George Washington Martin, A Vintage Vignette

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George Washington Martin
A Vintage Vignette by John P. Rankin
March 16, 2007

When I first started researching the pioneers of Madison, I was often confused about there being two early merchants of the town whose given names were George Washington. It took a few years before I clearly grasped the distinction between them. George Washington Martin was the first to buy a lot and open a store in the emerging village of Madison Station in the mid-1800s. As will be seen later, the other “George Washington” merchant (a “Wise” man) was a son-in-law of G. W. Martin. Mr. Martin set the stage for his children’s choice of marriage partners when he moved his merchandizing business from the New Haven area (between Madison and Triana) to relocate immediately south of the railroad depot. In 1857 when he purchased the first Madison town lot from James Clemens, George Washington Martin already knew the area well. He was born in 1820 on the northeastern face of Rainbow Mountain and grew up in the immediate area.

The mountain actually should be called Rainbolt Mountain, as it was Elijah Rainbolt who accompanied George’s father Richard Martin and others on a wagon train from Virginia through Georgia to Madison County around 1809. Elijah took land on the north face of the mountain, nearest the old pioneer trail that today is Highway 72. The Martin family left Halifax Courthouse, Virginia in 1808 and stopped for a while in Georgia while awaiting clarification of rumored Indian hostilities at their destination. By 1810 they had settled on the mountain, with Richard on the northeastern face and his brother Jesse Jr. on the western face, while another brother, Henry, lived near Richard. All three were apparently west of the Old Chickasaw Indian Boundary Line, which runs along the route where today’s Slaughter Road heads northwesterly near the Mormon Church. The line began at Hobbs Island in the Tennessee River and ran northwest through Ardmore. It was not legal for the pioneers to live on the land west of the line until after February 2 of 1818, but the line did not deter many folks in those days, as the Indians did not have any known permanent villages here. This was only a temporary hunting ground shared by the Chickasaws with the Cherokees and the Creeks, all of whom only passed through occasionally during their hunts for the abundant deer and elk of the area.

Richard Martin brought his father Jesse Sr. to live with him on Rainbow Mountain. Jesse Sr. had a reputation as a great Indian fighter, and his father (Richard’s grandfather and George’s great-grandfather) Francis Ephraim Martin was a patriot of the American Revolutionary War. Richard himself is reported in family records to have served as a Private in Lt. Col. Nixon’s 7th Regiment of Peter Perkins’ Battalion of the Mississippi (Territorial) Militia during the War of 1812. The Martin’s wagon train from the east also brought Jesse Fitts (Fitz) and William East, who settled on the mountain slopes beside the Martins. A Canterbury family settled just south of them. Richard married Lydia East Pass Fitts in Madison County in 1814. Records show that there was a Walker Fitts who married Susannah Pass in Halifax County, Virginia in 1782. Susannah died in Richard’s house in 1849 at the age of 90 per an early newspaper obituary, which would make her birth date about 1759. Perhaps she was born an East, married a Pass first, and then married Walker Fitts before eventually marrying Richard Martin.

Richard and Lydia Martin had 11 children. They were: Sarah (born 1816), Nancy (born 1817), Henry (unknown birth date), George Washington (born 1820), Susan (born 1821), Frances (born 1825), twins Marshall and Richard Marion (born 1829), John Frank (born 1832), Elijah Thomas (born 1833), and Mary E. (born 1837). Sarah married Alexander J. Cosby in 1844. John Frank married first to Argelious A. Dedman and then to Nannie G. Canterbury. Elijah is reported to have married six times, the last being to Rosa Hill, daughter of Judge William Hill. Many of these Martin family pioneers were buried in the East family cemetery, according to old notes that described the cemetery as being about 400 yards south of Highway 72 on the northeast face of the mountain, near the end of what is now Rainbow Drive. That cemetery was apparently destroyed during development of housing in the area during the 1960s.

George Washington Martin married Nancy Leeman in 1849 in Madison County. She was originally from Yazoo County, Mississippi, a daughter of Green Berry Leeman (sometimes spelled Leemon, and perhaps pronounced as “lemon”). In 1852 George was given Power of Attorney from his father-in-law for business in Madison County related to the settlement of Green’s father William Leeman’s estate. This William Leeman (Nancy’s grandfather) was the owner and operator of Leeman’s Ferry, which crossed the Tennessee River at a point very near where the boat launch ramp is presently located in the Civilian Recreation Area of Redstone Arsenal.

George and Nancy Martin had 8 children: George Henry (1851-1877, married Bettie Parker), John Thomas (1853-1932, married Mollie Lewis), Logan East (1855-?, not known to have married and believed to have been killed by lightning after 1880), Jordan Richard (1857-1941, married first Helen Lanier and then Carolyn Bostwick), Mattie Caruthers (1859-1955, named after her maternal grandmother, married James Albert Watkins), Berry Leeman (1862- 1938, named after his maternal grandfather, married Mary Parker), Hassie (1866-1917, married Rev. Allen Louis Andrews and died in a train collision with their automobile near Dallas, Texas), and Hattie (1866-1915, married George Washington Wise). Hattie and Hassie were twins.

