Carpenter, Steven. "Private William M. McMurray", (www.ancestry.com, record added: March 6, 2014.)
Egle, William H., editor. Pennsylvania Archives, Vol. I: Pennsylvania in the War of the Revolution - Associated Battalions and Militia, 1775-1783, (Harrisburg, PA: J. Severans & Company, 1887.)
Lewis, James A. Neptune's Militia: The Frigate South Carolina during the American Revolution, (Kent, OH: The Kent State University Press, 1999.)
Weller, Robert. "Find a Grave Memorial: William McMurray (1753-1839)", (www.findagrave.com, record added: June 13, 2005.)
Pension Application of William McMurray S41862
Many of the posts that have focused on a single individual have emphasized some unique aspect of that man's life or services on board the frigate South Carolina. This specific emphasis of these last several posts will be repeated with this post on William McMurray. There are certain features of the life and services of William McMurray that are unknown and might well remain that way until further research illuminates these aspects of his long-ago life. One of these is his rating on board the frigate South Carolina and how he came to have this rating. But, in this case, as in other cases, there are also those historical facts that will serve quite well to inform upon that which we do not know at this much latter date in time. But, the unique aspect of the life of William McMurray that causes him to stand out is that he is the sole member of the frigate South Carolina to claim that he escaped from the British prison "hulk" Jersey. There is even a direct reference to this unusual and extraordinary event is contained within his pension application, "Pension Application of William McMurray S41862". But, this reference is vague in its details of the event and so succinct as to almost cast doubt on the veracity of the event.
As can be seen from the brief bibliography cited above, the known, definite information on William McMurray is quite sparse. But, from this dearth of factual information, we can hopefully reconstruct the life, or at least a portion of it, concerning this individual who did indeed serve on board the frigate South Carolina. We will begin with what we know about him that is lacking i the historical record. An entry for "William McMurray" does not appear in Moss's work, Roster of South Carolina Patriots in the American Revolution. An entry for a "William McMurray" does appear on page 640 in this work but, an investigation of it proves that this is not the same William McMurray concerned with in this post. A reference to Revill's work, Copy of the Original Index Book, also does not turn up any related material on the William McMurray we are focusing on in this post. There is a reference to a "William McMurray" on page 234, but, this appears to be a reference to the same "William McMurray" that does appear on the above cited page in Moss's work. Also, towards the end of Revill's work, in the section of pages entitled "A List of the Officers & Men of the Frigate South Carolina, to Whom Certificates Have Been Issued", on pages 385-386, "William McMurray" does not appear at all.
We have scant information concerning the early life of William McMurray but, at the very least, we do possess his birth information. According to Weller's entry in "Find a Grave Memorial: William McMurray (1753-1839), page 1, William McMurray was born on July 19, 1753 in the vicinity of the town of Carlisle, PA; Cumberland County; the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The actual headstone on the grave of William McMurray states that he was born "...near Carlisle, PA...". This information is corroborated by the information included in Carpenter's article, "Private William M. McMurray", page 1, except that Carpenter's article provides the middle initial of William McMurray - "M". But, the photo of William McMurray's headstone contained within Weller's entry in "Find a Grave Memorial: William McMurray (1753-1839), pages 2 and 3, quite visibly display the identical information on it.
The next phase of the life of William McMurray we have concerns his service during the American Revolution. The largest piece of coherent information we have concerning the military service of William McMurray during the American Revolution comes from his pension application, "Pension Application of William McMurray S41862". The initial passage will be cited here in its entirety. It was filed in "...the County of Jefferson, State of Ohio..." on April 28, 1818 and is as follows:
"This Deponent entered the service of his Country in the Army of the Revolution, about the first of June in the year of our Lord 1775 -- enlisting as a private soldier in the company of Capt. John Louden [Lowdon] of the first Regiment in the Pennsylvania Line commanded by Col. Thompson [William Thompson] for a term of one year -- In this time the Deponent marched from Northumberland County, Pennsylvania to Boston where his time having expired he reenlisted in the same Company, Regiment & line for 2 years and served therein at the Battles of the Brandywine [September 11, 1777] & Germantown [October 4, 1777]. He was among those unfortunate Americans who were unmercifully [?] massacred by the British at Paoli [September 21, 1777], where he was wounded and escaped with difficulty. He was honorably discharged at the Army, Valley Forge in Pennsylvania in June 1778. This discharge the Deponent has unfortunately lost. He again entered the service on board an armed Vessel called the "South Carolina" commanded by Commodore Gilliland [sic, Alexander Gillon] (Capt. John Joiner). He was taken from this Vessel, put into a Prison Ship at New York confined for three months, suffering many and great hardships until he effected his escape by stratagem --...".
