MARTIN, GEORGE (known in Mohawk as Shononhsé:se’, meaning “he is of the long house” or “the house is too long for him”), Mohawk chief and interpreter; b. 23 Dec. 1767 in Canajoharie (near Little Falls, N.Y.); d. 8 Feb. 1853 in Salt Springs, near Brantford, Upper Canada.
Very little is known about George Martin’s youth. In the early 1780s he married Catherine Rollston, who was alleged to be of Dutch ancestry and had been captured by the Mohawks when she was 13. She was brought to the Indian settlements on the Mohawk River, adopted by the prominent Mohawk family of Teyonnhehkewea, and given the name Wan-o-wen-re-teh (which means “throwing over the head”). The Martins had one daughter, Helen, who later married John “Smoke” Johnson*, and possibly one or more sons.
Martin had participated, according to an obituary, in the American Revolutionary War, after which he and his wife moved with the Six Nations to the Grand River (Ont.). There, on a high bluff overlooking the river, they built a house, their lands becoming known as the “Martin Settlement.” It was here, since Martin was an interpreter, that the British government’s presents to the Six Nations, for their continued loyalty, were distributed each year. An anecdote recorded by the Martins’ great-granddaughter Evelyn Helen Charlotte Johnson suggests that George had a fierce temper and that he had some influence within the community. Unlike his contemporary Joseph Brant [Thayendanegea*], however, he was not involved as a major spokesman in dealings with other Indian peoples or with the government, nor did he participate as a negotiator or signatory in any of the land surrenders involving the Six Nations. As an interpreter, he mediated between the Six Nations and government officials in various disputes, a position which almost invariably produced some resentment towards him.
Martin served as “Confidential Interpreter” to William Claus*, the deputy superintendent general of Indian affairs from 1799 until the latter’s death in 1826. During the War of 1812, and likely earlier, he was an interpreter for the Indian Department, in whose service, Joseph Brant Clench later certified, he was “noted for zeal, bravery and general good conduct.” Although he once conveyed a message from the Seneca chief Red Jacket [Shakóye:wa:thaˀ*] in New York State calling on some of the Six Nations in Upper Canada not to fight as allies of the British, he remained firmly loyal. At the urging of Joseph Willcocks*, he helped to persuade the Six Nations to send warriors to Amherstburg, Upper Canada, to take up arms with Major-General Isaac Brock* in the late summer of 1812. Martin was present, as an interpreter, for two British victories at least, Beaver Dams (Thorold), Upper Canada, in June 1813 [see William Johnson Kerr*] and Fort Niagara (near Youngstown, N.Y.) in December. In early January 1814, along with John Brant [Tekarihogen*], Henry Tekarihogen*, and others, he signed, as one of the Six Nations’ chiefs, a petition to Claus suggesting that those Indians who, they alleged, had refused to fight for the British or had discouraged other warriors from fighting should not “receive presents of any description at the next distribution.”
Although it is uncertain when Martin became a chief, he assumed new responsibility when he was appointed a war chief by a council held on 22 Feb. 1815. At the same time he was given the task of ensuring that non-Indians did not trespass upon the Six Nations’ lands. He immediately acted upon this duty, reporting in a letter to Claus that very day that Augustus Jones* and Kanonraron (Aaron Hill) – both “snaking and mean Fellows” – were attempting, along with Henry Tekarihogen, to get the Six Nations’ chiefs to surrender their right to some salt-springs on the reserve. Martin continued to keep Claus informed of conditions on the Grand River in succeeding years. In September 1816 he wrote that his people were experiencing “very bad times . . . Corn most all dead some famalys want have nothing at all to eat this whinter.” There was, however, in his view, little chance of “your friends” moving from the Grand unless the British government provided them with “better Country some where.” Alluding to reports he could not substantiate, he believed it was only “those people that was not a friend of the Government” who were intending to move, possibly to the “Wabash” in the Ohio country or to western Upper Canada.
Martin was a staunch adherent of the Church of England. In December 1823 he reported to Claus on the activities of the “Mathodist Breacher,” probably the Reverend Alvin Torry, who was attempting to convert members of the Six Nations. “I believe None of them join them [but] your friend Thomas Davis [Tehowagherengaraghkwen*] . . . and few famalys that lives round him So I am told and this few Massesawgas.” One of the latter was Peter Jones. In 1830 Martin and others from the Mohawk Village (Brantford) petitioned Charles James Stewart*, the Anglican bishop of Quebec, to consecrate the Mohawk chapel, which they had helped raise money to restore. Stewart visited the settlement for that purpose and consecrated the chapel on 17 October of that year.
By the early 1840s Martin, then about 80 years of age, appears to have retired to his home. Since his friend William Claus was long dead and because resident superintendents were being appointed to work directly with the Six Nations, Martin’s influence waned and his place as an interpreter was taken over by his son-in-law, John “Smoke” Johnson. Martin had reportedly been involved with other Six Nations Indians in supporting the government during the rebellion of 1837–38 in Upper Canada. He took no part, however, in the negotiations for the surrender in 1841 of the Six Nations’ land on the Grand River, which was to be managed on their behalf by the crown [see Tekarihogen], or in other important matters affecting the Indians during the 1840s.
Martin, who was raised as a warrior in the Mohawk valley and experienced war as an ally of the British crown, was a man shaped by the 18th century, not the 19th. At his death in 1853, he was described by the Toronto Globe as “the last of the old warriors residing on the Grand River, that have taken part in the two great struggles between England and the United States.” He left to his successors, John “Smoke” Johnson and his son George Henry Martin Johnson*, a legacy of loyalty to the crown in time of war and cooperation as an interpreter in peace-time, sometimes over considerable opposition.
PAC, MG 19, F1, 10: 25, 153–59; RG 1, L3, 377: M6/23. Canada, Indian treaties and surrenders . . . [1680–1906] (3v., Ottawa, 1891–1912; repr. Toronto, 1971), 1. The valley of the Six Nations . . . , ed. and intro. C. M. Johnston (Toronto, 1964), 193, 196, 203, 219, 248, 259, 284. Globe, 15 Feb. 1853. Hamilton Gazette, and General Advertiser (Hamilton, [Ont.]), 28 Feb. 1853. Weekly North American (Toronto), 10 March 1853. Betty Keller, Pauline: a biography of Pauline Johnson (Vancouver and Toronto, 1981), 4, 8, 15. Millman, Life of Charles James Stewart, 86. E. H. C. Johnson, “Chief John Smoke Johnson,” OH, 12 (1914): 102–13; “The Martin settlement,” Brant Hist. Soc., [Papers] (Brantford, Ont.), 1908–11: 55–64.
© 1985–2023 University of Toronto/Université Laval
Cite This Article
David T. McNab, “MARTIN, GEORGE (1767-1853),” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 8, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed March 24, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/martin_george_1767_1853_8E.html.
The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:
|Author of Article:||David T. McNab|
|Title of Article:||MARTIN, GEORGE (1767-1853)|
|Publication Name:||Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 8|
|Publisher:||University of Toronto/Université Laval|
|Year of publication:||1985|
|Year of revision:||1985|
|Access Date:||March 24, 2023|