Josiah Martin

Royal Governor of North Carolina Province 1771 to 1775

Josiah Martin

Josiah Martin, Royal Governor of North Carolina, was born probably in Antigua on April 23, 1737 [other sources say he was born in Dublin, Ireland]; he died in London, England, on April 13, 1786. He became an ensign in the British army in 1756, and had risen to the rank of lieutenant-colonel in 1769. In 1771, he was appointed Royal Governor of North Carolina, succeeding William Tryon, who had been transferred as the next governor of New York after the battle of Alamance.

Governor Josiah Martin, with conciliatory tact, attained a good understanding with the Regulators, many of whom remained faithful to the Crown throughout the Revolution. He assumed a firm attitude toward the Whigs, and, when the difficulties with the home government approached a crisis in the colonies, was secretly active in organizing the Highlanders and other Loyal elements.

In his speech to the Assembly in April of 1775, he reviewed the situation, and defined his position in energetic language. The Assembly replied in equally resolute terms, whereupon he dissolved it, and began to enlist a Loyalist force. On 24 April, while he was in conference with those members of his Executive Council that adhered to Loyalist views, a body of Patriots attacked his house and carried off six guns that he had planted. The next day he sent his family to New York, and he soon took refuge on board the sloop-of-war Cruiser, transferring his headquarters to Fort Johnston on the Cape Fear River.

When the Mecklenburg resolutions were published he transmitted to England a copy of the document, which he described as "setting up a system of rule and regulation subversive of his majesty's government," while still affirming his belief that he had the means in his own hands "to maintain the sovereignty of this country to my royal master in any event." He had already requested from General Thomas Gage in Boston a supply of arms and ammunition.

One of his letters was intercepted, and in July a plot for arming the slaves was discovered, of which he was supposed to have been the instigator. John Ashe, thereupon, marched on Fort Johnston at the head of a band of incensed colonists, compelled the governor to flee on board the Cruiser on July 20th, and demolished the fort. From the vessel Governor Martin issued a proclamation on August 8th of extraordinary length, which was denounced as a malicious libel by the Patriots, and publicly burned by the common hangman.

Governor Martin remained on the coast to direct a rising of the Loyalists, whom he furnished with arms brought from England.

In January of 1776, Sir Henry Clinton came with a body of troops in transports to aid Governor Martin in re-etablishing the royal power, but the presence of General Charles Lee's forces deterred him from landing. The expedition of Lord Cornwallis and Sir Peter Parker was expected from Cork to cooperate with Sir Henry Clinton, but was retarded by a storm at sea.

It had been sent out by the advice of Governor Martin, who had presented a complete plan for the subjugation of the Carolinas. The Highlanders now took the field under two McDonalds, but were completely routed at Moore's Creek Bridge. Discomfited by this disaster, Governor Martin embarked on Sir Peter Parker's fleet, and arrived at Charles Town in June of 1776.

He importuned the British authorities to send arms and money for a Loyal corps in North Carolina, and offered to raise and lead a battalion of Scottish Highlanders and rally the people of the western counties around the royal standard if he were restored to his old rank in the army. The means were furnished for the formation of military bodies among the Highlanders and Regulators, though the commission that he asked for was refused.

He remained with Cornwallis, who gave special heed to his energetic counsels after taking command in the south. When Cornwallis entered North Carolina after his victory at Camden, SC in August of 1780, he was accompanied by Governor Josiah Martin, who expected to rouse the Loyalist part of the population, and soon be able to resume the administration. The two attempted invasions of North Carolina were checked at Kings Mountain in October of 1780 and at the Cowpens in January of 1781.

Governor Josiah Martin's health was destroyed by the fatigues of the campaign. He left North Carolina in March of 1781, for Long Island, and shortly afterward embarked for England.

James Hassell quickly resigned the reins of government to Royal Governor Josiah Martin, who had been commissioned by the Crown, and who arrived in North Carolina, at New Bern, on August 11, 1771. Governor Martin was by profession a soldier. He was an Englishman by birth and a Lieutenant Colonel in the British Army. Governor Martin met the legislature the first time in the town of New Bern in November of 1771.

In 1773, John Harvey, Speaker of the House; Robert Howe, Cornelius Harnett, William Hooper, Richard Caswell, Edward Vail, John Ashe, Joseph Hewes and Samuel Johnson were appointed a committee to inquire into the encroachments of England upon the rights and liberties of America.

