later known as Martin’s Station and survives today as the only re-constructed authentic Revolutionary Fort in the United States.  Located eight miles east of Cumberland Gap, Tennessee on Virginia Highway 58, Ewing, Virginia.
  • From Militia payrolls of Pittsylvania County, Virginia for 1774------1775 Brice was paid for service in western frontier outposts in the Cherokee Nation.
  • Major Brice was in the battle at Point Pleasant, along with his youngest brother, Colonel John (Jack) Martin and General Joseph Martin’s oldest son, Colonel William Lucas Martin; under the command of Colonel Andrew Lewis.
  • Major Brice took the “Oath of Allegiance” to the Commonwealth of Virginia renouncing alliance to Great Britain on August 30, 1777 and formed the first militia company in Henry County.  Some of his engagements were:
    • Cherokee Expedition---August 25, 1776 through March 7, 1777.
    • Fort Patrick Henry---1776 through year 1777.
    • Frontiers of Fincastle County, Virginia---July 1, 1776 through August 31, 1776.
    • Rye Cove on the Clinch River Virginia---February 1 through March 31, 1777.
    • Washington County, Virginia Rye Cove---May 1 to June 30, 1777.
    • Major Brice formed the first Henry County Militia Company, known as Captain Brice Martin Militia Company.
    • Brice was Captain of the Militia and licensed to keep an ordinary at the Courthouse.  John Barksdale was appointed 2nd Lieutenant under Brice.
    • 1782---Brice was commissioned as Major by Governor of Virginia.

After the death of his wife, Unity Barksdale, he re-married Rachel Lucas on August 7, 1793 in Orange County, Virginia.  Brice died at his farm on the Southside of Smith River, Henry County, Martinsville, Virginia, 1919ca.  (*Rachel was the sister of Sarah Lucas, first wife of General Joseph Martin).

By:   Colonel Joseph Martin  (16 June 2008)
        Secretary/Treasurer, General Joseph Martin Association

Posted in: Area History
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