Family Stories

Nicolas Martiau, Early Virginia Colonist

Note from Phyllis Brown:  Nicolas Martiau is my 11th great-grandfather.  It happened that Ritchey and I were visiting the Yorktown area about 10 years ago when The Nicolas Martiau Society held their annual meeting and luncheon – at Warner Hall!  We were so excited to be able to attend!

Nicolas and Jane Martiau’s children were Elizabeth, who married George Reade; Mary, who married John Scarsbrook; Sarah, who married Captain Fuller; and a son, Nicolas, who died young.

from Lewis of Warner Hall, The History of a Family

The Martiau Ancestry of the Lewis Family

Before proceeding to take up the life of “Councillor” John Lewis, son of Major John and Isabella (Minor) Lewis, we may digress to examine into the ancestry of his wife Elizabeth (Warner) Lewis.  In this digression we will study briefly the Virginia history of those families whose early members were contemporaries of the earliest Lewis’ in Virginia, and are likewise ancestors of the entire Warner Hall family of Lewis.

In 1591 there was born in France one who was to become an important figure in the early history of the Virginia colony – Nicolas Martiau, a Huguenot.  While still quite young Nicholas Martiau went to  England, where he fell under the influence of the powerful Earl of Huntingdon.  At the latter’s instance, Martiau was educated as a military engineer – for it will be remembered that in this era of Vauban, engineering as a profession was still largely confined to military engineering, especially fortification.  During his life in England Martiau also became a naturalized Englishman; and as he later held various offices in Virginia, his naturalization was plainly of the special form granted only by royal decree, which form alone, permitted the recipient to hold office and enjoy certain other privileges.

The Earl of Huntingdon was one of the members of the Virginia Company, that private corporation which was entirely responsible for the initial colonization and development of Virginia.  About the year 1619 the colonists petitioned the company for an expert to be sent to Virginia to plan and construct fortifications, badly needed for defense against the Indians.  Huntingdon, we may be sure, was instrumental in securing the appointment of his young protege to this position; and in June of 1620 Martiau arrived in Virginia, where he continued to act as representative for the Earl’s extensive interests.  The Virginia Census of 1624 shows “Capt. Niccolas Martue” as having come to Virginia in the “Francis Bonaventure”, sailing from England on May 11, 1620.

In Virginia Martiau was given the rank of Captain in the militia and put in charge of the work of planning fortifications.  It is interesting to note that three places were selected by him for immediate fortification; and of the three one was Old Point Comfort, now the site of our principal fort for the defense of Chesapeake Bay; Fort Monroe, Virginia.  After the disastrous uprising and massacre by the Indians in 1622 he was stationed with a company of the militia at Falling Creek, well up the James River.

Martiau first resided at Elizabeth City; and from this community he was elected a member of the House of Burgesses, sitting in the Assembly of 1623-4 (Journals of the House of Burgesses 1619-1658/9).  In 1624 or 1625 he married the young Jane Berkeley, widow of Lieutenant Edward Berkeley; the exact date of the marriage is not known, but on December 12, 1625 Martiau wrote to the Earl of Huntingdon:  “I am now both a husband and a father”.  At Elizabeth City, in 1625, was born Elizabeth Martiau, the oldest child of Nicolas and Jane Martiau; and the family continued to reside at Elizabeth City for several years after this event.

Martiau became the possessor of a considerable amount of land in Virginia during the course of his lifetime.  About the time of his marriage he acquired a large tract which included the present city of Yorktown.  It is noteworthy that Martiau was the earliest Virginia ancestor of George Washington, among others; and when Washington in 1781 proceeded against Cornwallis at Yorktown he camped his troops on land previously owned by his ancestor – and the surrender of Cornwallis took place also on the old Martiau tract.  In 1630 the Martiau family took up its residence permanently on this tract at Yorktown, then called “Kiskyake” or “Cheskiacke”.  Nicolas Martiau was again elected to the House of Burgesses as the representative of Kiskyake and the Isle of Kent, sitting in the Assemblies of 1631-2, 1632 (beginning September 4th), and 1632-3 (assembled February 1, 1633).  He was appointed by Governor Harvey as a Justice of York County, which office he held for more than twenty years; his first appearance as a member of York County Court was on July 12, 1633, and his last appearance on September 24, 1655.