The first Assembly independent of royal authority was at New Bern on August 25, 1774. This Assembly, or Provincial Congress as it was called, is an epoch in our history. It was not a conflict of arms or force, but it was the first act of that great drama, in which battles and blood formed only subordinate parts.

At this, the First Provincial Congress, Craven County was represented by James Cooke, Lemuel Hatch, Joseph Leech, and Richard Cogdell.

The Provincial Congress approved of the plan of the General Congress at Philadelphia in September, and elected as members, William Hooper, Joseph Hewes, and Richard Caswell.

The Colonial General Assembly was called in April of 1775, at New Bern, at which time both bodies met. After a session of four days Governor Josiah Martin dissolved the Assembly and here terminated the royal rule of England. Governor Martin took refuge first in Fort Johnston, and afterward on board a ship of war in the Cape Fear River, the HMS Cruizer.

Governor Josiah Martin, after the Battle of Moore’s Creek Bridge, left for Charles Town, South Carolina. He was at the Battle of Guilford. Soon afterwards he went to England, but returned to New York and died at Rockaway. He was the last of the Royal Governors in the colony of North Carolina.

North Carolina Governor Josiah Martin opposed his colony’s participation in the First Continental Congress. However, local delegates met at New Bern and adopted a resolution that opposed all Parliamentary taxation in the American colonies and, in direct defiance of the governor, elected delegates to the Continental Congress.
Queens College had hardly been started when Josiah Martin, the royalist governor who had succeeded Tryon, announced that King George had refused to approve its chartering. The manifest reason, it was insisted by Mecklenburgers, was the fact that Queens College was a Presbyterian institution whose operation would give encouragement to Dissenters from the Church of England and would provide a fertile bed in which to germinate seeds of rebellion against the royalist government.
Martin County, North Carolina was created when Halifax and Tyrrell counties decided they were too large. People had to travel too far to get to their county seats and transportation networks were poor. The new county was formed from parts of those two counties in 1774 and originally named for Josiah Martin, the last Royal Governor of North Carolina.

After the Revolutionary War, the people were about to change the name because of bitterness toward Martin. However, they decided to keep the name in honor of Alexander Martin, a state representative to the Philadelphia Constitutional Convention. Alexander Martin was also Governor of North Carolina from 1782 to 1784, and again from 1789 to 1792.

One myth claims that most of the Regulators became Loyalists during the Revolutionary War. One reason for this belief seems to be based on the words of Tryon's successor, Governor Josiah Martin. During late 1775 and early 1776, Governor Martin reported that the Highland Scots and the Regulators could be counted on to put down rebellion in the colony. After all, the governor had heard or seen countless oaths of loyalty from both the former Regulators and the Scots survivors of "Butcher Cumberland" who emigrated to America - necessary prerequisites for their pardon.

The Scots, moreover, seemed to have possessed a genuine loyalty to their conquerors. As for the Regulators they were in no hurry to align themselves with their former enemies - the men who had recently become such strong Patriots were the very same who led the government and militia against the Regulators. Many Regulators did become Loyalists, but others were equally ardent as Patriots, and still others, smarting from the defeat at Alamance, managed to maintain a certain flexibility throughout the entire war.

Former Regulators, therefore, could hardly be considered as a single class during the Revolution. As for Governor Josiah Martin, his brave pronouncements were halted by the Battle of Moores Creek Bridge. A handful of former Regulators had joined a group of Highland Scots on a march to Wilmington, where a rendezvous with other Loyalist troops was planned. On the march, Patriot forces surprised and defeated this group at Moores Creek Bridge, a battle sometimes called the "Lexington and Concord of the South."

In mid-August of 1771, the new North Carolina governor, Josiah Martin, and his family sailed into New Bern while the town was beseiged by another enemy, one of the periodic epidemics of "Yellow Jack" (or yellow fever) carried to port towns by mosquitoes in the holds of incoming ships.

Among those who took seriously ill was Robert Palmer, whether from the fever or another disease is not known. When the effects of his illness lingered, a change of climate was recommended, and he booked passage on a ship for England. He obviously expected to return soon, for he didn't resign his position as collector of the port of Bath until 1772, nor did he give up his seat on the Executive Council until 1775, but his illness continued for five more years. Josiah Martin appointed William Palmer to fill the post of militia colonel as well as to take his father's place as port collector.