It can be seen from this brief recitation of his services that William McMurray served, evidently with distinction, through some of the darkest days of the American Revolution. He enlisted in the 1st Pennsylvania Regiment of Foot under Colonel William Thompson and marched to Boston, MA from Northumberland County, PA. He was present for the siege of Boston and re-enlisted in his same company when his first enlistment expired. He was serving in his original company of the 1st Pennsylvania Regiment of Foot when he experienced the disastrous patriot defeats first at Brandywine and then at Germantown less than a month later. These two defeats cost the patriot cause the city of Philadelphia, PA. But, in the interrum, he then miraculously survived the "Paoli Massacre", though "...he was wounded and escaped with difficulty...". This is reasonable for William McMurray to claim because only Pennsylvania troops were the objects of British fury at the "Paoli Massacre" and would have suffered accordingly. The final line of his pension application addressing his land service in the patriot forces of the American Revolution implies that he was actually at Valley Forge for the duration of that incredibly harsh winter of 1777-1778. This particular line states that "...he was honorably discharged at the Army, Valley Forge in Pennsylvania in June 1778...". Washington left the encampment at Valley Forge in June 1778 to pursue the British forces as they retreated from Philadelphia, PA towards New York City, NY. Troops who had endured the winter of 1777-1778 left with him also in pursuit of the withdrawing British and marched into the Battle of Monmouth Court House in New Jersey. He includes this portion of his pension application by simply stating that "...this discharge the Deponent has unfortunately lost...".
The following two sentences of the "Pension Application of William McMurray S41862" encapsulate his services on board the frigate South Carolina. It is implied from the initial sentence that he was one of those numerous crew members or marines that were enlisted by recruiting officers. These officers were sent into the surrounding countryside in the environs of Philadelphia, PA to locate and secure a new crew for the patriot frigate. William McMurray's account does not state this specifically but, since this is the manner in which the newer crew members and marines were enlisted into the service of the frigate South Carolina, we must assume that he was among the men of the second crew of the patriot frigate recruited in such a manner.
The final sentence concerning his services on board the frigate South Carolina collapses a couple of months of hardship and endurance down into four subjunctive clauses. The first clause states that "...he was taken from this Vessel..." and "...put into a Prison Ship at New York...". According to the post entitled "'Bound for New York City, Pt. III' - Captive Americans on board the HMS Astraea - December 20, 1782 -'" and dated "03/26/2015", the name "William McMurray" does indeed appear as a captured American prisoner-of-war transported on board this particular Royal Navy man-of-war into New York City.
The next section of the "Pension Application of William McMurray S41862" contains a statement of which the writer of this blog has yet to confirm the veracity - the escape of William McMurray from the prison "hulk" Old Jersey. According to the pension application statement, William McMurray clearly states that once he had been brought to New York and consigned to the prison "hulk" in New York City harbor, that he was "...confined for three months, suffering many and great hardships until he effected his escape by stratagem --...". There are numerous surviving journals and diaries of both officers and enlisted men who were captured and incarcerated on one of the numerous prison "hulks" moored in Wallabout, Bay, NY and the extreme difficulties they suffered during these incarcerations. It has been asserted by numerous sources that more American prisoners-of-war died in British custody than were actually killed on battlefields in the course of the American Revolution -roughly 8,000 battlefield deaths as opposed to 17,000 deaths in various prisons and prison "hulks". The "Prison Martyrs Monument" in Fort Greene Park in New York City is dedicated to the memory of those men who perished in those prisons or on board the various prison "hulks" moored in Wallabout Bay, NY, the most infamous of the latter being the Old Jersey.
