The Martins of Montgomery and Powell Counties, Kentucky

By: Larry Martin

When I grew up in Powell County, I was always told that “those Martins are not kin to us” when I asked about other Martin families.  I’ve now come to the conclusion that this was probably not true.  Here is how I believe the Martins all tie together (with some supporting data).  I believe that a Luke Martin, born between 1770-1775 and died around 1845, Montgomery Co, KY was the father to at least 5 boys: Elijah, John Luther, William, Littleton, and Benjamin J. Martin.  There may have been more children; however, at this time they remain unknown. But first, some background information.

There were several Martin families in the early days of Montgomery County (from its formation in 1796 until 1813). I know very little about these Martins.  However, based on the 1814 tax list, there were only two Martin families left, Elijah and John Martin. This was Elijah Martin’s (my direct ancestor) first appearance.  John Martin appears to have been in Montgomery Co ever since its creation in 1796.  He appears in most of the intervening tax lists (note: he can easily be traced since he had one slave).  This John died in 1818 and his widow Mary (Polly) continues on the tax lists with the one slave.  She lived in the Stepstone Creek area, fairly close to the Bath Co border, but still in Montgomery Co.  This Martin family may be related, but I don’t have any information that would support such a claim.  Elijah Martin, born about 1793 in TN and died 6 Jul 1859 in Montgomery Co, married Phoebe Hutson (spelled various ways) on 16 Jul 1814 at the home of her father, Thomas Hutson.  Based on tax records research, it appears that Thomas and Elijah lived on or near Lulbegrud Creek at this time.  (Note: Hog Creek which flows into Lulbegrud Creek today was once also called Lulbegrud Creek.  The headwaters of this creek are just over the ridgeline from the headwaters of Spruce Creek.)  Elijah first owned land (50 acres) on Spruce Creek in 1822.  The Elijah Martin homestead was probably located close to the current Spruce Church of God.  Elijah is probably buried in the Martin Cemetery just behind this church.

Luke Martin first appears in Montgomery Co in the 1823 tax list and continues thru the 1844 tax list.  If he is Elijah’s father, then this means that Luke did not arrive first.  Martin researchers have found a Luke Martin in early Greene Co, TN records.  This is probably the same Luke Martin.  Several families later found in Montgomery Co came from Greene Co: Willoughby, Doneca, Conlee, and Hutson, to name a few.  I suspect there was a large migration of family and neighbors from Greene to Montgomery.  (Note:  There is tantalizing information that this Luke Martin may be from Halifax, Virginia.  These Martins may have moved to Blount and Greene Counties in Tennessee before some of them moved to Kentucky.)

William Martin first appears in the 1826 Montgomery Co tax list.  He was born around 1805 in Tennessee, so this first appearance coincides with his 21st birthday.  He married an Elizabeth, last name unknown and died before the 1860 census.  Tax records seem to indicate that he died between 1858 and 1860.

Littleton “Lit” Martin first appears in the 1829 Montgomery Co tax list.  He was born around 1808 in Tennessee, so this first appearance coincides with his 21st birthday as well.  He married a Lucinda Cross and was shot and killed in 1854, Powell Co, KY.  

John L. Martin also first appears in the 1829 Montgomery Co tax list.  He was born around 1799, supposedly in North Carolina.  Since he is now 30 years old, he was either living with Luke; else, he just moved to Montgomery Co in 1829.  He married utha Hanks and his death date is unknown, but he may have died in Powell Co, KY.  His last appearance in any census was the 1870 McMinnville, Warren Co, Tennessee census.  Thus, he died between 1870 and 1880.  I do not know at this time whether he died in TN or back in KY. 

Benjamin J. Martin first appeared in the 1834 Montgomery Co tax list.  He was born 15 Aug 1811 in Tennessee.  He would be about 23 when he first appeared in the records.  He marries Priscilla Hanks and died 11 Jan 1874, probably in Powell Co, KY.

Priscilla and Rutha Hanks are considered by most researchers as sisters and two of the children of Jonathan Hanks.  Jonathan Hanks owned land on Sycamore Creek, Montgomery Co, KY.  Thus, his children lived very close to Spruce Creek (both Spruce and Sycamore are tributaries of Slate Creek and are both in the southern section of the county).