There were gay times the summer following the Battle of Alamance in 1771, when the new governor, Josiah Martin, brought his family and spent three months in Hillsborough. Then all the gentlemen from the country round about came to welcome the governor. There were dinner parties and tea parties, horseback rides and drives. The town was filled with famous beauties and their brave gallants.
By order of King George III in Council dated 7 April 1773, Governor Josiah Martin was ordered to close the land office. Accordingly, the land office closed in North Carolina on June 28, 1773, when the order was received and read to the Executive Council. Although the Court of Claims continued to sit, and although patents based on old entries, warrants, and surveys continued to ripen and were issued as late as July 25, 1774, applications for new entries and warrants were denied.

Rumor spread through the province that it was the Crown's intention to secure an Act of Parliament that would vacate all American titles to land by annulling former patents, thereby causing all titles to land to revert to the Crown. Governor Josiah Martin issued a proclamation to suppress this rumor. He even went so far as to hold another Court of Claims in February 1775 in which 74 petitions for patents were accepted. It was too late. The Crown land office had closed forever.

In January of 1774, Governor Josiah Martin wrote to the Earl of Dartmouth in England, "I inclose herewith, the Cape Fear Mercury, a weekly paper printed in Wilmington in this Province, under which head, in the last page, your Lordship will see what disingenuous representations are made to inflame the minds of the People."
In the Spring of 1776, Governor Josiah Martin attempted to resurrect some of the Loyalists who had survived. Some were formed into an independent company commanded by Thomas McDonald Reid. This unit served only until November 24, 1776, and probably disbanded before that.
Although Bladen County, North Carolina was sparsely settled at the outbreak of the Revolutionary War, records indicate that 300 men of the Bladen County Militia were in service when Fort Johnston, at the mouth of the Cape Fear River in Brunswick County, was captured by the Patriots in 1776. They witnessed the departure of the last Royal Governor, Josiah Martin, when he found refuge aboard a British vessel there.
Although Governor William Tryon had angered many North Carolinians, he left among them a reputation as an able leader. They soon found that his successor, Governor Josiah Martin, was more arrogant and intolerant than Governor Tryon. The spirit of independence was spreading through the colonies in the early 1770s, and Governor Martin’s attitude and policies prompted more and more North Carolinians to protest British rule.
Steeped in traditions traced from the Scottish Highlanders, Red Springs was founded in 1775 by sailor Hector MacNeill on a tract granted by King George III and signed by the North Carolina Royal Governor Josiah Martin.
Interest in draining Lake Mattamuskeet for farming purposes dates back to the 1700s. From 1664 to 1775, colonial governors appointed by the King of England ruled the Carolinas. Josiah Martin served as the last Colonial Governor of North Carolina from 1771 to 1775.

In 1773, the Provincial Congress passed a bill to cut a large canal from Lake Mattamuskeet to the Pamlico Sound to drain the lake. At that time, the lake was from six to nine feet deep and covered 120,000 acres. Governor Josiah Martin vetoed the bill.

Within a month, Governor Josiah Martin had fled New Bern in fear. He went to Fort Johnston, in the Southport area of Brunswick County. Within six weeks, the North Carolina militia had burned the fort and forced him to flee again. This time he took refuge on the British warship HMS Cruizer at the mouth of the Cape Fear River.

There, he plotted to regain control of North Carolina. The plan was to raise 10,000 loyalist troops in North Carolina and have them march to the coast. There, in Brunswick Town, they would meet British forces arriving by sea in February 1776 and re-establish royal authority in the Carolinas.

Governor Martin called on Loyal subjects from the western region of the colony to put down "a most daring, horrid and unnatural rebellion," as the NC State Library documents show. Only 1,600 signed up. As they marched toward Brunswick Town to meet with British troops, rebelling colonists were waiting for them about forty miles northwest of Wilmington at Moore's Creek. The battle lasted only a few minutes. The Loyalists lost.

North Carolina representatives then made the first official call on April 12 among all 13 colonies to declare independence from Great Britain. Meanwhile the British offensive was limited to looting Brunswick Town. It was burned down that spring.

Click Here for information on the Executive Council under Governor Josiah Martin.
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