Enoch: Green Martin, a soldier, farmer and beloved husband

Published 11:00 am Saturday, March 4, 2023

By Harry Enoch

Guest Columnist

During the Civil War, Kentucky’s slaves could escape bondage by enlisting in the Union army, and they did so in remarkable numbers. Nearly 24,000 African-American soldiers are credited to the state. That number represents 57 percent of those aged 18 to 45 eligible for military service. Green Martin was just past his eighteenth birthday when he traveled to Camp Nelson with his older brother John in June 1864 to join the army. Green enlisted under the alias Green Stephens and was promoted to corporal.

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Green’s unit was ordered to City Point, Virginia, where they participated in the siege of Petersburg and Richmond. That operation lasted from October until the fall of Richmond in April of the following year. His regiment then fought in the Appomattox campaign that ended with Robert E. Lee’s surrender on April 9, 1865. After the war, the regiment remained on active duty, serving in Texas and Louisiana. He mustered out in January 1867 and later received a small disability pension for his military service.

Although freed by the Thirteenth Amendment, times were challenging for formerly enslaved people after the war, including veterans. To quote Frederick Douglass, they “had neither money, property nor friends.” Hardly any owned land and few opportunities were open to those who had no trade to practice. And while many were badly treated, all were denied the full rights of citizenship. Large numbers fled to the North, others migrated to the cities.

In 1868, Green married Mary Ann George at her father’s residence near Winchester. The couple lived in the Lower Howard’s Creek area, where Green worked as a farm laborer. His first marriage may have ended with Mary Ann’s death.

In 1890 Green married Mary Susan Roy, a daughter of James Roy and his wife Kittie, who lived near Jouett Creek on Athens-Boonesboro Road. Green managed his affairs well and saved enough money to buy a small tract of land on Lower Howard’s Creek. He paid Alexander S. Hampton $200 in cash for eight acres located about one-quarter of a mile downstream from the old Jonathan Bush mill, then owned by Hampton. This land is now in the Lower Howard’s Creek Nature & Heritage Preserve. Archaeologists have investigated two limestone foundations at Green Martin’s home site. One was a 40’ x 60’ dwelling and the other they identified as a 33’ x 46’ animal pen. The tract is surrounded by stone fences and has a vast area of early-blooming daffodils.

The 1900 and 1910 censuses show Green’s brother John and his wife Lucy living on Green’s land. Like his brother, John had received a disability pension for military service. Records indicate that, years later, he still suffered from a bayonet wound to his neck. John died in 1912, and Green served as administrator of his estate.

In 1914, at age 68, Green Martin sold his farm for $300 and moved to Winchester. He paid Harvey Lisle $450 for a house located on Spring Street, backing up to Winchester Cemetery. Green joined the Good Samaritan Lodge and the Broadway Baptist Church. He died of Bright’s disease in 1924. Green’s will left everything to his wife, Mary Susan. His assets consisted of Liberty bonds and bank deposits totaling $1,363, in addition to the house in town.

The Winchester Sun published a “Memorial to Mr. Green Martin,” which included the following verse penned by his wife, “In Memory of My Beloved Husband”:

“Loving husband, to me so dear,

Now has passed away from here.

Since by God’s will be done

When for my loving husband he sent

And into a home in Heaven he went,

I missed his love more every day.

He tried so hard in every way

To make for me a happy home

To look to God and his alone.”

Mary Susan had Green buried on her family’s land on Athens-Boonesboro Road. In 1935 she died of heart disease at the age of 82 and was laid to rest beside her husband. The cemetery has a fine stone fence surrounding the two graves. Standing near Green’s gravestone is a Civil War veteran’s marker that reads “Green Stephens, Corpl., Co. A, 116 U.S.C. Inf.” o translate, Green Martin was a corporal in Company A, 116th Regiment of the U.S. Colored Infantry. He had enlisted under the surname of his owner.

Green Martin left no descendants to tend his grave. Over the years, the tiny cemetery became badly overgrown with trees, vines and honeysuckle. In the spring of 2010, the Clark County Cemetery Board held a cleanup day for the graveyard located on the Rodgers place on Athens-Boonesboro Road. After the underlying vegetation was removed, the cemetery and its gravestones were returned very nearly to their condition of a century before.