Caswell County Genealogy

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Murphey, Archibald DeBow

Murphey, Archibald DeBow

Male 1777 - 1832  (55 years)

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  • Name Murphey, Archibald DeBow  [1
    Birth 1777  Caswell County, North Carolina Find all individuals with events at this location  [1
    Gender Male 
    Occupation Lawyer 
    Reference Number 3502 
    Death 1 Feb 1832  North Carolina Find all individuals with events at this location 
    Burial Hillsborough Old Town Cemetery, Hillsborough, Orange County, North Carolina Find all individuals with events at this location  [1
    Person ID I3460  Caswell County
    Last Modified 29 Mar 2024 

    Father Murphey, Colonel Archibald E.,   b. 18 Dec 1742, Pennsylvania Find all individuals with events at this locationd. 15 Oct 1817, Caswell County, North Carolina Find all individuals with events at this location (Age 74 years) 
    Relationship natural 
    Mother DeBow, Jane,   b. 1749, New Jersey Find all individuals with events at this locationd. 16 Jan 1827, Caswell County, North Carolina Find all individuals with events at this location (Age 78 years) 
    Relationship natural 
    Marriage 1769  [2
    Reference Number 25975 
    Family ID F1788  Group Sheet  |  Family Chart

    Family Living 
     1. Living
     2. Living
     3. Living
    +4. Murphey, William Duffy,   b. 10 Nov 1802   d. 25 Jun 1831 (Age 28 years)  [Father: natural]  [Mother: natural]
    +5. Murphey, Cornelia Ann,   b. 20 Apr 1806  [Father: natural]  [Mother: natural]
    +6. Murphey, Alexander Hamilton,   b. 5 Feb 1812, Caswell County, North Carolina Find all individuals with events at this locationd. Tyler, Smith County,Texas Find all individuals with events at this location  [Father: natural]  [Mother: natural]
    Family ID F1845  Group Sheet  |  Family Chart
    Last Modified 29 Mar 2024 

  • Event Map
    Link to Google MapsBirth - 1777 - Caswell County, North Carolina Link to Google Earth
    Link to Google MapsDeath - 1 Feb 1832 - North Carolina Link to Google Earth
     = Link to Google Earth 
    Pin Legend  : Address       : Location       : City/Town       : County/Shire       : State/Province       : Country       : Not Set

  • Photos
    Archibald DeBow Murphey Portrait
    Archibald DeBow Murphey Portrait
    Archibald DeBow Murphey
    Archibald DeBow Murphey Historical Marker

    Archibald DeBow Murphey Grave Marker
    Archibald DeBow Murphey Grave Marker
    Archibald DeBow Murphey Grave Marker Detail
    Archibald DeBow Murphey Grave Marker Detail

  • Notes 
    • Archibald DeBow Murphey (1779-1832)




      Archibald Debow Murphey Historical Marker

      (for larger image, click on photograph)

      NC Pedia Article

      Presentation of the Portrait of Archibald Murphey (27 October 1908):

      See: Archibald DeBow Murphey.

      According to the Dr. H. G. Jones in the Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, 6 volumes, edited by William S. Powell:

      "Archibald DeBow Murphey, attorney, legislator, jurist, and manuscript collector, was born near Red House Presbyterian Church in Caswell (then Orange) County . . . .

      Dr. Jones, himself born in Caswell County, gave no birth date for Murphey. Some researchers show March 16, 1777, but provide no supporting documentation. The date generally ascribed to the creation of Caswell County is May 9, 1777 (date statute ratified). If these dates are correct Murphey missed being born in Caswell County by only a few weeks.

      Caswell County Trivia: What person from Caswell County was instrumental in passing Archibald Debow Murphey's Literary Fund statute in 1825?

      The Literary Fund proceeds were to be used to subsidize North Carolina public schools. The Fund was a permanent. non-reverting fund, made up of dividends from certain state-owned bank stocks, dividends from state-owned stock in certain navigation companies, and certain other specified funds, including any future appropriation that might be made directly to the Fund.

