Martin, William (1729?–1807?), Reformed Presbyterian minister in Ireland and America, was born 16 May 1729 or 1733 at Ballyspallen, near Ballykelly, Co. Londonderry, eldest son of David Martin; his mother's name is not known. He had at least one sister, who was married in Scotland. William entered Glasgow University in 1750 and graduated in 1753; he studied theology in Scotland under John McMillan, founder of the Scottish Reformed Presbyterian church. In 1756 he was licensed to preach, and in 1757 he became the first minister in Ireland of the Reformed Presbyterian church when he was ordained by the Scottish presbytery (2 July 1757) in the open air at the Vow, Co. Antrim, where hundreds of adherents, from both Co. Antrim and Co. Londonderry, had been wont to meet to hear David Houston (qv). Martin preached in many places in Antrim, Londonderry, north Down, and possibly Donegal, until in 1760, when he was moderator of the Scottish presbytery, two congregations were established in Ireland, and he was made responsible for the Antrim societies. He fixed his residence at Kellswater, near Ballymena. The area experienced economic pressures caused by increased rent demands, and by a downturn in the linen industry, and Martin decided to emigrate to America, where he seems to have hoped that it would be possible to establish a covenanted polity, and to experience enhanced civic and religious liberty. He placed an advertisement in the Belfast News Letter of 31 December 1771, seeking people of like mind to travel along with him, and acted as an agent for the enterprise; in July 1772 he advertised the sale of his property in Kellswater, and in September 1772 he and five shiploads of emigrants sailed from Larne to South Carolina.
He was the first Reformed Presbyterian minister in the southern states. He preached first to a presbyterian congregation known as Catholic congregation at Rocky Creek, South Carolina, around which many Co. Antrim families continued to live in close association. Presbyterians in the back country of the Carolinas were in the forefront of the movement towards republican independence. The Sunday after what the Scotch-Irish regarded as a massacre by the British of their men at Waxhaw, South Carolina, on 29 May 1780, Martin preached an impassioned sermon, comparing the Waxhaw event to the sufferings of the Scottish covenanters, and urging his hearers to take up arms. He was arrested the next day by British troops. After six months in prison, he was put on trial before Lord Cornwallis (qv) in Winnsboro in 1781. He is said to have testified that since the king had failed to protect the rights of his subjects, allegiance was no longer required, and that the ‘declaration of independence is but a reiteration of what our covenanting fathers have always maintained’. As a result, the minister was sentenced to death. A Col. Philips who had known Martin in Ireland intervened at the last moment to save his life, but his meeting house was burned. Martin took refuge for a time in Mecklenburg county, North Carolina, and returned after the revolution to preach in Catholic congregation. When the British evacuated Charleston, Martin is said to have shouted ‘. . . and may the devil go with them’.
It appears that Martin refused to join the Associate Reformed Church founded in 1782, maintaining that he was the only minister who kept alive the principles of the Reformed Presbyterian church in America. A church was built for him at Rocky Mount, but he was dismissed by his congregation in 1785 for intemperance. He continued to preach to the covenanting societies and supplied the congregation of Long Cane. He joined two ministers sent from Scotland and Ireland in setting up a Reformed Presbytery in 1798. He later fell out with the Reformed Presbytery, when the other two ministers were preparing to discipline him for drunkenness and for selling a black person before the enactment of the church's decree that slaves should be freed. He preached until shortly before his death, which was either on 25 October 1806 or on 13 January 1807; his death may have been caused by the effects of a fever which he suffered after a fall from his horse. He was married three times (all undated): his first wife, whose name was Mary, died in Ireland; his second was Jenny Cherry, and his third was Susanna Boggs; she survived him. A nineteenth-century account says he performed his own marriage ceremony, presumably because he did not recognise other clergy. He had had one daughter, who died before him, and he left land to three nephews, though his will was set aside on account of his confused mental condition.