J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Saturday, June 27, 2015

The Fate of the Rev. John Martin?

I promised more of the story of the Rev. John Martin, whom we left during the siege of Boston, preaching to the riflemen about how he’d taken command at Bunker Hill and perhaps marrying deserter George Marsden to young bride Wilmot Lee in Medford without recording their marriage.

Martin disappears from sight for many months, but in May 1777 he resurfaced in the diary of the Rev. Dr. Ezra Stiles (shown here):
12. I went to Providence, where this day where Rev. Mr. Martin of Ireld. was taken up by Gen. [Joseph] Spencer for a Spy & as havg a Commission from G. [William] Howe.

13. At Providence waited on Gen. Spencer who told me Mr. Martin had been over to the Enemy in the Jerseys & returned. One Dennison of Stonington informed the General that Mr. Martin had a Majors Commission & offered him a Captaincy. The General sent him off to Windham.
Joseph Denison (1707-1795) was head of the Stonington, Connecticut, committee of safety during the war, and the town had other men of that name.

Martin’s detention also appeared in newspapers of the time, such as the Pennsylvania Evening Post of 3 June 1777:
PROVIDENCE, May 17. Sunday last one Martin, a well known itinerant preacher, was apprehended here, and committed to close keeping, being charged with attempting to retail commissions for General Howe in Connecticut, to which state he has since been sent, under a proper guard.
The Freeman’s Journal of New Hampshire, 31 May 1777:
A few days since one Martin, a well known itinerant preacher, was apprehended at providence and committed to close keeping, being charged with attempting to retail commissions for Gen. Howe in this state: He has since been brought to Windham goal.
And the Independent Chronicle of Boston, 22 May 1777, was almost gleeful:
Last week a certain Rev. Mr. Martin, who is well known in this Town for boasting of his Exploits at Breed’s Hill, on the 17th of June, 1775, on the Part of the Americans, was taken up at Greenwich, State of Rhode-Island, recruiting for the Enemy.
I haven’t come across more about Martin’s case. I’m not convinced that the evidence against him was necessarily strong, given the atmosphere in New England after the Danbury raid. But he did get locked up.

In 1777, according to what he’d told Stiles, Martin was only twenty-seven years old. Therefore, if he survived the war in the U.S. of A., he might be the aged Rev. John Martin, a former itinerant preacher from Ireland, who lived in Otsego County, New York, in the 1810s. That Martin published an anonymous pamphlet titled Union the Bond of Peace in 1811.

The next year, that Rev. Martin got arrested for trying to bribe state legislators to approve the Bank of America. After a legislative hearing and a trial, he was sentenced to ten years. But the governor, who supported the bank, pardoned Martin after fourteen weeks. And then he slipped back out of the record.


Anonymous said...

I "think" he evacuated to New Brunswick in 1783 as a Loyalist.
David Bell

J. L. Bell said...

I see a source at CharlotteTaylor.ca saying a John Martin was in Miramichi in 1776 and applied for land in 1785. That couldn’t be the same Rev. John Martin who was traveling around what’s now the northeast U.S. of A. around 1776. But there may be other John Martins in Loyalist sources. The ministerial calling might be the only thing that makes this man identifiable.