Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

Luther Martin (1748-1826)
MSA SC 3520-875


Born in New Brunswick, New Jersey, February 20, 1748.  Son of Benjamin and Hannah or Elenora Martin.  Episcopalian.  Attended Princeton, A.B., A.M., 1769.  Married Maria Cresap, daughter of Captain Michael Cresap; five children, of which three daughters survived childhood.  Resided in Somerset County, Maryland and Baltimore City.  Died in New York City, July 8, 1826, at the home of Aaron Burr.  Buried in Trinity Church Cemetery, New York City.

Schoolmaster and lawyer. Following graduation from the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University), Luther Martin settled in Queenstown, Maryland, where he served as a schoolmaster at the Queen Anne's County Free School. He undertook the study of law and moved to Somerset County, Maryland, were he read in the office of Samuel Wilson. He completed his studies in Virginia, while superintendent of the Onancock Grammar School in Accomack County. Martin was admitted to the Virginia bar in 1771, and later returned to Somerset County to establish his law practice.

Martin, a patriot, was elected to the Somerset County Committee of Observation in 1774, and appointed a commissioner to oppose British Claims. He attended the Provincial Convention in Annapolis during December 1774. During the Revolutionary War, Martin "espoused the Colonial side with all the energy of his nature, and from the beginning to the end of the struggle, by speeches, addresses and in his profession, showed himself the uncompromising enemy of George the Third and the Tories."1 One of his most well known addresses, To the Inhabitants of the Peninsula between the Delaware River and the Chesapeake to the Southward of the British Lines, was printed and circulated on handbills among the largely Loyalist population of Maryland's lower Eastern Shore.

In 1778, Governor Thomas Johnson appointed Luther Martin Attorney General of Maryland, a position created under the 1776 state constitution, and one he remained in until 1805. Martin was elected to the Continental Congress in 1784, but did not serve. In 1787, he was elected to the Constitutional Convention, where he was an ardent supporter of states' rights. "No other member held more extreme views regarding the rights of the states than did Martin, who insisted,... 'that the General Government was meant merely to preserve the State Governments, not to govern individuals.'"2 Martin returned to Maryland before the work of the Convention was completed and never signed the Constution. As a member of the Maryland Ratification Convention in 1788, he lead an effort to prevent ratification, but failed. He also promoted the abolition of slavery on the national stage.

Following the conventions, Martin returned to his legal practice in Maryland. Martin gained additional national exposure through his legal career. He represented U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Chase at his impeachment trial before the U.S. Senate in 1805. Two years later, he defended former U.S. Vice President Aaron Burr, who presided over Chase's impeachment, against treason charges

From 1813-1816, Martin served as Chief Judge of the Court of Oyer and Terminer in Baltimore. In 1819, he returned to the position of Attorney General, during which time he appeared before the U.S. Supreme Court in the landmark McCulloch v. Maryland case. Martin suffered a stroke in 1820. In 1821, the Maryland General Assembly passed a resolution requiring all attorneys of the state to pay a $5 for a license, the proceeds of which were to be directed for the care of Martin. This resolution was repealed during the next regular session. Martin, in poor health and financial difficulty, was taken in by his old friend Aaron Burr, who oversaw his care for the remainder of his life.

Click here to read various published biographical sketches.


1. The Biographical Cyclopedia of Representative Men of Maryland and District of Columbia. (Baltimore: National Biographical Publishing Co., 1879), 216.

2. James McLachlan. Princetonians, 1746-1768. (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1976), 581.

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