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[AMONG the farms of Roxburghshire, in the valley of the Ewes, a valley which Dorothy Wordsworth characterizes as “unknown to song,” but to her “more interesting than Teviot itself,” is Unthank, the birthplace and early home of James Murray. Around it, as it lies far up the long deep glen, rise hills, some of them over two thousand feet high, grassy below, feathery with heath at top, and browsed over in the silence and remoteness by numberless sheep. A little ridge on the brae side is all that is left now to show where once stood the house leased by James Murray’s father from the Duke of Buccleuch. This ridge, deserted by all save the lambkins which play about under the trees, is protected still by its group of” Scots firs,” with reddish brown bark and cone-laden branches, while at the foot of the brae is a small lonely burying-ground inclosed by a low wall.1 For any sign of living human presence one must to-day look to a dwelling-house nearer the river’s side, built perhaps at the end of the eighteenth century, comfortable and commodious, but not suggestive of the earlier time. The road which runs past this house, following the river and traversing the valley from end to end, was once a traveled route from Harwick to Carlisle, but is now almost deserted except by the shepherds and the few inhabitants of the valley. Unthank Burn, falling into the Ewes upon the east, still further identifies the estate, which, to be more definite, is three miles and a quarter below Mosspaul by river and road, six miles above Langholm.

[Yet while geographically Unthank is in Roxburghshire, ecclesiastically it is included in the Dumfrieshire parish of Ewes; and it is to the Ewes parish register that we must look for the records of the births of James’s brothers and sisters.2 There, too, the marriage of his father, John Murray of Unthank, to his cousin Anne Bennet, daughter of the Laird of Chesters, is set down, though the more picturesque announcement of marriage intentions, pro primo, pro secundo, pro tertio, is in the register of the Bennet’s parish of Ancrum.[...]

[John Murray of Unthank is described by his second son, Dr. John Murray of Norwich, as “a man who, by a peculiar fortitude of mind, a steady resolution, an unshaken virtue, an uncommon sagacity and successful industry, not only surmounted every difficulty, but endeared his name and raised his credit in the neighborhood where he lived.” At Unthank he devoted himself to the care of his estate and to the education of his sons. Scattered at longer or shorter distances from Unthank, through-out the neighboring counties, were a score of Scottish households whose inmates were directly related to him or connected with him by marriage. Stewarts, Grahams, Pringles, Murrays, Bennets, Kerrs, Scotts, and others had quarreled and married, thriven and multiplied, until the population had become one vast cousinship, bound together by that clannish loyalty which, quite apart from pride of name, is ineradicable in the Scots to the present day. Chesters,3 an estate on the Teviot, six miles from Ancrum, had for several generations been possessed by the Bennets, James Murray’s maternal ancestors. Robert Bennet, James Murray’s great-grandfather, had been a stanch Covenanter, persecuted for twenty years or more for his Presbyterianism. His history was one long tale of fines and imprisonments, for no sooner was he at liberty than he involved himself in fresh difficulties by attending field conventicles, or by harboring the covenanting preachers in his house. John Murray of Unthank, on the other hand, was by inheritance an adherent of the Established Church.

[Born at Unthank, on Sunday, August 9, 1713, James Murray passed the first fifteen years of his life after the wholesome manner of Scottish lads, porridge-fed, bare-legged, — he protested in after years against his grandson’s wearing stockings, —and straitly bred in hardihood and industry. He idolized his father and took eagerly his instruction, which was apparently all the book learning the boy had. It included French and something of English literature, sufficient Latin to furnish occasional refreshment and solace throughout the rest of his life, and enough of mathematics to enable him to begin a mercantile apprenticeship in London when thrown out upon the world. With his mother’s people at Chesters, including his cousins Anne, Jean, Andrew, Robert, and Barbara, he was intimate. A kindly intercourse, also, was kept up between him and the Philiphaugh cousins at Hangingshaw, of whom, from one or two allusions in the letters, it appears that his favorite was Mary, afterward married to Sir Alexander Don of Newton. In February, 1728, when the father was fifty-one years of age and the son fifteen, John Murray died, leaving his widow and four younger children, Barbara, John, William, and Elizabeth, to the care of James. The little family remained at Unthank for four years more, James supplying as well as he could the place of his father, until, in 1732, the lease of the farm, as well as the personal property connected with the estate, were taken off their hands by Robert Elliott and Walter Scott.4 Even then, Mrs. Murray and the children remained at Unthank, but James, who was by this time nineteen years of age, left them to be fitted for business. Through the influence of Sir John Murray of Philiphaugh, who, acting with Andrew Bennet, was one of Mrs. Murray’s advisers, he was apprenticed to William Dunbar, a merchant of London, in the West India trade. In London the lad was an inmate of Mr. Dunbar’s family, and for eighteen months after the apprenticeship was over he remained with him. Of his earlier experiences in business he wrote to his uncle, Sir John Murray of Philiphaugh —](London, May 25, 1732.) “There is a ship just come from Antigua of which my Master is husband, and he has given me so much to manage it and to show me the method.”

