Joseph Martin, Revolutionary War hero and Indian agent on the Virginia-Tennessee frontier, was born in Albemarle County, Virginia, in 1740. As early as 1763 he attempted to settle in Powell’s Valley at a place known as Martin’s Station. He was a resident there by 1769 and lived in the western frontier from 1777 to 1800, but, according to the Biographical Directory of the Tennessee General Assembly, he never brought his Virginia family to his frontier home. His reluctance is perhaps explained by the fact that Martin took a Cherokee wife, Elizabeth “Betsy” Ward, daughter of the famous Cherokee Beloved Woman Nancy Ward and South Carolina trader Bryant Ward. Martin and Betsy Ward had children, but there is no known record of how many.
A member of the North Carolina constitutional convention of 1777, Martin served in the North Carolina House of Commons in 1782, then in the North Carolina Senate in 1783, 1786, 1787, and 1789, representing Sullivan County. But his true significance in the early settlement era is as a military leader. He was a lieutenant in Lord Dunmore’s War in 1774 and captain of Virginia militia in 1775. He commanded troops at the Treaty of Long Island in 1777 and served with distinction in various conflicts between the colonists and Cherokees along the western frontier from 1777 to 1780.
Due to his own family connections with the Cherokees, Martin was often involved in treaty negotiations. In 1777 Governor Patrick Henry appointed him as an Indian agent; six years later he was one of three Virginia commissioners empowered to negotiate with the southern tribes. Considering his responsibilities as Indian agent, his marriage to Betsy Ward was a politically astute decision, as it aligned him with influential Cherokee families. In 1787 the North Carolina assembly chose Martin as brigadier general of the Washington District.
General Martin was an important surveyor, having surveyed the boundary between Virginia and Tennessee in 1795 and 1800-1802. Married twice to white women and the father of at least eighteen children, Martin died at his “Belmont” farm in Henry County, Virginia, in 1808.