3. Henry Martin

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Henry Martin rings the bell in the University Chapel in February 1914. The bell was moved to the Chapel from the Rotunda after the fire of 1895
Henry Martin rings the bell in the University Chapel in February 1914. The bell was moved to the Chapel from the Rotunda after the fire of 1895

According to oral history, Henry Martin was born at Monticello on July 4, 1826—the day Jefferson died. He was sold to the Carr family at Jefferson's estate sale in 1827 and until 1847 remained enslaved at a property in Albemarle County. In 1847, the Carrs hired out Mr. Martin to Mrs. Dabney Carr, who ran a boarding house just north of the University. Until the general emancipation in 1865, Martin hauled coal, delivered wood, and worked as a domestic laborer at her boarding house. In freedom, he took a job with the University as janitor and bell ringer, which he wrote about in a letter to College Topics, a student publication that asked to report on his life story. Martin routinely awoke at 4 a.m. to tend to his responsibilities. It was Martin who rang the bell to spread the alarm when the first wisps of smoke were spotted in the Rotunda fire of 1895. "I was as true to that bell as to my God," Martin said in a 1914 interview. And by his retirement in 1909, Martin had become a UVA icon. The student newspaper commented, "He was known personally to more alumni than any living man."

Historic marker

Historic marker