The Arrival of Robert Murphy (1757-1850) in America
Guest Post by Charles Martin Ward, Jr.
There are two accounts relating how Robert Murphy (1757-1850) arrived in America:
“…Robert Murphy…came over with the British Army and served in the War of the Revolution under Gen. Tarleton in S.C. He was captured in the Battle of the Cowpens by Gen. Daniel Morgan, 1781, and afterwards served in the Patriot Army.”
(A Genealogy and Biography of the Family of Luttrell 1066-1893, by Elston Luttrell, 1893).
“Robert Murphy was born in Londonderry County, Ireland in 1757. The story is told that he and his sister just younger than he (when ten to twenty years old) were shanghaied by sailors and brought to America in the stow of a ship. Nothing was ever heard of the sister, but Robert Murphy’s name next appears in the records of the war of the Revolution along with more than two hundred Murphys with the rank of private in a book by Lt. Charles Stockley listing accounts of cash paid to non-commissioned officers and privates of the Virginia Continental line of defenses for February, March and April 1783. Robert Murphy was then twenty-six years old.”
(The Robert Murphy Family, a typescript distributed among descendants, by Robert Marshall Murphy, Sr., b. 1886; d. 1969, a great-grandson of Robert Murphy).
The Luttrell account is the earliest published account of Robert Murphy’s arrival in America. The information contained in the Luttrell account was contributed by James Madison Murphy (b. 16 Oct 1814 in Knox Co., TN; d. 7 Jul 1902 in Knox Co., TN), son of John Murphy (b. 6 Jul 1786; d. 3 Aug 1855) and Martha Gilliam and grandson of Robert Murphy (b. 1757; d. 13 May 1850). He knew his grandfather and was 35 years old at the time of his grandfather’s death. James Madison Murphy married Mary K. Luttrell and was a leading figure in a joint Murphy and Luttrell family organization in which his sons were also involved. As the earliest account of the arrival of Robert Murphy in America, originating with a grandson of Robert Murphy, it must be assessed as the most likely to be accurate.
The Robert Marshall Murphy account is problematic. It is unlikely sailors would have “shanghaied” a female between ten and twenty years old and brought her aboard a ship to America. It doesn’t provide any information relating how Robert Murphy would have ended up serving in the American Army once the ship on which he sailed arrived in American waters, although his son, Robert M. Murphy, Jr., President of the Tennessee Society Sons of the Revolution (1978 term), indicated Robert Murphy “jumped ship.” It also has not been verified that Robert Murphy is included in the Stockley account of payments. The Robert Marshall Murphy account, recorded over fifty years after the Luttrell account by someone born 36 years after the death of Robert Murphy, doesn’t ring true. One may surmise the omission of Robert Murphy’s service in the British Army and subsequent capture possibly may stem from misguided patriotic reasons.
Assessing the Luttrell account, it is necessary to examine surviving British service records, records of captured British soldiers, etc., in order to verify Robert Murphy’s service in the British Army. This was accomplished through the research of Don N. Hagist, editor of Journal of the American Revolution and the author of several books on the American Revolution. He found Robert Murphy on the muster rolls of the 3rd Regiment of Foot (Muster rolls, 3rd Regiment of Foot, WO 12/2105 and WO 12/2106, British National Archives). He enlisted on 9 Aug 1777 in Ireland while the regiment was stationed there, and an annotation on the roll indicates that he was indeed Irish. The 3rd Regiment of Foot was sent to America near the close of the Revolutionary War, arriving in Charleston, South Carolina in March, 1781. Robert Murphy was appointed a corporal before January, 1783 and became a prisoner of war before January, 1783, never returning to the British Army.
When, and under what circumstances, Murphy became a prisoner of war is not known; a gap in the muster rolls from the time the regiment embarked for America until 1783 make it impossible to know (from this source) when he was promoted and when he was captured. In 1781 the 3rd Regiment participated in the relief of Ninety-Six and later at the battle of Eutaw Springs; odds are that Murphy was captured at one of those two places. Murphy is listed as a prisoner of war on rolls prepared during the first half of 1783; he is not on the rolls covering August thru December 1783, indicating that he never returned from captivity. Many regiments explicitly wrote these men off as deserters on their muster rolls, but the rolls of the 3rd Regiment simply no long include several of the men who'd been prisoners of war.
With the exception of the specific battle at which he was captured, the muster roll information correlates with the Luttrell account of Murphy's arrival in America as a British soldier and his subsequent capture. It is known that he was born in Londonderry, Ireland in 1757 and had learned the trade of a weaver; both of these facts dovetail nicely with an army enlistment in 1777.
Following his capture, Robert Murphy enlisted in the American Army. He is listed as a private in the Virginia Militia. When hostilities ended, he married Martha McNeill, 10 Oct 1783, in Botetourt County, Virginia (Botetourt County Marriages 1770-1853 by Vogt & Kethley, Volume 1, p. 218). She was born in 1768 the daughter of Hugh and Martha McNeill and died 15 Jun 1847 in Knox Co., TN. She is identified as Martha Murphy in the will of her father, Hugh McNeill, a Scots-Irishman who had served as a constable in Botetourt County.
Robert Murphy, his wife, and children, settled in Knox Co., TN in the mid-1790s. Robert Murphy bought his first land in Knox County, TN on 24 May 1797, 115 acres on White’s Creek (Knox Co., TN Deed Bk B, pp. 191-2). The following July he bought 50 more acres (Knox Co., TN Deed Bk B, pp. 204-5) and acquired 100 acres on Beaverdam Creek in 1810. He served during the War of 1812 as a sergeant under Col. Edwin Booth and Capt. Porter in the Drafted Militia (Tennesseans in the War of 1812, Sistler, p. 375).
