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Historical Profile: Nicholas Martiau
By Nancy E. Sheppard

NMart imageWe often talk about Virginia’s founding fathers like Christopher Newport, John Smith, and later successors like Thomas Nelson, Thomas Jefferson, and George Washington. But one beloved (albeit enigmatic) figure for our very local community is Nicholas Martiau; often thought of as the "Founder of Yorktown.”

Nicholas Martiau was a Frenchman born on the island, Ile de Re, in 1591. He learned to read by studying the Gospels and the Bible, showing a particular interest in the Protestant doctrine of John Calvin. By studying Calvin’s works and interpretation of Biblical teachings, he was able to learn English. Not terribly much of Martiau’s early life is known other than he was naturalized English on January 11, 1619, possibly due to the political and religious strife that existed between the French and the English at the time.

He married Jane Berkley and they had three daughters: Elizabeth, Mary, and Sarah. On May 16, 1620, Martiau left England on board Francis Bonaventure for Jamestown. Upon his arrival at the colony that August, he was able to build a defense wall, which saved the colony from possible massacre at the hands of the Powhatan in 1622.

In 1632, Martiau was elected to the House of Burgesses, representing the "Kikyacke and the Isle of Kent,” and later was one of the first appointees as Justice of York County. He served in the latter role from 1633 until his death in 1657.

Martiau is remembered for not only his service to the colony, but for having provided freedom for his slaves, Phil and Nicholas. Despite the "patchy” information regarding his life, his "afterlife” has been a bit more colorful.

Next week, read the Yorktown Crier | Poquoson Post to find out why!


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