Virginia: America’s First Frontier celebrated at Wilderness Road State Park

Published 4:19 pm Thursday, May 16, 2024

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

Wilderness Road State Park in Lee County, Virginia, hosted its premiere event “Virginia: America’s First Frontier” last weekend (May 10-12). A small army of 18th Century reenactors set up camp at the park for three days offering visitors a glimpse of what life was like at Martin’s Station in the late 1700s.

The event featured an 18th Century Market Faire, artists displays, a Native American encampment and period music along with demonstrations of blacksmithing, gunsmithing, a militia drill, musket and artillery demonstrations, spinning, weaving, candle making, natural dying and open hearth cooking, and Scoundrel’s Alley with exhibits of education, entertainment and amazement along with storytelling throughout the day.

Martin’s Station played a relatively short, though significant part in the history of southwestern Virginia and the early settlement of Kentucky. The station takes its name from Joseph Martin, who was born in 1740 in Albemarle County, Virginia. Following a somewhat restless early life, which included service in the French and Indian War, Martin became the overseer for a wealthy relative who was closely connected with Dr. Thomas Walker. This connection proved invaluable. Martin would eventually be selected by Dr. Walker to lead an expedition into Powell’s Valley.

Email newsletter signup

To help assert the legitimacy of his land claims to the Powell’s Valley region, Dr. Walker promised Joseph Martin 21,000 acres if he was the first to settle the valley. On March 26, 1769, after an arduous journey through the wilderness, and a literal race with a rival expedition, Martin and his group entered Powell’s Valley.

The group identified a tract of land near the present-day town of Rose Hill, Virginia. They erected crude cabins and planted a corn crop. However, by the fall of 1769, the station was abandoned. While Martin and his men returned to Albemarle County, they retained title to their land.

In 1775 Martin returned to Powell’s Valley with a party of 18 men. THey constructed a more permanent station protected by a strong palisade.

The importance of the station greatly increased on March 17, 1775, when the 32-million acre Transylvania Purchase between Judge Richard Henderson and the Cherokee was finalized at Sycamore Shoals. Martin was appointed by Henderson as an agent and entry taker, a duty that would keep his interests occupied. As the last fortified station along Boone’s Trace prior to reaching the new lands Henderson was opening in Kentucky, Martin’s Station became a well-known point of rest and resupply on America’s first frontier.

The weekend also featured an ongoing series of special seminars and programs including Surveying the Frontier by Dennis Medley, Essential Implements of the Virginia Farmer by Bill Maddox, Virginia for Liberty!, Mend It, Darn It: The Longevity and Repair of 18th Century

Clothing by Emily Burns, Parley with the Crown: The Effects of Treaties on Cherokee Society by Mark Ledford and Sons of the American Revolution Wreath Laying Ceremony.

The entire weekend’s activities were sponsored by Friends of Wilderness Road State Park.

Upcoming special events at the park include Unbroken: Heroines of the Virginia Frontier on July 12-14; Face The Frontier: An 18th Century Experience, a one-mile immersive walk sharing the journey of those who traveled along the untamed wilderness along Boone’s Trace on September 14; and Martin’s Station Fall Encampment on October 11-13.