Joseph Murray

? - 1780

Private in the First Monmouth County Militia Regiment, Protecting area from Tory Raids

I grew up on Ulster County, Ireland in a family of Scottish ancestry. Sometime before 1767 my mother, Elizabeth, and I came to America and purchased 40 acres in Middletown Township, Monmouth County. I built a sturdy farmhouse and barn in 1767 and about that time married Rebecca Morris. Our first child was born in 1771. When the Revolution broke out my neighbors were torn between supporting the rebels and remaining loyal to England. In 1775 I signed into the First Monmouth County militia regiment and was ordered to capture horses for the American army from Loyalists. We were simultaneously fighting a civil war and a war for independence so taking a horse could have several meanings. I found myself charged with trespass and assault in January 1779. However, I was captured in a Loyalist raid and imprisoned in New York. I was able to escape and appeared in court on January 27, 1780. However, no one appeared against me, so the suit was dismissed. On June 7, 1780, a group of us were ordered to reconnoiter near Sandy Hook. The next morning I was given leave to return home to complete harrowing my corn field. While working I was shot by one of three Tories who attacked me with guns and bayonets. I tried to fight back, but was killed by several bayonet wounds. Neighbors who came to help found me dead. Today my house and barn are part of the Poricy Park in Middletown where they can be visited.

Learn More About Joseph Murray…

I grew up on Ulster County, Ireland in a family of Scottish ancestry. Sometime before 1767 my mother, Elizabeth, and I boarded a ship in Londonderry and set off for a new life in British North America. I was a young stone mason and when we got to the colony of New Jersey we purchased 40 acres of land on Poricy Brook in Middletown Township, Monmouth County. I built a new farmhouse and barn in 1767 and took great pride in making the foundations very substantial with lots of headroom in the basement. I built stone wall foundations about two feet thick and I built my mother a massive cooking fireplace in the basement as part of the chimney support. Also about this time, I began my own family and married Rebecca Morris. She was from a Welsh family that had lived in Monmouth County for several generations and she had nineteen brothers and sisters. Our first child was born in 1771.

When the Revolution broke out my neighbors were torn between supporting the rebels and remaining loyal to England. In 1775 I signed into the First Monmouth County militia regiment as required by a new law. Some of the men who served in the militia, including Colonel George Taylor, had no problem protesting the actions of Parliament, but when independence was declared they could no longer support the Revolution. Colonel Taylor became an active Tory militiaman, often leading raids from the Loyalist outpost at Sandy Hook.

Colonel Taylor’s father, Edward, was also a Tory but he stayed at home trying to ride out the storm around him. As a patriot militiaman I was ordered by my officers to capture horses from known Loyalists so they could be used by the American army. One day I went to Edward Taylor’s house while he was sitting on his porch and tried to enter his stable without being seen. Once inside I bridled a young horse, jumped on its back and rode out. Mr. Taylor saw me and threw his cap in front of the horse trying to scare it. However, I kept control, dismounted, picked up the cap and rode off with it.

In the confusing times of the Revolution when we were simultaneously fighting a civil war and a war for independence, actions like taking that horse could have several meanings. I found myself charged with trespass and assault in January 1779. I pled not guilty and put up a £50 bond to ensure my appearance at the next court session. However, my actions in the militia had caused me to be considered an “obnoxious persecutor of Loyalist subjects” and a “notoriously violent rebel.” I was targeted and captured in a Tory raid and imprisoned in New York. My attorney arranged for a delay in my court case until I could return from captivity. I was able to escape and appeared in court on January 27, 1780. However, no one appeared against me, so the suit was dismissed.

My troubles protecting myself and other Patriots from the Loyalists were not over. I was chosen to be one of about 250 selected men from the Monmouth and Middlesex militia for duty reconnoitering the Sandy Hook area. On June 7, 1780, under the command of Lieutenant Garret Hendrickson of the Monmouth militia, a group of us were ordered to reconnoiter the bay shore near Sandy Hook. The next morning Lieutenant Hendrickson gave me leave to return home so I could complete harrowing my corn field. My friend Thomas Hill came with me and agreed to stand guard while I worked because one never knew when the Tories might attack an open enemy such as myself. However, Thomas needed to get home so I told him to go on and propped my musket against a fence at the edge of my field. Soon after he left I was shot by one of three Tories who attacked me with guns and bayonets. I tried to fight back even though wounded by the gunshot, but was killed by several bayonet wounds. The shots were heard by neighbors who came to help me, but by the time they found me I was dead with my wounds still bleeding. My neighbors followed my murderers down the river to the highlands and found one of the men hiding in the bushes. He was shot dead by Mathias Conover. Some people believe that one of my assailants was a slave of Colonel Taylor.

I was buried on my farm, leaving Rebecca and our four children to carry on our farm as best they could and deal with the continuing Tory threat. In 1855 my grandson had my remains moved to the cemetery of the Baptist Church on King’s Highway. Today my house and barn are part of the Poricy Park in Middletown where they can be visited.

Deposition regarding the murder of Joseph Murray by Loyalists, April 25, 1788 New Jersey State Archives, Dept. of Defense, Revolutionary War, Numbered Manuscripts, #10639

Jackson, Ellen. Poricy Park Conservancy: A Primer on the Murray Farmhouse and Barn (revised 2010)

Rissland, Marcia S. “A Notoriously Violent Rebel”, Poricy Park History Series. Poricy Park Citizens Committee, June, 1986; Revised March, 1996.

Nelson, William, ed. The New Jersey Coast in three Centuries: History of the New Jersey Coast with Genealogical and Historic-Biographical Appendix, vol II, New York: Lewis Publishing Company, 1902. Pages 258 – 262 gives the story of Joseph Murray in detail.

Adelberg, Michael S. The American Revolution in Monmouth County: The Theatre of Spoil and Destruction. The History Press, 2010. Adelberg tells the story of Loyalists Edward and Colonel George Taylor in full detail.

The Murray Farmhouse and Barn –http://www.poricypark.org/murrayfarmhousebarn.html

Art: Joe Barsin

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