(Dec. 12, 1732.) “I have shipt by my master’s direction a parcell of coarse Dutch linnens consigned to his correspondendt in Antigua, the amount whereof will be about £100.”

[And to his uncle, Andrew Bennet of Chesters —](Oct. 6, 1732.) “I send by the Unity, John Finlason for Leith,... a Hamper containing two dozen of rum, one dozen of which (being part of my first fruits in trade) must beg your acceptance of, and please send half a dozen to my mother & the other half dozen you may either present to Baillie Jeardon on Johnny’s acct or some little thing instead of it & keep it. They call it good here & say it only wants age.”

[Although separated from his mother and his brothers and sisters, their affairs continued to receive his anxious care.]


LONDON, Augst 5th, 1732.

Since my last of the 4th ulto I have had no occasion to write you, and this serves to acquaint you that I continue in health to like my business, etc.

I am very glad to find by a letter from my Mother that she enjoys health & is pleased with her new way. I hope your advise and the children’s benefit will induce her to a town life next year; but, be that as it will, the children must be qualified for business, since it is by it that the lads in particular must earn their bread, & you are very sensible that they had much better bestow what they have upon the knowledge of some handsome Employment than have the one and want the other. But both is best, and I shall do my outmost to preserve them their patrimoney intire to begin the world with. Therefore I thought it not amiss to write you the following proposal viz.

To continue Johny at school since he likes his book & is endowed with a tolerable good genius, I am advised by very sufficient Judge; that when he has been two or three more years at School, if he Inclines (& his friends think proper), to bind him to a Surgeon apothecary in Edinbr for five years, & when he has had further practice either in the hospitals here or abroad he has a very good chance of handsome bread almost anywhere in a genteel way, and it does not require a stock to begin with. But his own Avent cannot defray this charge. Neither do I suppose my Mother can easily afford him so much. Therefore I propose to supply what his own Avent comes short of keeping him at school and during his apprenticeship, for which I hope my Mother will not think unreasonable to give her Obligation to pay me whatever I lay out upon that accot at her death, or else to defray the Charges of their Education and take my Obligation at my death. This proposal may perhaps look out of the way, but am sure I am it is made with no other Intent but as the best and most equal way of serving the children without prejudicing my Mother and with as little harm to myself as in duty to them I can contrive, and at the same time as much as my circumstances can well admit of; for God only knows how matters may turn....

I have got other 7 new ruffled shirts cost £4 & a suit of clothes for Sundays cost £5, 10. The former I have paid myself, the later my Master will advance for me, and since I have a little money for my pocket you need not remit me any until further advice.

That article of cloaths will make me go beyond my bounds this year, having all to provide and obliged to go genteel. As for my pocket money, it is but a trifle, for I keep little or no company, having enough of business to divert me and no more.

[To his sister Barbara, then just at the tempestuous and headstrong age of sixteen, he wrote gentle brotherly letters, having indeed more sympathy than blame for her not unnatural difficulties of temperament and temper.]


LONDO Octor the 1st, 1733.

Dr SISTER BABIE, — This comes with a set of Spectators than which I could not think of anything more useful as well as diverting for you, altho before you are perfectly acquaint with them you may think otherwise.

I earnestly recommend them to your reading and acceptance from your Lo Bro.


LONDON 18th Octr, 1734.

