Heart of a Southern Woman

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Nicholas Martiau, Ancestor of George Washington and Jamestown Colony Engineer– 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks




Correction and Update, April 24, 2018. Upon researching more thoroughly I discovered that I had made a mistake in my research for this blog post. As it turns out, Nicholas Martiau is not my 9th Great-Grandfather.  I can only apologize and set the record straight for those who used this blog post as evidence for their own relationship to Nicholas Martiau.  As it turns out, while Nicholas Martiau’s daughter Mary Jane Martiau, 1631-1701 did marry my 8th great-grandfather, John Scarsbrook, b. 1627.  they only had two daughters together.  My ancestor John Scarsbrook born  1676, was the son of John Scarsbrook, 1627, and his second wife Elizabeth, unknown maiden name. (Note: 1. 1679: Mrs. Elizabeth BUSHROD wrote her will. She names Elizabeth, wife of Col. John SCARSBROOK.
2.  1679, 18 Apr: John SCASBROOK of York Co. wrote his will. He named his two oldest daughters Jane DUKE and Elizabeth CONDON executrices and directs that anything recovered from Mrs. BUSHROD’s estate be divided among his four minor children, Martha, Mary, Hannah and John SCASBROOK. )  Even though Nicholas Martiau may not be my direct ancestor, he is an important figure in American history, and I am pleased to have learned about him.  The rest of the history included in this post about Martiau is correct, only our relationship was incorrect.

In working on my genealogy of ancestors from the Jamestown Colony, I learned of a man named Nicholas Martiau, 1591-1657, who holds a strong place in American and Virginia history! He was a French Huguenot, a military engineer appointed by King James I (King James VI of Scotland) of England, at the express petition and sponsorship of the Earl of Huntington, to come to America and help build the fort at Yorktown, Virginia. He served as a Burgess from Jamestown in 1623. Many, many stories are written about Nicholas Martiau on ancestry.com, some of which contradict each other, unfortunately. However, between these and the scholarly works like that of John Baer Stoudt’s book entitled Nicolas Martiau–Adventurous Huguenot, certain facts emerge. 

Nicholas was born in 1591 on the Ile de Re, France, and raised a French Huguenot who learned to speak English by reading the Bible. Due to the religious persecution of Huguenots, his family escaped to England where he was naturalized English and was registered in a Huguenot church there. He left England and sailed for Virginia on the ship Francis Bona Ventura (sometimes seen as Francis Bonadventure) arriving in June 1620. His construction of a fence or palisade around the Jamestown Fort helped the settlers survive an Indian uprising in 1622. He was also instrumental in constructing the palisades at Yorktown, Fort Story, and Old Point Comfort, Fort Monroe. He can be seen in the first census taken in Jamestown in 1624 and was elected to the House of Burgesses from the colony. Later he served as a Burgess from Elizabeth City, Yorktown, and the Isle of Kent.  Nicholas also served as a Justice for the early court system of Virginia–with court sometimes being held in his home. 

Nicholas received land patents for bringing people over from England, and later as rewards for his work.  He settled on a 1300 acre plantation on the York River. His home apparently sat on a bluff overlooking a curve in the York River where it connects with the Chesapeake Bay.  What a beautiful place to live that must have been! Nicholas did not live to see his land become the modern-day site of Yorktown, Virginia, but his grandson donated or sold, depending on the report, 50 acres of land for the original site of that vibrant town in 1691.  The town’s creation established Yorktown as the principal location for shipping and receiving tobacco, and other goods via the port.  Wharves, warehouses, and other business buildings were established at the riverfront. In 1931, a monument was dedicated to Nicholas Martiau by the Martiau-Washington Memorial Association commemorating his accomplishments and his illustrious descendants like George Washington; Governor of Virginia, Thomas Nelson;  and Confederate Commander Robert E Lee.  An eleven-foot tall slab of Vermont granite, the monument sits on Ballard Street in Yorktown near where Martiau made his first home upon arrival in Virginia. Nicholas Martiau,  le buste de Nicholas Martiau, oeuvre du sculpteur Desire Bardot

We know that Nicholas was married three times. unfortunately, the name of his first wife and perhaps even two children are not recorded or at least have not been discovered at this writing. They are recorded as having arrived after him on  a separate ship. It is assumed that they died soon after arriving as did so many settlers.  In 1625, Nicholas married Jane Page Berkeley, the widow of a prominent man named Lt. Edward Berkeley–marrying her increased his social status.  Together they had a son Nicholas who died without children as well as a son Richard who died at age ten. Their three daughters, however, grew to adulthood and made great matches leading to the founding of many prominent Virginia families. His will can be found in the Virginia State Library in Richmond, Virginia and names his three daughters as Elizabeth,b. 1625 who married George Reade and leads to George Washington;  Sarah, b. 1629 who marries Capt. William Fuller; and Mary Jane, my own 8th great-grandmother who marries my 8th great-grandfather (convenient) John Scarsbrook. Nicholas marries a third time after Jane Berkeley’s death to Isabella, the widow of both Capt. Robert Felgate and George Beech with no children from this marriage.