(Note: It should be stated at this point in this specific post that William McMurray did not specify in his pension application that he was incarcerated on board the prison "hulk" Old Jersey. He simply sates that he was "...put into a Prison Ship at New York...". This assumption that he was actually placed on board the Old Jersey comes from Lewis's work, Neptune's Militia, page 203, n27 where it is stated that "...the only prisoner from the South Carolina claiming to have escaped Old Jersey is William McMurray, who said he did so in March 1783, just weeks before he would have been released.". But, this same source also states that there were other prison "hulks" on which men from the frigate South Carolina were incarcerated. Again, according to Lewis's work, page 202, n14 states that "...a few crew members [of the frigate South Carolina] ended up prisoners on other ships, such as the Scorpion and Eayd...". The writer of this blog has never been able to verify the presence of the Eayd as a prison ship in New York City harbor during the American Revolution but, this does not substantiate this claim beyond a doubt. So, it is possible that William McMurray did indeed escape from a prison "hulk" moored in Wallabout Bay, NY but, that it was not the Old Jersey.)
The following sources are all related to the subject of American prisoners-of-war, places of incarceration, and escape attempts from these places of incarceration by imprisoned Americans. These sources are as follows:
Bowman, Larry G. Captive Americans: Prisoners During the American Revolution, (Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 1976.)
Burrows, Edwin G. Forgotten Patriots: The Untold Story of American Prisoners During the Revolutionary War, (New York, NY: Basic Books, 2008.)
Cogliano, Francis D. American Maritime Prisoners in the Revolutionary War: The Captivity of William Russell, (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2001.)
Dandridge, Danske. American Prisoners of the Revolution, (Washington, D.C.: Editora Griffo, originally published 1910.)
Swain, David, editor. Recollections of Life on the Prison Ship Jersey in 1782, (Yardley, PA: Westholme Publishing, LLC, 2010.)
All of these sources cite the difficulty of escape from a land-based prison or a prison "hulk" and the dangers of dying in the attempt. These same sources cite a few successful escape attempts from the land-based prisons but, only a few from the prison "hulks". Concerning the topic of successful escapes from the most infamous of the prison "hulks" moored in Wallabout Bay, NY, these same sources states that two or three successful attempts were ever made from the Old Jersey. William McMurray is not ever mentioned or even referred to in these successful escape attempts. This non-reference is the reason for these above cited sources not being included in the more extensive bibliography at the beginning of this post. The names of other sailors or naval officers are mentioned or made reference to in these escape accounts but, not the name of William McMurray. Thus, the escape of William McMurray from the prison "hulk" Old Jersey either never took place or happened while William McMurray was on board of another prison ship or "hulk" also moored in Wallabout Bay, NY.
There does exist two further, brief pieces of information concerning the wartime services of William McMurray. This entry refers, either directly or indirectly, to both his land service as well as his service on board of the frigate South Carolina. According to Egle's work, Pennsylvania Archives, Vol. I, section entitled "Alphabetical List of Revolutionary Soldiers", page 157, the following entry appears regarding William McMurray:
"William McMurray - ...subsequently enlisted on the South Carolina frigate; residing in 1819 in Crawford County...".
Since the above entry is included within a compilation of soldiers who fought in Pennsylvania army units during the American Revolution, the above entry refers to both of the services of William McMurray. But, the reference to "...residing in 1819 in Crawford County..." is somewhat cryptic but, possibly definable. Crawford County, OH is to deep into the northern central part of the state of Ohio for William McMurray to have lived. His pension application makes reference to Jefferson County and Guernsey County, both located in the extreme eastern part of the state. Crawford County, PA is located in the extreme western part of the state of Pennsylvania and directly abuts the state of Ohio, slightly north of Jefferson County, OH. The "Pension Application of William McMurray S41862", page 1, indicates that he filed his pension application in "...State of Ohio Jefferson County: 28th of April 1818...". It may be that the above cited information from Egle's work, page 157, is actually incorrect and that William McMurray had departed the state of Pennsylvania and was residing in eastern Ohio at the point in time that he filed his pension application.
The final piece of information regarding William McMurray's service during the American Revolution concern his time on board the frigate South Carolina. According to Carpenter's article, "Private William M. McMurray", page 1:
"...William McMurray was one of 466 men captured off of the South Carolina, a 40-gun frigate (under Captain John Joyner). He was held prisoner after the American defeat by the British.".
(Note: the reference to "...the American defeat..." is almost certainly a reference to the capture of the frigate South Carolina and not the Americans being defeated in the war, which they, of course, won. Also, of note here is the complete lack of reference to Willaim McMurray escaping from British custody in the above passage.)