As indicated above, Martiau played an important part in the political life of Virginia in his day.  One of his minor appointments in 1639 was as one of the Tobacco Viewers for Charles River County – “Men of Experience and in dignity for the Careful Viewing of each Man’s crop of Tobacco” – the Viewers being selected by the Assembly.  Nor did he fail to increase his land holdings.  In March of 1639 Captain Nicolas Martiau was granted 1300 acres in the County of Charles River; of this tract 700 acres was granted for the transportation into the colony of fourteen persons, while 600 acres was granted for the migration of himself, his wife and ten persons to Chiskiack in its first year.  Chiskiack, or Yorktown, was at first a frontier settlement, exposed to attack by Indians, and grants of land were given to those who would settle there; but in 1644 this danger was removed by the migration of the Chiskack Indians from the York River to the Pianketank, where the tribe died out.  Martiau also secured two grants of land in Westmoreland County – one in 1654, and one in the following year – each grant being for two thousand acres.

Undoubtedly the most important part in Virginia history played by Captain Nicolas Martiau was in connection with the ejection of Governor Harvey.  Opposition to Harvey’s methods and high-handedness became general in the colony during the winter of 1634-5, and meetings were held at various places to voice this opposition.  Meetings were at the Martiau home, among others; and this led to the arrest by the governor of Martiau, Captain Francis Pott, and Sheriff William English of York.  These three were placed in irons by order of Harvey, who announced his intention of hanging them; but the opposition to him was so strong, even in the Council and House of Burgesses, that he was forced to release them; and Harvey was himself place under a heavy guard.  Being reduced to ineffectiveness as the governor, Harvey was forced to return to England to appeal for the support of the Crown in his struggle with the colonists.  He returned for a time to Virginia, bringing with him the young George Reade of whom we shall hear more later; but his views were so arbitrary and unsympathetic that he was soon forced to leave Virginia for a second and final time.  George Reade had become acting Secretary of State of the colony in the absence of Richard Kemp, then in England, and upon Harvey’s final departure Reade became acting governor.  Martiau was one of the outstanding leaders in the movement of the colonists which caused Harvey’s deposition.

Nothing is know of the ancestry of Nicolas Martiau’s wife, who was the widow Jane Berkeley at the time of her marriage to him.  Her first husband, Lieutenant Edward Berkeley, was a member of the Berkeley family which founded the first iron works in the colony at Falling Creek; and he was living at the time of the Muster of 1624; but no record of his marriage exists, and there is no other evidence of Jane Martiau’s maiden name or origin.  She came to Virginia in the ship “Seaflower”, as shown by the Muster of 1624, arriving in February 1621/2.  It has been said that she may have been one of the “Doves” who were imported to Virginia to become wives to the colonists; but a thorough survey of the facts shows this to have been an impossibility.  The minutes of the Council and General Court of Virginia for July 5, 1627 relate that “At this court Mrs. Jane Martiau delivered in an Inventory of the Estate of Lieutenant Edward Berkeley, deceased, up0on her oath”.

18 replies »

  1. Is it possible to get some clarification regarding the marriage of Jane Berkeley? Are you reporting that Mr. Nicolas Martineau married Elizabeth Jane PAGE Berkeley, the widow of Lt. Edward Berkeley (1571-1627), and not his daughter, Jane? I am very confused and could use some assistance. Thank you.

    • Yes, Nicolas Martiau married the widow of Lt. Edward Berkeley (Bartley). From my notes, ‘The minutes of the Council and General Court of Virginia for July 5, 1627 relate that “At this court Mrs. Jane Martiau delivered in an Inventory of the Estate of Left. Eduard Bartley, deceased, upon her oath.’

  2. Phyllis, a number of questions. First … wow, 11th gr-grandfather! Please, if this is not too time-consuming to answer, how are you descended?