Not only did Hassie die in a train-automobile accident in Texas, but her mother Nancy Leeman Martin died in a train-automobile accident in Madison in 1891, beside the railroad depot where her son Berry Leeman Martin was Station Agent. However, it is Hattie Martin Wise’s tombstone that speaks most eloquently of all the markers in the old Madison City Cemetery. It reflects upon her character and beliefs by showing the figure of a woman clinging to a cross.

The linkages of the Martin family back to the earliest Colonial days in Virginia are not yet clear, but the 1830 census of Madison County shows 15 Martin households, probably all related. Of these, Martin family households headed by Andrew, George W., Henry, Richard, and Thomas were enumerated in “Ranges 3 & 4”, which would be the Madison area, since the census records were incorrectly labeled. (The “ranges” in the 1830 records of this county were actually “townships”.) Huntsville listings included another George, Henry, James, John, Mary, and Woody. Ranges (Townships) 1 & 2, the north part of the county, included Martin households headed by James, John, Peter, and William.

The earliest Madison County probate court records for the name are those of Zachariah Martin, whose land was in the southeastern quarter of Section 35, Township 1, Range 2 West. That is the area of today’s Madison Cross Roads community. Zachariah’s estate was probated in 1829, before the 1830 census. It is not known how old he was when he died, but Zachariah could well have been a brother of Jesse or Frank Ephraim Martin, the ancestors of George Washington Martin. That presumed tie is further indicated by the fact that Thomas W. Martin, a first cousin of G. W., lived in Madison Cross Roads but advertised his holdings there for sale in 1857 and became a partner with G. W. in Madison for a time.

Another elderly Martin pioneer of the county was Andrew, who lived near Richard Martin (G. W.’s father) in the 1830 census. Andrew was in the 70-80 age bracket, while Richard was in the 30-40 age bracket of that census. These facts suggest that Andrew was also possibly a brother of Jesse or Frank Ephraim Martin. Furthermore, the Martin family records in the county show close links or marriages to the families of Cosby, Bradford, Brewer, Holding, Knox, Rodman, Lewis, Lanier, Watkins, and Parker – all of them known to have lived around or in Madison during the early days.

An example of the family interconnections is seen when Andrew Martin’s widow Nancy died at age 80 in 1847, and her probate packet showed that David Bradford (her son-in-law) was named as executor of her estate. Among the heirs was Hamilton G. Bradford, a grandson of Nancy through her daughter Jane, who married David Bradford. Hamilton in 1868 was the purchaser of 7 of the original 56 lots of Madison. Even more to the point, while in 1857 George Washington Martin bought lots 12 and 13 (plus later lots 49-52, and 54), John W. Cosby purchased lots 11 and 16 in 1858 and 1859, respectively. Cosby installed a brick kiln in 1859 and made bricks to build two stores – one for himself and one for G. W. Martin on the adjoining lot. After his death, G. W.’s store was owned by R. P. Cain, and now it is known as the Whitworth Realty office on Main Street.

G. W. Martin’s holdings in Madison actually began before his 1857 purchase of the first town lot (numbers 12 and 13) from the plat drawn up by James Clemens in planning his town. In Book 1, 1818-1853 (but actually through 1857), of the Madison County Surveyors’ Field Notes, on pages 360-1 is recorded a “re-survey” for James Clemens and George Washington Martin to specify a 1-acre parcel immediately south of the town lots. The purpose was also stated as “to lay out a 40-foot wide street” named in the re-survey as “Martin Street” in the year 1856. Since that acre was not considered part of the platted area for the town itself, the date of Madison’s sesquicentennial is more appropriately tied to the first purchase of lots 12 and 13 by G. W. Martin in 1857. More details of the town’s founding and its pioneers are contained in the sesquicentennial book Memories of Madison: A Connected Community, 1857 – 2007, available after March 30 at various outlets in the area. The Martin family’s many interconnections with the area’s other pioneer families perhaps epitomize the “connected community” aspects of the book’s title. Their connections beyond the boundaries of Madison are further illustrated in that G. W.’s cousin and business partner, Thomas Wesley Martin, had a son named William Logan Martin. That son also had a son that he named William Logan Martin, along with another son named Thomas Wesley Martin. This younger generation became a famed attorney in Montgomery and Jackson County (William Logan Martin Jr.) and a Chairman of Alabama Power Company (Thomas Wesley Martin). The Martin family not only had the first pioneer of the town of Madison, it also had numerous connections to influential members of society at the state and national levels through its generations.

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