DR SISTER, — With my last to you about this time 12 month I sent you a Sett of Spectators, and with this you have a silver thimble, which tho’ a trifle in comparison with the other you must not slight, as the tender of affection is the same in both, for I do assure you I am and always shall be very anxious about your welfare, & I think you are to blame for not writing me ever since I have been here. How you have been & how you [are] employed.

If you cannot write yourself, you might have got somebody to write for you, tho’ I would rather have it of your own if it was the worse. Whatever you do let me advise you to do it with humility, & be ready to take advice of others, especially those of more experience than yourself, for following one’s own will against reason, or in other words a perverse obstinacy, generally ends in confusion. Be not fond of appearing in finer cloaths than your fortune will allow, but what are suitable to your station wear neat and clean. Above all the love of God & religion without bigotry, and obliging behavior to the world in general, & to our Parents, and other relations & Masters in Part are to be required as carrying with them present as well as future happiness.... I am with sincerity

Your very affec Bror.                    

“Let me know,” he wrote in April, 1733, to his uncle, Chesters, “whether my Mother stays in Unthank or not. I am afraid (for all her seeming pleased in her letters to me) that she has but very indifferent accommodation there. I wish, if it is so she could be better put up altho at more charge. I would be very willing to contribute to that and forwarding the children’s education all I can rather than she should undergo any hardships, or they be lost, when it is in my power to help it, for I am resolved as it is my duty (so far as I am able) to serve her as long as she lives; and them till they are in a capacity of Serving themselves, and then if they are not willing let them see to it.”

And again in the following month: —

“If my Mother would be persuaded to go to a town where the children might be educated, I think she and they might live pretty easily upon the whole...And if what I have said is not encouragement to go to a town, and what she has met with not encouragement enough to leave Unthank, I do not know what to say next. It galls me mightily to think that she should have been in a manner driven to such methods as otherwise she would have hated by being abused even in that place where not long ago she had everything at command....I think it will come better from you in my behalf if you will be so kind as to mention it to her in your own way....I incline to say as little and do as much to serve her, &c., as I can, but I make an exception to this last rule with you, since it is necessary you should know my mind about it, which I cannot well tell you in fewer words.”

[Very shrewdly, finding that other means of effecting the removal failed, James next appealed to the parson. His letter to the Rev. Robert Malcolm is noticeable for the frank and Catholic spirit which it displays: respect is paid to the dissenting pastor, but his own stand as a member of the established church is firmly maintained. He says: —]

“As we have been often the better for your advice I make bold once more to be troublesome to you. You cannot but know that our quitting the farm has made it very inconvenient for my Mother to live in Unthank...She has been often desired to go to a town...I know your advice will have a good deal of influence with her, therefore beg your endeavors when you go that way. I have sent you a book by the Kendal Carrier...of which I beg your acceptance. It contains 16 sermons by Foster, one of the foremost of our non-subscribing Dissenters. I believe on the whole it will please you, tho in some things not agreeable to our established opinions.”

[Thus urged on all sides, Mrs. Murray removed in July, 1734, to Hawick, not far from Unthank, where she remained until she died.

[The share of his father’s estate inherited by James amounted to one thousand pounds. Portions of this small patrimony as has been seen, he was allowed to use in modest ventures of his own to Antigua and elsewhere; but they did not meet with any very notable success, and the young man determined to try his fortunes in the New World. Grave and discreet beyond his years, already he had in several instances undertaken to be responsible for the welfare of others. Sons of Mr. Rutherford and of Mr. Jordan, as well as of his uncle Bennet, had been sent to London to be under his care, and had been placed by him in situations, and faithfully befriended. It was scarcely to be wondered at, therefore, that his new plans included provisions for a number of other people. Two sons of Mr. Ellison were to go with him, not to mention ten or twelve mechanics, engaged for five or seven years, and a Scotch domestic, and he even went so far as to undertake the charge of his sister Barbara, only eighteen years of age,5 and of his cousin, Jean Kerr.