    Second, re. Lewis families: Your excerpt above says “from Lewis of Warner Hall, The History of a Family”, a book I read years ago. Are you connected to the Warner Hall Lewises?
    Third, do you know if more connections have been definitely proven in recent years between the 5 or 6 VA Lewis families of the second half of the 1600s, most esp. the 2 or 3 strongly suspected as related? Story was that 2 or 3 Lewis brothers (or cousins?), each becoming the forebear of a Lewis family, came together in the mid-1600s or within years of each other. Problem for a couple centuries had been that, though there were plenty of records, there were too many Johns, Williams and a couple other male names in all of those 2 or 3 Lewis families. (Plus, of course, those first names continued on down). It must have been a daunting task being a Lewis genealogist looking at Lewis families, different Lewis families, all with the same 5 male sons’ names.
    Bottom line for my questions concerns my own Lewis family. Has a connection been found since I did research last between the other 1600s Lewis families and my Vincent Lewis (wife Ann Longworth) and John/William or William/William, his immediate forefathers?
    Thanks! Colette Davis

  3. I have just fompleted my geneology to Nicholas Martaiu…he is my 9th great grandfather, but through Sarah who married Ezekiel Fuller, then to Solomon to Mary…then to the Perrys.. Booth, Peter B., Oliver Hazard who married Virginia Anderson, (I will stop here for now). I can’t find that anyone has come down this line from Martaiu…have you?

  4. My Great Grand Parents x 4 are Col Fielding Lewis Snr and his wife Elizabeth “Betty” Washington Lewis and I believe thru them I am related to Nicholas Martaiau. I would be pleased if you could shed some more light on this for me.
    Kind Regards,
    Peter W Morish.

  5. I am connected to the Martiau family thru Col. George Reade whose great granddaughter, Margaret Reade, married my 5th great grandfather, Judge Paul Carrington, of Mulberry Hill in Charlotte County, Virginia. Thanks for the information.

    • Nicholas Martiau is also my grandfather through George Reade to col Warner & Mildred Reade to Mildred Warner &a Lawrence Washington etc.

      • my line is same, except after Mildred..we go to John Lewis and Elizabeth Warner. Then we have Robert Lewis m Jane Meriwether and Col. Charles Lewis m Mary Randolph Lewis…(Col. Charles Lewis is my DAR ancestor, and Ham getting papers ready for supplement on Nicholas Martiau for Jamestowne Society.

  6. My connection is through Elizabeth and George Reade, Mildren Reade and Augustine Warner, Elizabeth Warner and John Lewis, Eliz Lewis and Daniel Ashcraft, several generaions of Ashcraft men to Asenah Ashcraft and Samuel Tucker, then a couple of generation of Curry and finally four generations of Woodwards…… a long line! Can’t wait to see the homes, tombstones, etc. in Yorktown, Jamestown, Warner Hall, etc. when I visit the area next week!!!

  7. Nicholas Martiau is my 9th great grandfather. My line is through his daughter Elizabeth’s marriage to Col George Reade down through to the Jackson family.

  8. We believe Martiau build a fort in Yorktown, on what had been his property. Archaeologists found it in about 1990. One of the items found in the dig was a compass leg from the time period of Martiau.

  9. Based upon records of his land grants, he claimed head rights for transporting 14 people including his wife Jane, daughter, Elizabeth and son Nicholas. He also, transported Jane Berkeley and her daughter Jane. It is presumed therefore presumed that he probably m. his first wife in France, that his first 2 children were b. prior to his departure to Colonial America and that the Jane Berkeley for whom he claims head rights is the Jane, widow Berkeley he subsequently married, ca. 1625. His “greatest” achievement is probably debatable. He seems to have been a man of many talents and was probably better known as a brilliant engineer.

  10. In his will dated Mar 1656, Nicholas orders that “my Two Negroes Phill & Nicholas shall be free,” and that each of them is to have a cow, three barrels of corn, and nails to build a house, plus “land sufficent for themselves to plant . . . for their lives of the life of the longer Liver of them.” Is there any record of whether Phil and Nicholas were actually freed, or of what became of them?

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