HomeLifestyleSomething you might not have known: How Martinez got its name

Something you might not have known: How Martinez got its name

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To many residents of Columbia County and beyond, the origin of the name of one of Augusta’s largest suburbs, Martinez, remains a mystery.

Most people know Augusta was named after a British princess, Harrisburg after tobacco merchant Ezekiel Harris and the long-gone Frog Hollow, in what is now the downtown medical district, after the frogs that occupied the then swampy area and would croak or “holler” at dusk. But how the Latin name Martinez, and its pronunciation, found its way on the map of Columbia County often leads to shrugged shoulders.

Heather Chiero, a Latin American history professor at Augusta University, decided a few years back to lead a team of graduate students to research the name and its origins.

Chiero’s search led her to the Appling Courthouse where a vault containing more than 100 years’ worth of property records are stored.

“The records are literally stacked to the ceiling, and there is no card catalog or anything like that, so we would go once a week and just sift through the documents by hand,” Cheiro said.

The research team hit paydirt when a man by the name of Antonio Martinez y Saldivar appeared in the records as owning a huge swath of land, 835 acres, that extended all along what is modern day Riverwatch Parkway near Petersburg Station.

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However, property and census records of the 1870’s only listed whether the person was “White” or “Negro,” the terms Latino or Hispanic did not exist at the time, so it was difficult to determine exactly how a family with a Latin name ended up settling in rural Columbia County and becoming one of the area’s biggest landowners.

Undeterred, Cheiro’s team widened their search throughout the entirety of South America, and their search led them to Camagüey, Cuba, where Antonio Martinez y Saldivar was born.

In Latin American culture, children take the surnames of both their parents, so Antonio was primarily called Martinez because that was the surname of his father.

Martinez was born into a wealthy family who owned either a sugar or tobacco plantation in Camagüey, and by the time that Martinez inherited the family plantation in the 1860s, the Cuban war of independence from Spain had erupted.

According to Cheiro, the Cuban Great War, or Guerra Grande, was not just a war of independence, but mirrored the American Civil War in that the issue of slavery was a major component. The abolitionist movement was strong in Cuba, and wealthy landowners who employed slave labor became the targets of the revolutionaries.

The Guerra Grande would ultimately end in a stalemate with Spain remaining in control of its colony. While slavery was not abolished, the Treaty of Zanjón, which was signed in Camagüey, freed most of the slaves who fought on both sides of the war.

Cuba would later gain quasi-independence at the end of the Spanish-American war that ended in 1898.

According to Chiero, it is unclear if Martinez was a slave owner himself; however, it is clear that the circumstances in his homeland caused Martinez to uproot his family and immigrate to the United States.

“My gut feeling was that he was a slave owner and decided to move to the American South to get into sharecropping,” Cheiro said.

Records show that the Martinez family arrived in New York City and headed south, finally settling in Columbia County in 1870 where the land was cheap. Martinez paid approximately $98,000 in today’s money for his large swath of property where he started his El Cordero Ranch.

While the remaining property records do not indicate what exactly was grown or produced on El Cordero Ranch, it appears that Martinez was a successful landowner.

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According to Chiero, Martinez did not set out to name the growing settlement after himself. He wanted to name the area Luluville after his daughter. A post office and train depot were erected under that name; however, the name caused confusion because there was already a Louisville, Ga., and the name of the post office eventually changed to Martinez.

Lulu Martinez might not have gotten a town named after her, but she was apparently a darling of the local gossip columns of the times. Indeed, despite not being a “white” family, it seems, by reading the society columns that the Martinez family was well regarded by Augusta’s high society. Their arrivals at elite parties were duly noted in the press of the times.

The Martinez family spent between 10 and 15 years in Columbia County, according to Chiero and then disappeared altogether.

“It doesn’t appear that either sons inherited the property, and the records are so old that many of them are becoming illegible, so it is really hard to tell exactly what happened to the family,” Cheiro said.

The team of graduate researchers were able to locate a gravestone in Florida bearing the name of Antonio Martinez, but it does not bear the extra surname of Saldivar, so it is impossible to determine if that is indeed his final resting place.

However, two things are certain: Antonio Martinez y Saldivar gave his name to what has become a thriving community in the CSRA, and he probably did not pronounce his name “Mar-ti-nez,” as the common Latin pronunciation is “Mar-teen-ez.”

…And that is something you might not have known.

Scott Hudson is the Senior Reporter for The Augusta Press. Reach him at [email protected] 

5 COMMENTS

  1. Something you and your Latin American? teacher might not have known, Martinez has been Mar ten ezz since before you were both born and will always be that to the one’s of us who were raised there. So study as you might, look up till the cows come home, it won’t change the fact. “We do it this way because we don’t like outsiders telling us how to live”

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