[The objective point for these young adventurers was the Cape Fear region in North Carolina. The Carolinas, having shaken off the proprietary rule, were now entering, it was hoped, upon a more prosperous period as dependencies of the crown. Of the northern colony, after the quarrelsome rule of Burrington, Gabriel Johnston had recently been appointed governor. Johnston was a Scotchman, who had been a physician and a professor at St. Andrews University, and who afterwards in London had mingled more or less in politics. Spencer Compton, Baron of Wilmington, had been influential in securing his nomination. North Carolina affairs were thus making some stir in Scottish circles, a fact which directed James Murray’s desires to this particular colony. To Governor Johnston he had secured letters of recommendation. His friends, Mr. Tullideph, referred to in the next communication to his uncle, and Mr. Ellison, contemplated taking up lands in the Cape Fear region, and had commissioned him to select them. On his own account he was prepared to make similar investments, from which he sanguinely anticipated speedy and large returns; while with an eye to the immediate future he laid in a stock of merchandise.

[His enumeration of his reasons for venturing upon this untried course carries with it a conviction of his firmness of purpose, and its confident tone must have beguiled the Laird of Chesters into equally hopeful assent.]


LONDON 13 May 1735.

...The small encouragement that I have to stay here and not so much as the prospect of doing better has determined me to accept of the first good opportunity to push my fortune in any other part of the world; which I told a particular friend of mine here....He has since had Letters from the Governor of North Carolina (with whom he is very intimate) acquainting him of the growing State of that province and of his intention to remove his court to part of it where there is a fine navigable river lying in a convenient place for trade call’d Cape Fare River. There I intend to go some time in August next. I am not able in the compass of a letter to give you all the reasons for such a choice, but for your satisfaction shall give you a few of the most material.

1. It is a climate as healthy as England.

2. It is cheaper living there than anywhere in Scotland.

3. Land which may now be bought there for 1 s. or 18ps acre will in all probability double the value every year, the place growing daily more populous as the Land Lower down in that River has already done. This determines me to go so soon as August, that I may be there and purchase about one thousand acres before it is known that the Governor intends to remove thither.

4. I am sure of the Governor’s interest to support me.

5. My own fortune is sufficient both to buy a handsome plantation and carry on as large a trade as I have occasion for; the profits of which I may expect will at least defray the charges of settling me the first two years and afterwards lay up £200 sterling pr. An.

6. The place by its situation is entirely out of the power of a foreign enemy, which is no small advantage in these uncertain times.

7. I have the advantage of two faithful correspondents, Gentn of Substance and Experience, one in England6 and another in the West Indies,7 who are willing to join Interests with me so far as our little trade requires it....All the merchants that I have talked to that have any knowledge of these parts say it is the best thing that I can do; but, truly, My good friend and Master, who knows little or nothing of the plan, from an excess of Zeal, either for my interest or his own or perhaps both, is vastly out of humour about it and says it is a surprise upon him what he did not expect, as I seemed satisfied with the offers he made me before I went to Scotland, tho’ I said not a word to them either pro or con, I thought them so small, — not that I had any intention to leave him.

[Through the summer his preparations were made and his farewells taken. On September 20, 1735, with his goods and his charges, he embarked at Gravesend in the ship Catherine, Captain Fay, for the port of Charleston.]


1 For this description of Unthank we are indebted to a letter written to Mrs. Lesley by Mr. Walter MacLeod.

2 Among James Murray's papers is the following memorandum:

The Births of the Children of John Murray of Unthank tennant born 4 Febry 1677 by Annie Bennet his wife born Novr 1694, married the 29th day of April 1712.
1. James Murray, born Sunday, Augst 9th, 1713.
2. Archibald, born Friday, April 15th, 1715.
3. Barbara, born Sunday, Febry 3, 1717.
4. Anne, born Friday, Jany 23, 1719.
5. John, born Tuesday, Jany 18, 1721.
6. Andrew, born Jany 3, 1723.
7. William, born Wednesday, Apr. 10th 1724.
8. Elizabeth, born Thursdy, July 7th, 1726.
9. Andrew, born Wednesdy, Apr. 10th, 1728.

3Chesters was sold about the close of the eighteenth century by the three sisters of Robert Bennet, the last of that name, to the family of Ogilvie.

4Sir Walter's uncle, James Murray's cousin. His father and James Murray's father married Bennet sisters.

5James himself in 1735 was only twenty-two.

6Mr. Ellison.

7Mr. Tullideph.

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