Less you think Nicholas was a mild-mannered man, I’ll share one story that tells us more about his character. In 1635, Nicholas was a leader in a revolt against the tyranny of Royal Governor, Sir John Harvey. This was the first revolt against British authority in Virginia.  For his efforts, he was arrested and confined –but only for a brief while as Governor Harvey was deposed and Martiau released! He was a strong patriot, and it is interesting that his daughter Mary Jane married John Scarsbrook who was a leader in the Bacon rebellion! 

Nicholas is credited as the earliest American ancestor of President George Washington.  We can see the relationship in this descendancy chart:       

President George Washington (1732 – 1799)

is your 3rd great-grandson

father of President George Washington

mother of Augustine Washington Sr,

mother of Mildred Warner

mother of Mildred Reade

 Nicholas Martiau                                                                                                                                      You are the father of Elizabeth Martiau  

 In  St. Martin de Re, France, where Nicholas Martiau was born, in a garden behind the Ernest Cognacq Museum, there is a statue of George Washington, with the base of the monument featuring  a crest representing Martiau and his relationship to George Washington–dedicated by the American ambassador to France in 2007!     
Nicholas Martiau, George Washington statue,statue of George Washington w crest,  featuring Nicholas Martiau as Washington's earliest American ancestorNicholas Martiau Crest on George Washington Statue
Another caveat of being a descendant of Nicholas Martiau is that it qualifies them to join several “historical” organizations. One is “First Families of Virginia”, because Martiau arrived before the first census was taken in 1624.  His living in Jamestown qualifies his descendants for membership in the Jamestown Society also. Another important group to preserve our ancestor’s history is the “Nicolas Martiau Descendant Association”.  If I were going to join these groups however, my favorite I believe would be to belong to the august group of women with ancestors dating to early colonial Virginia called the “Grand Dames of Virginia”!
Here’s wishing you the most fun as you trace your own family tree! Helen
After writing this blog post, in May, 2014, my daughter Ali Holshouser Orcutt and her husband Greg Orcutt took their children to Yorktown where Greg took this picture of the plaque in Yorktown, Va. honoring Nicholas Martiau.
     Nicholas martiau plaque , pic. by Greg Orcutt, May, 2014





Author: Helen Holshouser

Old enough to enjoy life, I am a Red Hatter, grandmother, gardener, and amateur genealogist. I am a retired clinical psychologist, master's level, who is disabled with heart disease, but having fun with family and friends. Married over 40 years, I have two grown daughters and three grandchildren. I have learned that grandchildren provide a joy one never knew existed---writing feeds my soul, gardening is therapy, and genealogy research makes me feel like a detective!

31 thoughts on “Nicholas Martiau, Ancestor of George Washington and Jamestown Colony Engineer– 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks

  1. Wow, very, very cool link! Is the Berkeley link also connected to the Berkeley Plantation along the James River?


  2. I believe it was named for Richard Berkeley of this same family! I hadn’t even thought about this, thanks for reminding me of the connection, i love that area. there’s a neat story about the plantation in Wikipedia, at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Berkeley_Plantation Thank you chuck, for taking the time to read and share your thughts! It means a lot to me! Helen


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  4. Helen, my sister-in-law descends from the Tucker family, which married into the Randolph family. Daniel Tucker arrived in Jamestown as early as 1610. And was a big reason the colonists survived the Starving Time. It’s great fun to find such connections to important historical events. Thank you for sharing your story. I’m off to learn more about Nicholas Martiau now.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thanks so much Schalene Dagutis for reading and leaing a commentthat made me go searching also! I knew I had some Tuckers in my tree, but had not developed them yet! I think I have Daniel’s family as well! but I have some work to do to figure it all out Thanks so much for highlighting this for me! I can hardly wait to find out more about him also! Are you from Virginia? Just wondering. Love youur name! Helen


  6. Helen, I blog at http://tangledrootsandtrees.blogspot.com I’ve written a lot about my sister-in-law’s Tucker family. If you click on Tucker in the Label box in the right column, you’ll find all of them. I have been reading about Nicholas Martiau and find him to be very interesting! Thank you for bringing him to my attention.


