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Last Updated 10/12/00

Preface to Letters of James Murray, Loyalist

Edited by Nina Moore Tiffany

Editorial Note

James Murray (1713-1781), a portion of whose published correspondence is presented here, emigrated to the Cape Fear region of North Carolina as a young Scot in 1736. For the next 29 years Murray was a moderately successful merchant, planter, and government official in the colony.

Murray was appointed to several minor offices almost as soon as he arrived in North Carolina. By 1739 he was a member of the provincial council, of which he became president in 1754, and at various times served as secretary and associate justice of the General Court. His conflict with Governor Arthur Dobbs and disappointed hopes of himself becoming chief justice moved him to quit the colony in 1765. Murray joined relatives in Boston and remained there until 1776, spending the few remaining years of his life as a loyalist refugee in Nova Scotia.

The following correspondence was privately printed by one of James Murray's descendants. That work, entitled Letters of James Murray, Loyalist, and edited by Nina Moore Tiffany, was published in 1900 and has been out of print for many years. The selections included here are from the portions relating to Murray's years in North Carolina, and are often encased within editorial narrative by Tiffany. The bulk of Murray's papers, including the letters printed here, are in the Massachusetts Historical Society.


[LATE in the year 1885 my uncle, James Murray Bobbins, died at Brush Hill, Milton, the last of three generations of honorable men who had owned or occupied the estate for many years. His wife, Frances Mary Robbins, was the daughter of Abiel Harris, of Portsmouth, N. H. They lived together most happily, from their marriage in 1834, till Mrs. Robbins’s death in 1870, which was a great grief to him. But he continued to live on in the old home with his kindest of sisters, making many friends happy by his large hospitality. He was one of the most companionable of men, delighting nieces, nephews, and young friends with his stories of his own adventures in youth, and his reading and commentaries on what he read. His wife was one of the early Abolitionists and a most earnest advocate of Emancipation. She brought to the house all those she loved best. For Garrison, my uncle had a great reverence and admiration, and for Edmund Quincy, Wendell Phillips, and Maria W. Chapman and her sisters, a warm regard, and they soon became intimate friends, in their devotion to a great cause. My uncle had the warmest sympathy with these friends, but he had not the ardent temperament of his wife, and was, besides, a very hopeful man and a thoughtful reader of both ancient and modern history. And I think he felt in the trend of events almost a certainty that slavery would be at an end, before his own death, and he rejoiced unspeakably that it was so. But I fear slavery would not have ended had all men been as quiet and inert as he was.

[Soon after Mr. Robbins’s death his executors put into my hands a large box of letters and papers, written either by or to his grandfather, James Murray. They had lain many years untouched in the garret at Brush Hill. Finding that several of the descendants of my great-grandfather would like to know more of him, I began to put the large collection of material in order for examination and selection. Before I had gone far in that work I was compelled by ill health to abandon it. But after a long time of seeking, I found a most competent person in Mrs. Francis B. Tiffany, of St. Paul, Minnesota, to take it up and edit it. She has done her work with great care, and I owe her heartiest thanks for the results. Mrs. Tiffany’s previous literary work has qualified her peculiarly to arrange these scattered and fragmentary materials, and her connecting links and footnotes will do much to explain the sequence of the letters, and sustain the interest by giving them some semblance of a narrative.

The present volume contains only a small portion of the letters which have come down to us through the old Brush Hill garret. The task of selection has not been an easy one. The editors had not the privilege of choosing from a complete correspondence and so making anything like a symmetrical biographical memoir. Letters which must have been written concerning the important events of the Revolutionary war have disappeared; and naturally many of those which have been preserved were of temporary value and significance. The fact that there are but few available documents relating to the Colonial history of North Carolina has led to the inclusion of a larger proportion of the letters from that period of James Murray’s life,— not for their intrinsic interest, but as a contribution to the historical material of the time.

[The original spelling of these letters has been in most instances carefully reproduced. I remember that some years ago, two friends, gentlemen, were looking over old papers, and one said: “The spelling is so bad, I must think it a sign of illiteracy.” “By no means,” said the other. “Those writers happened to live in a period when orthography was optional.”

SUSAN I. LESLEY                                                 

MILTON, October, 1901.]

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