So this gives a background as to when these Martins appeared in Montgomery Co, KY.  So how do we know that they are related?  Recently, I took a 46 marker paternal DNA test thru the internet.  I matched with one other person; however, he was not a Martin.  Thru e-mail exchange, I found out the story.  Seems his great great grandfather was a William Strauther Merrill, born Jul 1879 at or near the furnaces in Estill County, KY.  William always went by the last name Merrill; however, their family tradition said that his father was a Martin.  No one knew what the father’s first name was.  Since his mother was single at the time, local custom dictated that he would carry his mother’s maiden name, Merrill.  So, by having perfect DNA matches, we knew that we were closely related.  But who was this Martin?  This Merrill family lived at one time at or near the Cat Creek area.  For those familiar with the area, Cat Creek road eventually comes out at the Estill furnace area. I could find no records of any of the Spruce Martins living in Estill County or on Cat Creek.  I suspected that William Strauther Merrill (Martin) may be related to the Cat Creek Martins (but he matched my DNA…a Spruce Creek Martin).

Recently, I was exchanging Martin information via the internet with a Rebecca Webb who lives in southwestern Kentucky.  She has a Martin web site and descends thru Almanzer “Sonny” Martin, son of Benjamin J. Martin.  I discovered, thru her, that Almanzer had a son named Clifton and another son named William Strauder Martin, born Jul 1879.  All they knew about William was that he was a half brother to Clifton (they had different mothers).  It was a Eureka moment!  The only logical answer was that this William Strauder Martin was the same person as William Strauther Merrill.  This provided very solid evidence that Benjamin J. Martin was related to Elijah Martin.  It doesn’t say that they are brothers, but that would be the logical conclusion, based on age.

Now, what are some other information that help tie them all together?  Emma Carpenter, a researcher of the Benningfield family claimed in her documents (written in the 1960s), that her ancestors held that the Martins on Cat Creek were related to the Martins on Morris Creek.  She also stated that Littleton Martin was the brother to Riley Martin, son of Elijah Martin.  (Note: This turns out not to be true due to age differences; however, the claim of relationship could still be true…though in this case, based on age, could be an uncle to Riley Martin.)  Also, practically all descendants of John Luther Martin and Benjamin F. Martin claim that these two were brothers, though I have not seen any data that support this claim (other than that they married Hank sisters).

While researching the tax records, I discovered some other tantalizing information.  In 1829, John L. Martin had 400 acres on Spruce Creek.  By 1834 he had 50 acres on Red River.  In 1834, Luke and Littleton both had 100 acres, each, on Hughes Creek.  The name Hughes Creek no longer exists.  Later tax records show this as either Red River, or Morris Creek.  I suspect Hughes Creek was either an early name for Morris or a minor tributary of Morris whose name has simply disappeared over the years.  The headwaters of Morris Creek are just over the ridgeline (Morris Mountain) from the headwaters of Spruce Creek (a matter of less than a mile).  For those who don’t recognize the names, Morris Mountain (sometimes called Morris Creek Mountain) is the border between Powell and Montgomery Counties.  In 1835, William Martin owned 150 acres on Spruce Creek.  By 1840, he owned 100 acres on Red River (probably Morris Creek since the 100 acres in 1852 were listed on Morris Creek).

In the 1850s several descendants of William and Littleton Martin left for Daviess Co, Indiana (though several stayed behind).  It appears that a William Martin, son of Littleton Martin married his cousin, Mary Catherine Martin, daughter of his uncle, William Martin. (Note: Civil war papers of the widow of William Martin, Mary Catherine, state that she married her cousin.  This tells us that William and Littleton were related, more than likely brothers.)  Additionally, William Martin, brother to Littleton Martin, names his first son, Luke Martin.  This adds credibility that their father was Luke Martin.

What it looks like is this.  The Martins settled early in the Spruce Creek area of Montgomery County (just north of the modern-day border with Powell County).  Elijah Martin stayed there.  Luke, William, Benjamin, Littleton, and John L. all moved over to the Red River area, probably in the 1830s.  Several stopped at the Morris Creek area.  By the 1850s, some had moved on to the Bowen, Cat Creek area.  John L. and Benjamin probably knew the Hanks of Sycamore Creek while they lived on the neighboring Spruce Creek area.  That is how they ended up marrying two Hanks sisters.

So, if you are a Martin who comes from a Powell or Montgomery Co, Martin family line, I would love to get in contact with you.  Would love to contact anyone who comes from a Martin line from either Daviess Co, Indiana or Putnam Co, Indiana (I suspect the Martins in Putnam are also related.)  Finally, some researchers claim that Luke Martin is related to the early Martins of Warren Co, KY.  Would love to hear from these Martins as well.  If any Martins (direct male descendents) have taken a DNA test or are thinking about it, let me know.  That will probably be the only way that we can conclusively prove the connections.  We do know that Elijah and Benjamin are closely related.  Hopefully, we will be able to prove or disprove my above theory of Martin relationships.  So, send me an e-mail to: [email protected].