Josiah Martin

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Josiah Martin : biography

23 April 1737 – 13 April 1786

Lieutenant-Colonel Josiah Martin (23 April 1737 – 13 April 1786) was the last Royal Governor of the Province of North Carolina (1771-1775).

Family and connections

Martin was born in Dublin, Ireland of a planter family well established on the Caribbean island of Antigua, third son of his father’s second marriage. His elder half-brother Samuel Martin (1714-1788), was secretary to the Treasury in London. Another brother Sir Henry Martin (1735-1794) was for many years naval commissioner at Portsmouth and Comptroller of the Royal Navy. Sir Henry was father of Thomas Byam Martin.

Josiah Martin senior of Antigua and Rock Hall, Long Island

This Josiah Martin’s uncle, also Josiah Martin (1699-1778) but born in Antigua, left Antigua after 1750 and settled at Far Rockaway, Long Island.Josiah Martin senior’s house, Rock Hall and He was a member of the first board of trustees for King’s College (now Columbia University) in 1754 and a member of the royal council of New York in 1754-1755. He was on the council of the governor of the province of New York from 1759 to 1764.

Josiah Martin (1699-1778) of Far Rockaway, Long Island was also governor of the Province of North Carolina for a short time in 1770. Josiah Martin, the younger, married his first cousin Elizabeth, daughter of the elder Josiah Martin of Long Island in 1761.


At first undecided he became an ensign in the British Army in 1756 where he rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel in 1769.

On 29 December 1758, Josiah was appointed to the New York royal council, a position once held by his uncle. Because of his trips to London and Antigua the council, in November 1762, temporarily replaced him with Lawrence Read, superseded in turn by his father, Joseph Read, to sit in Martin’s place until he returned. He was given “a full year to determine whether he will return to the council from the West Indies".Vernon O Stumpf, North Carolina Historical Review, Vol. 53 (1976), 55-79,


On 1 March 1771 Martin received his appointment as royal governor of North Carolina, succeeding James Hasell. Handicapped by illness he remained in New York and was unable to present himself in the governor’s palace at New Bern until Monday, 12 August 1771.

Governor Martin tried to give the North Carolinians useful and fair government, but he was hampered by his instructions from Lord Hillsborough, and later by Lord Dartmouth. Tryon left a legacy to Martin of five major problems that plagued North Carolina. These problems were

  • the fiscal and psychological effects of the War of the Regulators;
  • the unsettled and expensive dispute between the Carolinas about their mutual boundary line;
  • the struggle over the court law bills and the judiciary, especially the attachment of the property of debtors who had never lived in the province;
  • the old quorum trouble in the House of Commons that caused conflict between the House and the governor; and
  • the conflict over the selection of the chief personnel of the provincial government by the crown rather than through the assembly.

After his home was attacked by Whigs on 24 April 1775, he sent his family to Elizabeth’s in New York and took refuge on board the sloop-of-war Cruiser, transferring his headquarters to Fort Johnston on the Cape Fear River.

When the Mecklenburg Resolves were published in May 1775, Martin transmitted a copy to England,Archibald Henderson, , The Journal of American History, 1912. Henderson noted that it was previously thought that Martin sent a copy of the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence, but that it is "now established beyond doubt" that he sent a copy of the Resolves. which he described as "setting up a system of rule and regulation subversive of his majesty’s government." Martin then requested a supply of arms and ammunition from General Thomas Gage in Boston.

In July 1775, a plot instigated by Martin to arm the slaves was discovered. In retaliation, John Ashe led a group of colonists against Fort Johnston on 20 July. Martin was forced to flee aboard the Cruiser while the colonists destroyed the fort. Martin remained off the coast of North Carolina, directing the rising of the Loyalists, whom he supplied with weapons brought from England.

After two attempted invasions during the Carolina campaign of the American Revolutionary War to re-establish his administration were turned back, Martin, who was then in ill health due to fatigue, left for Long Island and then England.

He died in London.