      Archibald DeBow Murphey (1777?-1 Feb. 1832) , attorney, legislator, jurist, and manuscript collector, was born near Red House Presbyterian Church in Caswell (then Orange) County, one of seven children of Archibald and Jane DeBow Murphey. His father, a native of Pennsylvania, moved to the Red House community in 1769 and purchased about five hundred acres on Hyco Creek; there he constructed a frame house consisting of two rooms with an attic and a cellar. This simple structure was a curiosity in a community of predominantly log residences and was generally referred to as Murphey's Castle. In the community the elder Murphey met and married Jane DeBow, a native of New Jersey, whose parents had preceded him to North Carolina; he farmed, served with American forces in the Revolutionary War, and was clerk of court in Caswell County from 1780 to 1816. He was a man of some learning; his surviving books carry a plain printed bookplate reading: "A. Murphey, Caswell, N.C."

      Archibald D. Murphey did not discuss his childhood in his rather voluminous extant writings, but it is known that he attended David Caldwell's "college" at Greensboro before entering The University of North Carolina in 1796. At Chapel Hill he excelled in his studies, won the confidence of his teachers, and was graduated with honors in 1799. Murphey was immediately hired as tutor in the preparatory department, and the following year he was appointed professor of languages, one of only three members of the entire faculty. He also served as librarian and clerk to the faculty. In 1801 he resigned and moved to Hillsborough to live with and study law under William Duffy. In the same year he married Jane Armistead Scott, the daughter of John Scott of present-day Alamance County.

      Licensed to practice law, Murphey purchased his father-in-law's home, the Hermitage, near the Hawfields community, and over the next decade built up an estate of about two thousand acres, including a gristmill and a sawmill near the present town of Swepsonville and an eighty-gallon distillery nearby. He also acquired a large number of slaves, whom he appears to have treated with more than ordinary consideration. Soon he enlarged his home and built in the yard a law office, which served as a convenient place to keep his farm and legal accounts as well as a meeting place for his clients. His wagons frequently made trips to Petersburg, carrying flour, whiskey, and other produce. During this period Murphey invested heavily in other properties, including Lenox Castle at Rockingham Springs. These properties, acquired with borrowed money, taxed his resources and, coupled with his wife's continued illness, impaired his career.

      Much of Murphey's legal work centered around the county seat at Hillsborough, where he built a solid reputation as a lawyer. Turning to public service, he was a member of the state senate from 1812 to 1818, and while in that office he made his greatest contributions to the state. Recognizing North Carolina's backwardness, he proposed bold programs for progress, especially in regard to education and internal improvements. In 1817 he submitted his celebrated report advocating a publicly financed system of education. Noting that "one of the strongest reasons which we can have for establishing a general plan of public instruction, is the condition of the poor children of our country," Murphey argued that the state could not expect to progress dramatically until it elevated the educational status of its population. His plan encompassed primary schools, academies, and the university; when he had finished it on 29 Nov. 1817, he wrote his friend Thomas Ruffin: "I bequeath this Report to the State as the Richest Legacy that I shall ever be able to give it."

      Two years later Murphey submitted his "Memoir" on internal improvements, in which he recommended a vigorous program to open rivers and canals and construct roads. He wrote: "If North Carolina had her commerce concentrated at one or two points, one or more large commercial cities would grow up; markets would be found at home for the productions of the State; foreign merchandize would be imported into the State for the demands of the market; our debts would be contracted at home; and our Banks would be enabled to change their course of business."

      Murphey's proposals for public expenditures for education and for a bold system of land and water transportation were largely ignored by his fellow legislators. North Carolina, soon to be characterized as the "Rip Van Winkle State," was not yet ready for such advanced ideas.

      In 1818 the General Assembly elected Murphey to a judgeship in the superior court. The extensive travel involved in the position and Murphey's need to give more attention to his business affairs, however, led to his resignation after only two years on the bench. He resumed his law practice but became increasingly interested in compiling a history of the state. This undertaking was plagued by the deterioration of his physical and financial condition. A lottery was authorized by the General Assembly for the support of Murphey's history, but the proceeds were insufficient to be of substantial help and the history was never written. Murphey was, however, the state's first major collector of manuscripts, and his papers, even though scattered after his death, were of great value to later historians.