  7. yes, I’ve read your blog before! I love the name and wish I’d thought of it first! LOL i suspect we could be good friends, maybe relatives! We’ll see! Helen


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  9. Hi Helen

    I just traced my grandfather’s side and I too am a great grand child of Nicholas Martiau and George Washington is half brother to my great grandfather Augustine Washington Jr. WOW! I am amazed and tickled to find this out!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Hi Kristy so glad you wrote! You and I must be cousins! Sharing a common grandparent will do it! I’d love to know more about you if you want to share!My email address is helenholshouser@gmail.com
    Nicholas Martiau is such a neat person that I loved discovering him also! Talk soon I hope, Helen


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  12. This is very interesting! Nicholas Martiau is my 11th Great Grandfather. My Great Grandmother traced our family history way before the invention of the internet. My line follows the Col. George Reade and Elizabeth side. Thank you for the great information. Fred


  13. Thank you Fred Morecraft for sharing your history with me as well as taking time to read and comment. I stand in awe of all the people who did genealogy before the internet! Glad you enjoyed this cousin! Helen


  14. Helen – What a great blog! We’re cousins! I’m a 12th great-granddaughter of Nicholas Martiau, through Elizabeth Reade, her daughter Mildred, and her daughter Mary Warner (who married Col. John Smith, and then had Augustine Warner Smith, father of Mildred, who married into the Virginia Willis family)! I’m hoping to check out Warner Hall in Virginia this fall, as they are having a ‘family reunion’ for all Warner, Lewis and Washington families. I love your enthusiasm, and the fact that you’re also rebellious… learning about my family history has really made me learn so much about myself as well.


  15. Dear Julia, thank you so much! Please forgive the slow response, I have been away some and had just missed your comment I’m sorry to say! I love meeting cousins! I’ve never been to Warner Hall either, I would love to attend the reunion if I am able. Unfortunately, my heart disease limits my ability to travel as much as I’d like! It sounds like we have a lot in common, I’ll look forward to being in touch with you, Helen


  16. Hi Helen,

    Thank you for writing this blog. Nicholas Martiau is also my 9th great grandfather. His daughter, Sarah, married my 8th great grandfather, William Fuller. Would you happen to have pictures of any of them?

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Hey, cuzzin. I’m a Martiau descendant on the William Fuller line (on my maternal side). Enjoyed the article. It appears Nicholas may have been a descendant of Charles Martel and his grandson Charlemagne, but I haven’t made a definitive connection yet.

    James King

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Hi Bridget, sorry to have missed your comment before! Thank you so much. Just like James King above, who is your cousin too I think, we are also cousins! Nice to meet you! Helen helenholshouser@gmail.com


  19. Well, hi right back cousin James King! You have other cousins who’ve left comments, esp. Bridget below! This is one of my favorite reasons to have this blog, meeting new family members! Thanks for saying hello! Feel free to contact me at helenholshouser@gmail.com


  20. Hi Helen, Yes James would be my cousin too. 🙂


  21. I think that I am descended from Martiau’s daughter, Sarah Fuller!!!
    I am a Virginian and have been to Yorktown many times.
    I hope to visit his gravestone at Grace Episcopal Church this Saturday!
    Thanks for all of this information!!

    Liked by 1 person

  22. Hi Jane Richardson Dekle, so glad you wrote and visited my blog! I actually have a Youngblood cousin who married a Fuller descended from Sarah’s husband! Small world! I’d love to hear about your trip and what you found and think afterwards! Have a great time! Helen


  23. Very enjoyable reading. Nicholas may be my 9th g grandfather. I’m still researching. Would you know if there was a direct line to the Mayflower?