The final pieces of information that have endured up to the present day concerning the life of William McMurray address his post-war civilian life. Frequently, a veteran of the American Revolution would explain the reason for his applying for assistance from the United States government in their declining years of life. The "Pension Application of William McMurray S41862" is one of these that performs this function for the benefit of the applicant. According to the "Pension Application of William McMurray S41862", page 1, immediately following his description of his escape from the prison "hulk", the following sentence appears:
"-- further he deposes & says that he from the reduced state of his circumstances is in great need of the assistance of his Country for support, that he never received any pension or compensation whatever from the United States.".
Many of the pension applications filed by veterans of the American Revolution include this same phrase almost verbatim that the veteran has '...never received any pension or compensation whatever from the United States...". But, the phrase just prior to this one -- the one beginning with "...he from the reduced state of his circumstances is in great need of the assistance of his Country for support..." -- though not unknown, is not that common to be included in a pension application. It is easy, and possibly even deceptive, to include this statement in a pension application in hopes of receiving the desired pension from the United States on America. But, William McMurray goes on to attempt to prove that he is in reduced straits at this point in his life. According to the "Pension Application of William McMurray S41862", page 2, the following information appears regarding the life and worldly possessions of William McMurray:
"...I have not nor has any person in trust for me any property, or securities, contracts or debts due to me nor have I any income other than what is contained in the schedule hereto annexed and by me subscribed
3 horse creatures at $30 $90.00
2 cows and calves at $12 $24.00
1 hog at $3 $3.00
6 shoats at $1 $6.00
1 old wagon at $45 $45.00
[2 split bottom chairs,
1 Tea Kettle,
6 plates some few Knives
& c worth altogether] $4.00
(Note: The totals in this part of the "Pension Application of William McMurray S41862" do not add up to equal the amount of money that William McMurray claims that they do. The total that William McMurray claims is $72.00 as stated in his schedule above. But the actual correct amount if added up is $172.00. The writer cannot explain at this point in this post why the discrepancy of totaled sums exists.)
The account of William McMurray continues:
"I have a small crop of grain in the field which I obtained by clearing land for a man at the rate of four crops for clearing it. My occupation a Farmer, but not able to do more than one fourth of the days work in a day. The number of my family is eight besides myself, viz.
Ann my wife aged 46 years very weakly
William aged 18 years, weakly in body
George aged 16 -- as well as common
Mary aged 14
Betsey aged 12
Patty aged 8 -- Convulsive
Hannah aged 6 -- Weakly
Daraniah aged 4...".
It is small wonder that a man like William McMurray who had enlisted as a private in the 1st Pennsylvania Regiment of Foot and had survived two crushing patriot defeats at Brandywine and Germantown as well as being wounded yet surviving the Paoli Massacre, would at the age of sixty-seven years old, turn to the government of the country for which he had quite literally fought and bled for assistance in the autumn years of his life. It is sobering to think of the aged soldier, struggling with his own failing strength, working as a farmer and supporting a family that has so many poor physical constitutions manifested among their individual members. William McMurray must have viewed the passage by Congress of the Act of March 18, 1818 as a god-send to those who had fought in the war but, never really prospered after the conclusion of the American Revolution.
The "Pension Application of William McMurray S41862" closes with the brief statement that:
"Veteran was pensioned at the rate of $8 per month commencing April 28, 1818, for service as a private for one year in the Pennsylvania Continental Line and one year in the South Carolina Sea service.".
This monetary award was in recognition of the services provided by William McMurray in both the Continental troops of the colony of Pennsylvania as well as his single year of service on board the frigate South Carolina.
According to Weller's entry in "Find a Grave Memorial: William McMurray (1753-1839), page 1, William McMurray died on March 28, 1839 and was buried in Watson Cemetery, located in Morgan County, OH. William McMurray had been receiving his pension of $8.00 per month for the last twenty-one years of his life. There is no indication as to whether or not his wife or some of his children might have predeceased him. The "Find a Grave Memorial" article only states the names of three of his children -- George, Mary and Hannah. These three identical names are listed in his pension application as being the names of his second, third and seventh children born to he and his wife, Ann. He was eighty-six years old. His age is recorded on his headstone along with the fact that he was "A Soldier of the Revolution" with no reference to his services on board the frigate South Carolina.