      Throughout his life Murphey overextended himself financially. Although he apparently was in an enviable monetary position by 1812, within eight years his property was heavily mortgaged and he was unable to pay his debts. One crisis after another occurred as rheumatism wracked his body and as his investments-some in the internal improvements schemes that he championed-proved unsound. The ultimate indignity came in 1829, when, despite the fact that as a legislator he had sought to abolish imprisonment for debt, he himself was incarcerated in Greensboro for twenty days because he could not pay off a note.

      Archibald D. Murphey's vision of the future surpassed that of his generation. Measured only against his contemporaries, he was an apparent failure, for few of his proposals were immediately carried out. However, his agitation for public education helped bring about the establishment of the State Literary Fund in 1825 and the first public school act seven years after his death. His zeal for the preservation of the history of the state infected others such as David L. Swain and John H. Wheeler, and the materials that he had collected are still used a century and a half later. And his proposals for overland and water transportation, though somewhat outdated with the coming of railroads, continued to emphasize the need for North Carolina to cast off its dependence on Virginia and South Carolina for markets. Thus Murphey was far more than a dreamer. He was, indeed, a prophet of an awakened state.

      Murphey died at age fifty-five, leaving five children who reached adulthood: William Duffy, Victor Moreau, Cornelia Anne, Peter Umstead, and Alexander Hamilton. He was buried in the cemetery at the Presbyterian Church in Hillsborough.

      See: Samuel A. Ashe, ed., Biographical History of North Carolina, vol. 4 (1906); R. D. W. Connor, Ante-Bellum Builders of North Carolina (1914); DAB , vol. 7 (1934); William Henry Hoyt, ed., The Papers of Archibald D. Murphey, 2 vols. (1914); H. G. Jones, For History's Sake (1966); Margaret E. Kerche, "The Life and Public Career of Archibald D. Murphey" (Ph.D. diss., University of North Carolina, 1948); Herbert Snipes Turner, The Dreamer: Archibald DeBow Murphey (1971).

      H. G. Jones, 1991

      Source: From Dictionary of North Carolina Biography edited by William S. Powell. Copyright (c) 1979-1996 by the University of North Carolina Press. Used by permission of the publisher.

      Murphy, Archibald De Bow, statesman, was born near Milton, Caswell county, N.C., in 1777; son of Col. Archibald Murphy. He entered the second class in the University of North Carolina, Jan. 15, 1795; was graduated with the highest distinction in 1799, and remained there as professor of ancient languages, 1800-01. At this time he owned only three books and none on law. He was admitted to the bar in 1802, through the friendship of one of the examining judges, and after admission studied under William Duffy of Hillsborough, and soon took a prominent place at the bar. He was a senator in the general assembly, 1812-18; was chairman of the board of internal improvements, 1818-23, and his annual reports on the public policy of the state of transportation by canals to join together the great sounds on the seaboard were said to have been equaled only by the papers of De Witt Clinton on state canals and of John C. Calhoun on national roads and waterways. On the subject of public education be recommended a system of support for public schools and academies and a state appropriation for the better equipment of the university. In 1818 he was elected by the general assembly a judge of the superior courts and presided in the supreme court in several causes under appointment by the governor. He resigned his seat on the bench in 1820 and resumed practice in Hillsborough.

      He was a trustee of the University of North Carolina, 1802-32. He planned an exhaustive history of the soil, climate, legislation, civil institutions, literature etc. of North Carolina in 1821, and collected a vast mass of material in the state and from the state paper office in London, and in 1826 received authority from the general assembly to raise by lottery a sum sufficient for its publication; but beyond one or two chapters on the Indian tribes he accomplished but little, ruined health and a fortune dissipated by speculation putting an end to his enterprise. He is the author of: A Memoir [p.20] of Improvements Contemplated and the Resources and Finances of the State (1819); An Oration before the University of North Carolina (1827); Reports of Cases in the Supreme Court of North Carolina, 1804-19 (1826). See Peele's "Lives of Distinguished North Carolinians" (1898). He died in Hillsborough, N.C., Feb. 3, 1832.