    NICHOLAS MARTIAU (1591 – 1657)
    9th great-grandfather
    Elizabeth Martiau (1625 – 1696)
    daughter of NICHOLAS MARTIAU
    Mildred Reade (1643 – 1686)
    daughter of Elizabeth Martiau
    Elizabeth Warner (1672 – 1720)
    daughter of Mildred Reade
    Elizabeth Letitia Lewis (1687 – 1716)
    daughter of Elizabeth Warner
    Thomas Martin (1714 – 1792)
    son of Elizabeth Letitia Lewis
    Tabitha (Tabbie) (Bitha) Martin (1760 – 1840)
    daughter of Thomas Martin
    Nathan Grant (1811 – 1885)
    son of Tabitha (Tabbie) (Bitha) Martin
    John T Grant (1850 – 1931)
    son of Nathan Grant
    Hubbard Herbert Grant (1878 – 1941)
    son of John T Grant
    Kenneth H. Grant (1924 – 1989)
    son of Hubbard Herbert Grant
    Charles D. Grant
    You are the son of Kenneth H. Grant

    Thank you for your hard work,
    Charles Grant

    Liked by 1 person

  24. Hi Charles Grant, good to meet another Martiau cousin! Thanks for writing. At least the first half of your descendancy, as far as I know, were all Jamestown related, not Mayflower. However, some of your later surnames, the Martins and Grants might be. Obviously this line traces back to Jamestown, but offshoots might trace back to the Mayflower. Are you on ancestry? if so, I could take a look at your tree briefly, and jsut see if I see any that I know are Mayflower related. I have worked with thiose names a lot, but not all of course! If you google Mayflower Society, you can find a list of the apporved Mayflower ancestors. There is also a group on facebook which is partially members of the society which can help. Wishing you the best in your discovery journey cuz! Helen


  25. Thank you for your reply cousin. Much of geneaology is new to me. Yes, I am on ancestry, this is where I do most of my searching. It is easy to get off track if I’m not careful, what with all the marriages, half brothers and sisters, etc. CGDONRN58 is my username on Ancestry.


  26. Sorry Helen, I wasn’t quite through. LOL. I have done some research and find that U.S. Grant is a cousin and that his line does trace to the Mayflower through Richard Warren, unfortunately, I am not finding mine. Thank you for taking a look, but I know you have much more important things to do and many people to write.
    Cousin, Charles


  27. Greetings to my new found cousin Helen,
    Truly enjoyed reading your blog and all of the other (family) and researchers comments about our ancestor Captain Nicholas Martiau. I descend through his daughter Elizabeth who married Colonel George Read(e) [whom I share the same birthdate with – 400 years later!]
    I would like to encourage everyone to persue their genealogical research which enables them to explore and experience untold adventures from both an historical and personal perspective. I have personally been on ‘the hunt’ and on the research trail since the 1970’s when my Uncle Bob passed on the ‘geney bug’ and introduced me to the joy of historical genealogical research, and I have enjoyed every single moment in discovery of records, document and evidence that I have found. My best advice to everyone is to (properly) Document! Document! Document! …and not to ever slow up or stop when you may hit the proverbial ‘brick wall’ or you cannot lay your hands on that elusive record or manuscript. From my own experience if you dig down deep inside yourself, you will find a way to locate it,or go under, over, around or through it. I learned some valuable lessons as a young researcher: don’t rely on anyone else’s prior research-prove it yourself through proper documentation, and Do not let anyone (as in my case) tell you that your ancestor didn’t exist just because they were not (yet) listed in a certain historical genealogical society’s published record book. Be a trail blazer, and locate the facts and ‘prove’ a new ancestor for your self and their society, as I did. Throughout my years of research ‘gold mining’ of valuable family history, I came to see, understand and appreciate the value in learning about my family history as a means of better understanding each person and generation and the very fabric of their lives. This historical perspective gives me the greatest joy and satisfaction of being able to look into their lives and understand history in a much deeper way, as well as knowing that their and our own legacies will be carefully and safely guarded for current and future generations yet to come.
    Sincerely with highest regards, your cousin ~Bren Kellam Schilling


  28. Hi Bren, thank you for such encouraging and informative feedback! It’s great to “meet” you and I wish you well in your continued research. Fondly, Helen


  29. Hi Helen,
    You are most welcome. Thank you for your kind words.
    It’s great to “meet” you as well!
    Please contact me by email at your earliest convenience regarding our ancestor.
    Kindest regards, Bren


  30. I am also a descendant of the Scasbrooks, on the Wells (or Wills) side… I’m not descended from Nicholas Martiau, but John Scasbrook’s second wife Elizabeth Brushrod… I’m unclear also if Elizabeth was Thomas Bushrod’s widow or his daughter … I thought for a moment I was a descendant of Nicholas Martiau until I read this text, which cleared some things up.. well sort of 🙂



  31. I guess “sort of” if the right word! LOL It is hard to get it all completely straight! Sounds like you and I are truly cousins! Take care, Helen


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