Robert Murphy died 13 May 1850 "of old age." He is buried at the Murphy Family Cemetery in Knox Co., TN, off of Washington Pike, about seven miles from Knoxville, TN. The family farm has remained in the family and is now owned by a descendant. He left a will in which he identified his many children.
The information that follows consists of individual sentences and paragraphs pertaining directly to Robert Murphy (1757-1850) that have been extracted from the aforementioned typescript by Robert Marshall Murphy (1886-1969), The Robert Murphy Family (pp. 1, 4-5, 8-10, 14, 26-27), in order to compose a coherent, abbreviated narrative.
“Robert Murphy and his family drove into Grassy Valley, in Knox County, Tennessee in a covered wagon. The family had come all the way from Virginia…. Robert Murphy… was apprenticed to a weaver and learned the weaving trade [before joining the British Army, and]… brought with them into the valley their loom, spinning wheel, cords, and hackle. [He] proceeded to search out and agree upon a tract extending across Grassy Valley…… with a number of free flowing springs, a matter of prime importance in that early day in choosing a home site. Once located in Grassy Valley, the first big job facing Robert Murphy and his four young Virginia-born sons was making a clearing in the densely wooded area immediately surrounding the spring and the spot which had been decided upon for the location of their log cabin. On a level prominence near and above one of the springs, they built the first log residence using logs hewn out of the surrounding forest. This was the first home of the Robert Murphy family in East Tennessee. The house served for about one hundred years with an occasional addition required to add to the comfort of the family which had increased to a total of eleven children.”
“A few pages of [Robert Murphy’s] farm account book, with records beginning in 1801, reveal that corn was the product marketable in the largest volume. It was surprising to find such a variety of produce sold: corn, potatoes, hay, flax seed, flour, butter, honey, and chickens, in addition to yards and yards of cloth (woolen, cotton and linen) from their looms. It is interesting to note that they used the English monetary unit of pounds, shillings, and pence in the account book.”
“Three of the five older children born in Virginia probably had started school before they moved to Tennessee, where they found that schools were practically non-existent. Fortunately, their nearest neighbor, Samuel Crawford, had built a log school-house on his farm, having in mind primarily the importance of schooling for his own children; but evidently he permitted other children to attend according to entries in the Murphy account book kept by Robert Murphy. One entry dated 1806 was for thirty-five dollars. Another in 1816 listed 9 pounds for two years tuition for the Murphy children.”
“Family records do not reveal the interest and affiliation of the Robert Murphy family with a specific church group in the early years following his arrival in Grassy Valley, but future happenings make it a fair assumption that they attended camp meetings held in the region. Robert and Martha Murphy may have been Methodists in Virginia. In 1847 when Robert Murphy, along with his family, came home from Camp meeting, he must have been aroused to the need for a church nearer home. It was at that time that he got together with his neighbors and offered to give a square plot off the north corner of his farm for a building site, where it joined the Crawford and Luttrell farms. The site was a level elevation admirably suited for a church, and they set right to work building a small Methodist Church which they named Murphy’s Chapel, in Robert Murphy’s honor. The gift was conditioned only by the clause, “so long as it shall be used for this purpose,” and the application was signed by the following trustees: John Murphy, Barnes Crawford, Reuben White, Pleasant M. Monday, James M. Murphy, William Murphy, Samuel Briggs, William Brown, and Major W. Wilkerson.” [Note that John and William Murphy were Robert Murphy’s sons and James M. Murphy was his grandson.]
“When Martha Murphy died in 1847…… it became necessary to pick out the site for the Murphy family graveyard and she became the first occupant. Three years later, in 1850, Robert Murphy died at the age of 93 and was buried alongside her. The location is on a level elevation across White’s Creek from the Hugh Murphy homestead.”
John Luttrell Murphy, in a letter to his father, James M. Murphy, dated 16 Oct 1895, wrote the following about Robert Murphy (1757-1850), his great-grandfather (The letter is transcribed in The Robert Murphy Family, pp. 16-21.):
“…bluff, brave old Robert Murphy……. laid the foundation of the Tennessee branch of the strong and powerful Murphy clan from good ole Londonderry in the north of Ireland.”
“Not being able to make his own conditions nor to surround himself with circumstances to his liking, he was wise and bold enough to appropriate and assimilate those he found round and about him, and to forcibly wring by rude efforts from rough elements, a support and competency for his worthy self and faithful wife, and a large and hearty family of some dozen children besides.”
“The Daddy of all the Tennessee Murphys was a run of strong will and stern judgment, and commanded the confidence and enforced the respect of all he met. Why, with his “blackthorn” or black Jacks, two foot club, he could knock out a whole “muster,” and with a single broad oath of the “Green Isle” put an entire Company of rangers to flight. Everybody had a piece of land that he wanted at once to measure and hole to quickly find when Robert Murphy got his “Irish up.” Honest to a fault, and generous to a defect, yet no man could rob him nor abuse him, and while his physical manhood held out, no man dare even undertake it. And of the same solid sterling stuff were made his hale and hearty sons and daughters; who were veritable chips off the old block, tempered with the same hardness, rang with the same stroke, broken with the same blow and softened with the same influence.”