      Source: Biographies of Notable Americans, 1904 [database online]. Orem, UT:, Inc., 1997.

      Archibald Debow Murphey was surety for his brother-in-law, Solomon Debow, in his land speculations in and around Milton and Danville and lost $24,000, which may have been the beginning of his own financial ruin.

      Archibald Debow Murphey/The Dreamer tells us that: "Lucy and John's children were frequent visitors at The Hermitage, the home of Archibald Debow Murphey. Such were the connections and family loyalties of this closely knit family and there were frequent gatherings of the clan during the summer months at Lenox Castle, the famous resort in Rockingham County, North Carolina."

      Lenox Castle was a mineral spring resort consisting of two facilities on 1650 acres. The Tavern or Mansion House was situated about a half mile from the spring, and High Rock about two miles south of the Tavern. At High Rock, gentlemen enjoyed cock fighting, card playing, horse racing and free flowing liquors. Archibald Debow Murphey purchased the resort in 1807 or 1808.

      Deed Book X, pp. 335-336: ARCHIBALD D. MURPHEY of Orange County, surviving executor of ARCHIBALD MURPHEY, dec'd., of Caswell County, to David Pointner of Person County, for $1500., 676 acres in Caswell and Person Counties, being tract where ARCHIBALD MURPHEY resided adjacent William McGehee, James Rainey, Thomas Jeffreys, William Childs, George Taylor, Hamlet's old tract, excepting 1/2 acre laid off in square around the graveyard where ARCHIBALD MURPHEY IS BURIED; also release for 4 3/7 acres to Hico Academy which is part of said tract and is excepted. 09 June 1828. Wts: James Rainey, Thos. D. Johnston, David G. Brandon.

      The foregoing should be of some assistance to those seeking the burial site of Archibald Murphey (1742-1817), the father of Archibald DeBow Murphey.

      The following is from Western North Carolina: Its Mountains and Its People to 1880, Ora Blackmun (1977) at 197-198 (footnotes deleted):

      Crying for reform, the first voice in the wilderness was heard in the piedmont section. In 1812 a young lawyer of Hillsboro took his seat in the General Assembly as a senator from Orange County. Born in nearby Caswell County and educated at David Caldwell's Academy at Guilford and at the University [of North Carolina], Archibald DeBow Murphey sought expression for the strongly democratic ideas developing through rugged pioneer living in the piedmont and the mountain sections. He was ready to voice the belief of the westerners that government had a duty to perform for its people--all of its people. Thoroughly informed on the economic conditions throughout the state, Murphey offered, in 1815, the first of a series of reform measures. During the next few years he was tireless in his efforts to bring both the people and the General Assembly to a realization of the benefits that his program would bring to North Carolina.

      In 1819 Murphey presented a Memoir on the Internal Improvements Contemplated by the Legislature of North Carolina. It was a masterly survey of geographic and economic conditions within the commonwealth, and it summed up his recommendations for a transportation system that would make use of the state's navigable streams, and that would promote the use of its coastal inner waterways. The program would also provide an east-west turnpike, together with subsidiary roads leading into it, which would funnel products from the piedmont and mountain regions into the state's eastern markets.

      Western North Carolina received considerable attention in these recommendations. Murphey's first suggestion concerning the area was authorization for making a new state map. The Price-Strother map, privately financed a few years earlier and based upon the information available at that time, was hopelessly inaccurate in its depiction of the region between the Blue Ridge and the Smoky Mountains. With the rich valleys of Tuckaseigee and Oconaluftee Rivers open to white settlement under the Cherokee treaty of 1819, it was imperative, he pointed out, to make information available to settlers. These lands, Murphey hoped, might attract some of the North Carolinians who would otherwise leave the state for western territories. To make the lands accessible he advocated construction of a road west from Waynesville to the southwestern border of the state where it could connect with the old Cherokee trail to South Carolina and Georgia. he felt that the Cherokee land, when sold, should bring a million dollars into the coffers of the state.

