Long Island of the Holston

I immediately transmitted your Excellencies Dispatches to the Chiefs of the Cherokees.
— General Joseph Martin


Among objects illustrating a profile of General Joseph Martin in the Jamestown Settlement exhibition “Jamestown’s Legacy to the American Revolution” is an 18th-century gorget to exemplify the practice of ceremonial gift-giving in diplomatic relationships with Indian tribes. This example, which features a silver bear symbol, was made by a silversmith in Albany, New York, and probably was intended as a symbolic gift to ensure good diplomatic or trade relationships with an Iroquois leader.

On December 13, 1780, General Joseph Martin wrote a letter to Virginia Governor Thomas Jefferson from Long Island, describing his negotiations with the Cherokee Indians.  Was Martin writing to Jefferson from New York?

In actuality, Martin was not on Long Island in the state of New York.  He was writing from his headquarters on Long Island in the Holston River of eastern Tennessee.  A few years earlier, Virginia’s Governor Patrick Henry had commissioned Martin to serve as Virginia’s agent for Indian Affairs.  Martin previously had served in the army during the French and Indian War and then gained experience on the colonial frontier as a trapper, fur trader and land agent.  In 1769 he established a trading settlement called Martin’s Station in extreme southwest Virginia.  During the American Revolution Martin fought in the Virginia militia against frontier Indians who were encouraged by the British.

When Martin became Virginia’s agent for Indian Affairs, he conducted diplomatic affairs on Long Island between the Cherokee Indians and settlers who encroached on Indian lands.  The Cherokee had laid claim to the island, but colonists defeated the Indians in the Cherokee War of 1776.  In the Treaty of Long Island in July 1777, the Indians relinquished their claims to the land occupied by whites in east Tennessee.  As the official government diplomat to a foreign nation, Joseph Martin established his headquarters on Long Island.  He negotiated with the Cherokee to keep peace between the Commonwealth of Virginia and the Indians living in Virginia, Tennessee and North Carolina.  Because of its strategic location, Long Island quickly became the base for the settlement of central Tennessee and Kentucky.  Daniel Boone began carving out his Wilderness Trail at Long Island of the Holston.  Today, four-mile-long Long Island is heavily industrial with a small park at one end that includes three acres given to the Eastern Band of Cherokee in 1976.

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