John Martin (Jamestown)

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Capt. John Martin (c. 1560 – 1632) was a Councilman of the Jamestown Colony in 1607. He was the proprietor of Martin's Brandon Plantation on the south bank of the James River. Located in modern-day Prince George County, Virginia and known as Lower Brandon Plantation, in the 21st century, his circa 1616 plantation is both a National Historical Landmark open to tours and one of America's oldest continuous farming operations.

Early life[edit]

It has been assumed that Martin was the son of Sir Richard Martin (1533/4[citation needed] - 1617), alderman and goldsmith of London, by his first wife Dorcas Eccleston. Sir Richard later held office as Master of the Mint and Lord Mayor of the City of London. (He is not the same as the Mr. Richard Martin (1570–1618) who was the recorder of London, counsel for the Virginia Company and organizer of The Society of Martin's Hundred, whose subsidiary "particular plantation" development circa 1618-1619 was known as Martin's Hundred).[1] The assumption that either of these Sir Richard Martin's were his father is noted in several books about the life of Captain John Martin and or Captain John Smith and Sir Francis Drake. It is uncertain what the sources of these authors may have been. In contrary, in the book The Visitation of Devon in 1620 by Sir Henry St.George, we find a collection of family trees written by the actual families in question collected and compiled in the year 1620. On page 180, you will find the tree for the Martyn family written by a son of Captain John Martin by Jackametha de Browne also by the name John "Jo"(not to be confused with the son named John who died in Virginia). He notes that the father of Captain John Martin was John Martin of Bridgetown Pomeroy and provides a lineage reflecting the origin of the family as a Richard Martin of Poulehurst in Kent.

Martin commanded the Benjamin under Sir Francis Drake in the 1585–86 expedition[2] to harass the Spanish ports in the New World. On his return, Captain Martin married Mary, daughter of Robert Brandon, a prominent English goldsmith and supplier to Queen Elizabeth I of England.

Martin accompanied Bartholomew Gosnold in his 1602 exploration of the New England coast, and it has been theorized that the island of Martha's Vineyard - spelled "Martin's Vineyard" in most 17th century references - was named after Capt. Martin.[3]

Virginia Colony[edit]

Captain John Martin arrived in Virginia along with his teenage son John on April 26, 1607, when what came to be called the "First Landing" occurred at the place where south edge of the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay meets the Atlantic Ocean, a location the colonists named Cape Henry.

Captain Martin was named to the Council to oversee the new colony by the Virginia Company in an order that was held in a sealed box which was only to be opened in Virginia.[4]

After finding a location to build their settlement which met the requirements set forth in their sealed orders, they founded Jamestown on May 14, 1607. Shortly after this, the Council elected Edward Maria Wingfield president of the colony.[5]

Wingfield reported that, "Master Martyn followed with, he reporteth that I do slack the service in the collonye, and doe nothing but tend my pott, spitt, and oven, but he hath starved my sonne, and denyed him a spoonfull of beere; I have friends in England shalbe revenged on him if ever he come in London." [6]

Captain Christopher Newport who commanded the fleet of three ships which had brought them to the New World, sailed back to England (taking along the Susan Constant and the Godspeed, in order to return with additional supplies. While Newport was gone, in November of 1607, Martin and Smith refused to allow the remaining colonists to return to England on their remaining ship, the Discovery.[7] Martin objected during the winter, when John Smith was away having been captured by Indians, to President John Ratcliffe's appointment of Gabriel Archer as councilor.

Martin came into conflict with John Smith when, in the spring of 1608, the two gold refiners that Christopher Newport had transported to the colony who had led the fruitless efforts of looking for gold were sent back to London. Martin, being the son of a goldsmith, was very enthusiastic about the development; Smith was not.[8]

Martin's teenage son John was among the majority of the earliest colonists who died during the first year at Jamestown. Captain Martin returned to England on the Phoenix in 1608 and returned with the ships of the ill-fated Third Supply which arrived in 1609, less their flagship, the Sea Venture, and the leaders and supplies which had been aboard. It is not clear when he returned again to England, but he may have returned to Virginia in 1624 on the Swan.

Captain John Martin died in 1632 at Martin's Brandon Plantation, which he had established on a 1616 land grant in Virginia, leaving his plantation to a grandson, Captain Robert Bargrave.

Martin's Brandon Plantation[edit]

Bargrave sold the plantation to three merchants from England. Then, from 1720 until 1926, the plantation became home to members of the prominent Harrison family of Virginia. Located in modern-times in Prince George County, Virginia and known as Lower Brandon Plantation, in the 21st century, Captain John Martin's circa 1616 plantation is both a National Historical Landmark open to tours and one of America's oldest continuous farming operations.

For more details on this topic, see Lower Brandon Plantation.


  1. ^
  2. ^ Brown, pp. 943-944
  3. ^ Banks, Charles. The History of Martha's Vineyard, Vol. I. Dukes County Historical Society, 1911. pp. 73-33
  4. ^ Price, p. 30
  5. ^ Price, p. 36
  6. ^ Price, p. 51
  7. ^ Price, p. 58
  8. ^ Price, pp. 76-77