      Murphey also urged that the two main highways in Buncombe County be improved and kept in good condition. The one going south from Buncombe Courthouse to Rutherford County by way of Hickory Nut Gorge was in deplorable condition, and the other, from the courthouse to South Carolina by way of Saluda Gap, was likewise in need of immediate repairs. This highway, he considered "perhaps the most public road in the state." He reflected his own recent visit to the mountain village when he added, "The Traveller is astonished on reaching Buncombe Courthouse (called Morristown on the map but not called Asheville) to find people from six states in the Union in the same Hotel."

      Murphey maintained that the road, which traversed the mountain section from the South Carolina border to Tennessee by way of the French Broad River would continue to be a main trade artery and must be maintained as such. East of the Blue Ridge he advocated making use of the Yadkin, the Catawba, and the Broad Rivers as transportation arteries. He stressed the need of converting the poorly constructed and illy kept roads leading westward into all-weather highways over which products could be brought from Tennessee and from the mountain section to river towns for shipment south.

      To carry out his state-wide transportation projects, basic to any financial progress of the commonwealth, Murphey urged the General Assembly to create a board of control and to make appropriations for converting some feasible plan into reality. Inherent in his over-all plan were future possibilities for the growth of manufacturing as well as distinct advantages for such eastern cities as Wilmington and Beaufort; therefore, he hoped that the plan would appeal to the eastern delegates to the General Assembly. He knew that without their support any proposed bill was doomed to fail. But Murphey was disappointed. The easterners were, with a few exceptions, solidly opposed to the transportation project, and in session after session the western members of the General Assembly saw their economic hopes fade into legislative limbo.

      When an Overdue Book Borrower Saved Part of the State Library

      The North Carolina State Library had humble beginnings in 1812. By the 1820s the fledgling collection had grown to more than 1,200 titles. Believing that an accurate history of North Carolina might inspire the state's leaders to embrace positive change, Archibald Murphey in the early 1820s began this ambitious research project. In addition to collecting historical manuscripts and soliciting essays from some of the states prominent Revolutionary War veterans, he gained permission from the General Assembly of 1826-1827 to borrow volumes from the State Library for this purpose. While Murphey never completed his history, the titles removed from the collection were among the approximately 115 books that survived a fire on June 21, 1831, that destroyed the State House and most of its contents.

      Archibald Debow Murphey was born 1777 in Caswell County, North Carolina. When he made the request to borrow books from the State Library, his good friend and student Bartlett Yancey, Jr. (also from Caswell County) presided over the North Carolina Senate.

      Maurice C. York, "The North Carolina State Library as a Cultural Resource, 1812-1914," The North Carolina Historical Review 89 (January 2012): 1-26.

      "With some degree of truth it may be claimed that Caswell was a cradle of education in North Carolina and that Archibald D. Murphey was the father of public schools. The state's most versatile biographer, R. C. Lawrence, has said of him: 'The name of Murphey must stand near the top in any list of the great of Carolina.' Rev. Solomon Lea was the founder of Leasburg's Somerville Institute for Girls and was afterwards the first president of the Methodist school, Greensboro Female College.

      "The list of notables in the teaching field is too lengthy to be given here, bur Rev. Hugh Shaw, the Caldwell brothers, Joseph and John, Archibald C. Lindsay, and the Poteat brothers, William Louis and Edwin McNeill, should be mentioned."

      The News and Observer (Raleigh, NC), 18 May 1940.

  • Sources 
    1. Details: The Heritage of Caswell County, North Carolina, Jeannine D. Whitlow, Editor (1985) at 392 (Article #503, "Archibald DeBow Murphey" by Mary McAden Satterfield).

    2. Details: The Heritage of Caswell County, North Carolina, Jeannine D. Whitlow, Editor (1985) at 391-392 (Article #502, "Archibald Murphey" by Mary McAden Satterfield).