The war with the British was not faring well in 1780 when young George Wiley returned to his home in Halifax County, Virginia. He had finished serving three years in the 1st Virginia Regiment, fighting in places like Valley Forge to the north and Georgia to the south.
The soldier’s father William Wiley had purchased 2000 acres of William Byrd’s land south of the Dan River in 1762 when George was a boy, and before the war William gave his son 309 acres on Irwin’s Ferry Road. George sold 100 acres to James Taylor before he left for the war, and when he returned that year, George sold the remaining 209 acres to John Martin.
That name is easy to find in the Halifax of the late 1700’s, during the birth of America and the war that defined it. There appears to be five John Martins in the Halifax of the 1770’s and 1780’s, each belonging to different, seemingly unrelated families, and each family settled in a different section of the county.
One was the son of Isaac Martin of Childrey’s Creek in the north; another was the son of Benjamin Martin on the Banister River; a third wealthier John Martin raised a large family on Burch’s Creek northwest of the Dan River; and Captain John Martin came to Halifax during the Revolutionary War, married an Owens daughter, and returned to South Carolina to raise a family once the war ended.
The remaining John Martin was already a resident of the county when he purchased George Wiley’s prime real estate in 1780. But that deed is where the recorded story seems to begin for the young family, so this John Martin of Halifax is a bit of an enigma. His origins, his parents, and his date and place of birth are still unknown, but the records found so far begin to piece together a brief story of a family man, a weaver by trade. Unfortunately those records only capture the last seven years of his short life.
John and his wife Margaret started a family somewhere in Virginia probably shortly before 1767 when Jonathan was born. At the time a king still ruled the colonies, education was a perk of the wealthy, and religion was dictated by the crown. The Stamp Act was repealed a year earlier and there were rumblings from New England of a possible rebellion, but John’s role in this growing uneasiness is a mystery.
Thirteen years later in 1780 Halifax, the Revolutionary War was not far from John Martin’s family, and coming closer. It raged in the north and in the south, and was beginning to look as though it might be lost to the British. But it hadn’t come to Halifax County just yet. So on 15 June 1780 John paid George Wiley a hefty 500 pounds for the 209 acres of land on the waters of Lawson Creek, on the south side of Irwin’s Ferry Road not far from the Dan River.
John’s new property was a good size for a growing family, but he wasn’t a plantation owner by any stretch. He never had much more than the land and he never owned slaves to work it. While his sons were educated, John Martin was no Gent. The land was still wilderness, but John’s new home must have seemed perfectly situated for a weaver.
The area was sparsely dotted with the farms and plantations of neighbors like the Stanfields and Boyds and Lawsons. The only establishment close by was the tavern operated by William Wile and his wife Eleanor, on Irwin’s Ferry Road across the street from his land. But the road was a colonial highway, running between the Guilford courthouse in Hillsborough County, North Carolina, across the Dan River at Irwin’s Ferry, and north to the courthouse in the center of Halifax County.
The Martin place was situated southwest of Alexander Irwin’s ferry on the Dan River, which was east of Miry Creek, and just down the road from the place where Boyd’s Ferry crossed at the growing little town of South Boston. From these two ferries the roads went north to the county’s center, the Halifax court house, and to the south the road stretched toward the Guilford court house in North Carolina.
John and his wife Margaret had seven children, according to records, but only five are identified. At least four of them, and probably all, are known to be born in Virginia. Jonathan, the oldest, was born in 1767; Edmond was born around 1773; John Jr. was born in 1777; sister Margaret was born in 1779; and although her birth date and place remain unknown, Susannah seems to have been the youngest and was most likely not yet born when John moved to Irwin’s Ferry Road.
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