The Melungeons blog

Sunday, March 30, 2008

The Armenian from Turkey

The Armenians in America By Malcolm Vartan Malcom Published 1919
Original from Harvard University Page 51-57

The Pioneers (1618-1894)

There were Armenians among the first settlers in America. We are indebted to the records of the Virginia Company of London for the interesting information that "Martin the Armenian" was a member of the Colony at Jamestown, Virginia, as early as 1618 or 1619. The exact date of his landing, the name of the vessel that brought him here and the circumstances that induced him to cross the Atlantic are unknown. But all the bits of references to him put together lead to the conclusion that he came here as one of the servants of Governor George Yeardley. While in Virginia he acquired British citizenship which undoubtedly entitles him to the distinction of being the first naturalized person on the American continent. After remaining here for about four years he returned to England in 1622 with a "parcell of tobacco" which he had raised in Virginia. Upon his reaching London the customs officers imposed double the amount of the regular duties on his importation because he was a foreigner by birth. Thereupon Martin appealed to the Company's Court for a reassessment. His petition, dated May 8, 1622, reads as follows:

"John Martin the Persian makinge humble suite for the Companies fauor to the ffarmors and his Mats Custome to free him from payinge double wch they required of him beinge a Stranger notwithstanding he was made a freeman in Virginia by Sr. Geo: Yeardley then Gouernor as by Certificate vnder the Collonies Seale appeared Answeare was made touchinge his freedom that noe but the Kinge could make him a free denizon of England, and for the Custome demanded the ffarmors themselues could not nowe remitt in reguard they has already entred the parcell into their booke and charged it vpon Account, wherevpon it beinge taken into consideracon howe he might be releiued, he was at length aduised to peticon vnto my Lo : Trear for remittinge the said imposicon in reguard he was a freeman of Virginia and intended to returne thither againe wth some servante out of the proceed of that smale parcell of Tobacco he [here] brought ouer to supplie he wante."

On May 20, 1622, the Court, which was presided over the Lord Cavendish, rendered the following decision:

"The Courte takinge into consideration the request of Mr. Martin the Perian touching the double charge imposed vpon his Tobacco by the ffearmors in reguard he was a Stranger and havinge informed themselues of the priuiledge of their Patent, that giues them power to enfranchies Strangers and them capeable thereby of the like imunities that themselues enjoy : Haue therefore ordered that the Secretary shall repaire to the ffarmors of the Custome with a Coppie of the said clause and that with the Courte speciall comendacon of Mr. Martin unto them, and to entreat their fauor towarde him rather in respect of his good likinge to the Plantation whither he intends to goe againe, wch may happily encourage other strangers to the like resolucon to go ouer thither." [note : The records of the Virginia Company of London. The Court Book. Edited by Susan Myra Kingsbury, Vol. I, page 633, Vol. II page 13.]

The valuable records of the Virginia Company of London contain a number of references to this Armenian. It appears that he became a member of the Company's Standing Committee and attended many of its important sessions. He is mentioned in the minutes of an "extraordinary" meeting held on October 20, 1623, as "Martin an Armenian." When the question as to whether or not the Company should surrender its charter to the King was put to vote, "Martin the Armenian," with Lord Argall and seven others, raised his hand for the affirmative. "Martin Armenian" was present at an important deliberation of the Committee held on November 12, 1623. He is again referred to as "Martin ye Armenai." in another meeting that took place on January 14, 1624.

The next two Armenians came to America in 1653 under the most interesting circumstances. There was at this time a great deal of enthusiasm to produce silk in Virginia. Unsuccessful experiments had been made in the care and raising of silkworms and mulberry trees which furnish the chief nourishment for these caterpillars. Edward Digges, one of the leading members of the Colony, having heard through his father, then the English Ambassador to Russia, that the Armenians were expert cultivators of silkworms, brought over at his own expense two of them "who enjoyed a high reputation in their native land for their skill and experience." The result of the work of these men was so promising that in 1654, John Ferrer, an earnest supporter of the Company, wrote a poem dedicated "To the Most Noble Deserving Esquire Digges :

Page 56

"But noble Digges carries the Bell away
(Lass ! want of eggs made so small the essay)
His two Armenians from Turkey sent
Are now most busy on his brave attempt.
And has he stock sufficient for next yeare
Ten thousand pounds of Silk would then appeare
And to the skies his worthy deeds upreare
And to the skies his worthy deeds upreare.
. . . . . . . . . . .

Courage, brave Sir : Sith Ayde from God is sent Proceed, go on, drive forth thy great inteny.

In December, 1656, the Assembly of Virginia passed the following Resolution:
"That George the Armenian for his encouragement in the trade of silk and to stay in the country to follow the same have four thousand pounds of tobacco allowed him by the Assembly."

It cannot be ascertained whether "George" was one of the Armenians brought over by Digges, but the evidence seems to be in favor of that presumption.

History is silent concerning the other Armenians who may have drifted to the New World in quest of prosperity during the rest of the 17th and 18th centuries. It is not al improbable that through the influence of the Armenians already in Virginia other may have come here, particularly from Holland and India where Armenian merchants were constantly in touch with England.

Armenian, Turks, Jamestown Holland, Silk trade