By Mike Steely
Just a few miles east of Cumberland Gap and only about an hour or so from Knoxville is an event you may want to attend this weekend, especially if you’re interested in early regional history. On Friday, Saturday and Sunday, Martin’s Station will feature the reconstructed frontier fort, re-enactments, tour of a Cherokee and Militia camp, 18th-century merchants, colonial traders and artists.
Martin’s Station, or Fort, was one of the earliest fortified settlements along the Old Wilderness Road, which was followed by early explorers, long hunters and then settlers into Tennessee and Kentucky. General Joseph Martin and his expedition were promised 21,000 acres in upper Powell Valley. The erected a stockade fort in 1769 with a few cabins, planted corn near the current Rose Hill, Virginia and returned to civilization.
In their absence, a force of Cherokee and Shawnee attacked and burned the fort. Martin returned in 1775 and built a more permanent fort with four or five cabins. That year the Treaty of Sycamore Shoals was signed and 2 million acres sold to Judge Richard Henderson with Martin appointed agent and entry taker. The treaty included the fort and a large portion of Powell Valley and Kentucky so Martin’s Station became a popular stopping point for settlers.
A mock battle between re-enactors is planned for Saturday at 1 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. The fort is part of Virginia’s Wilderness Road State Park located on Highway 58. Admission is $10 per carload and $4 on Sunday. You can get more information at www.historicmartinsstation.com or call 276-445-3065.
Wilderness Road State Park features the fort, a visitors center, park office, an amphitheater, picnic tables, hiking trails, natural and living history programs, an 1870s mansion open for weddings and meetings, a theater with an award-winning docudrama, an ADA playground, solarium, group camping, and an 8.5-mile trail linking the park with the Cumberland Gap National Park.
The Friends of The Wilderness Road State Park group can be found online and has a Facebook page. The group is a non-profit organization of private citizens, businesses, civic groups and students, dedicated to the continuing growth and development of Wilderness Road State Park. They provide assistance to the park and its staff by supplying funds, materials and labor for park projects, including the development of park facilities, programs and special events. Although funding comes from state and local government, and they accept contributions from foundations, businesses and individuals.
Joseph Martin was a very important early American frontier leader. After 1775 he interacted with the Tennessee Cherokee in more ways than one. Martin, with his original wife and family in Virginia, is said to have at least three Cherokee wives and up to 18 children.
Martin negotiated treaties, aided in the victory at the Battle of Kings Mountain, served in the legislatures of Virginia, Georgia and North Carolina, and returned to his home in Virginia following a peace treaty with the Cherokee, selling his claims in the territory.
He was nominated to be governor of the Southwest Territory by Virginia’s Patrick Henry but lost the nomination to William Blount, who moved the government to Knoxville.