This is the first of six blog posts about Universalist ministers who are buried in Bradford County.
Noah Murray (1747-1811)
Noah Murray was born in Connecticut in 1747. He began preaching in Massachusetts as a Baptist but had embraced the doctrine of universal salvation by 1784. He was one of only about fifteen Universalist preachers in New England at that time.
Murray and his family came to Tioga Point – now Athens – about 1788. He preached in Athens and Sheshequin, often in people’s homes. Col. John Franklin recorded in his diary in 1790 that he heard Noah Murray preach on two occasions.
Murray’s growing popularity alarmed the local Baptist minister, Moses Park. Park and his brother-in-law, Deacon Joseph Kinney, decided that they needed to convince Murray of the error of his beliefs. Murray agreed to talk and is reported to have said to his wife, “Mother, put a pitcher of water and a loaf of bread in the room with us, turn the key, and we will stay ’till we all come out, of one faith.” In the end, it was not Murray, but the two Baptists who were converted. Park began preaching universal salvation to his own congregation, and most of them accepted the new doctrine.
During his time in Athens, Murray remained connected to his New England colleagues, including John Murray, who is regarded as the founder of Universalism in America. He occasionally traveled to New England. During the summer of 1803, he filled in for several weeks for John Murray at the First Universalist Church in Boston.
Noah Murray also attended the New England Convention meeting in Winchester, New Hampshire, in 1803. That meeting is famous for the adoption of the “Winchester Profession,” a statement of Universalist beliefs. Murray was one of the few dissenters; he agreed with the beliefs expressed in the profession, but he objected to having a written creed of any sort. “It is harmless now,” he said, “It is a calf, and its horns have not yet made their appearance; but it will soon grow older – its horns will grow, and then it will begin to hook.” He was afraid that a creed would restrict free thought.
Noah Murray was called to the Lombard Street church in Philadelphia in 1807. He served there only a year; he was sixty years old and did not have the energy to lead a large city congregation. He retired to his property in Springfield in western Bradford county.
Murray returned to Philadelphia in 1809 for the installation of his successor at Lombard Street. The only document written by him that we have found so far is the sermon he gave at the installation service. Sadly the sermon is the standard charge to the congregation and charge to the minister; it shows little of Murray’s unique character.
In May 1811 Murray was struck with typhus. As he lay dying, he was visited by two orthodox Christians, who challenged his faith, believing that Universalists would repent of their errors on their death-beds. Murray’s faith was unshaken, however, and with his last breath he assured them his faith was stronger. He died on May 16, 1811, in Springfield.
Noah Murray was buried in Harkness Cemetery in Springfield. In 1867 the North Branch Association erected a monument on his grave. Mrs. Eliza Gibson, the widow of the Rev. Schuyler Gibson, is credited with having led this project.
The name of Noah Murray’s wife Mary Stowe Murray, who outlived him by eighteen years, appears on the monument, but she is not buried with her husband. After Noah’s death, she probably lived with her daughter Sylvia Murray Gaylord in Wells township until the Gaylords moved to Ohio in 1814. Afterwards she remained in Wells, probably living with her granddaughter Laura Gaylord Seeley. Mary Murray died in 1829 and was buried in a small family cemetery in Wells township.
Sylvia Murray Gaylord’s grandson, Noah Murray Gaylord, became a Universalist preacher and served congregations in the mid-West and in Massachusetts.
Of Noah and Mary Murray’s seven children, only their older son Abner remained in Bradford county. Many of his descendants were prominent members of the Valley community:
- John Harris Murray, Sr., great-great-grandson of Noah, founded the John H. Murray & Son company in Sayre in 1890. His son, John Harris Murray, Jr., took over the business when his father died in 1954. The business continues to provide heating oil to the Valley.
- Jane Murray Beck, great-great-great-granddaughter of Noah, bequeathed $25,000 to UUCAS for the maintenance of the Sheshequin meeting house in 1985.
- Louise Welles Murray, wife of Millard Parmenter Murray, great-grandson of Noah, was a founder of the Tioga Point Museum in Athens for 30 years. Their daughter Elsie Murray (great-great-granddaughter of Noah) earned a Ph. D. from Cornell in 1907 and was an expert on color blindness. After her mother’s death she served as director of the museum for 20 years. Elsie Murray wrote numerous works on local history, especially about French Asylum.