Daniel Murphree (? – 1771)


First Sightings

Our first record of Daniel Murphree is in 1743, by which time he was already living in northwestern Bertie County, North Carolina – an area in which he would remain for twenty years.   A grant to Luke Saller on 15 November 1743 for land in western Bertie County on the west side of Walloon (later called “Wahton”) Swamp was described as adjoining Theophilus Pugh, the “river swamp”, and “Daniel Murphy”.1   The same tract is referenced in a 1747 sale of land adjoining “Daniel Murphrey”, when Richard Hines sold 175 acres to William Snowden.2

From the descriptions of these parcels, we learn that Daniel Murphree’s land was located in the fork between Wahton Swamp and the Cashie River, quite near their intersection.  The Pugh tract referenced above was apparently a 640-acre parcel he had purchased from John Beverley, though Pugh did not live there.3   It is possible that the land referred to as Daniel Murphree’s was the same 125 acre tract purchased by David Ward on 16 October 1735, which was described as lying on Watton Swamp at Cashy Swamp adjacent Nathaniel Rowland and Richard Hines.4

On 13 August 1747 Daniel Murphree of Bertie County bought 390 acres from the same Nathaniel Rowland on the east side of Cashie Swamp.5  He must have abandoned whatever plans he had for the land, as he sold what seems to be the same land, for the same price (30 pounds), to Richard Harrell just three months later, on 16 November 1747.6  (Note that this may have been a mortgage deed rather than an outright sale.)   This land was near, perhaps adjoining, the land he already occupied, as the sale described it as bordering both the Cashie and Watton Swamp.

Within a few years, Daniel Murphree had apparently moved a mile or two east onto a stream called the Connaritsa, which had earlier been called “Cashie Swamp”  A deed witnessed by Daniel “Murphree” on 20 August 1750 was for land on Cashie Swamp “now called Connaritsrat Swamp”.7  He bought 100 acres on east side of the Connaritsa on 17 October 1750.8   He clearly lived on the Connaritsa at this time, as he witnessed over a dozen deeds and other documents for land on both sides of that watercourse beginning in 1750.  He also appears on the 1757 tax list (with one tithable) in the company of a number of other Connaritsa residents.

On 26 April 1756 he received a grant of uncertain acreage described as the land “his improvements are on”.  He had apparently entered the claim some years before as the grant mentions that it was entered with Edward Moseley, Esq. and Robert Walton, Esq., and we note that Moseley had died seven years earlier in 1749.  He acquired additional land on Connaritsa Swamp via a 620-acre grant on both sides of the Connaritsa in 17589 and a 220-acre purchase from William Blyth in 1762.10   He sold 470 acres of these lands to Robert Rhodes in 1759.11

In the meantime, he apparently still owned the land in the fork of the Cashy River and Watton Swamp.  Richard Hines, the adjoining landowner, had sold his land to William Snowden in 1747.  When Snowden himself sold the land to Cader Powell on 17 June 1762, he was still describing it as adjoining Robert Carter and Daniel Murphree.12   I could find no record of Daniel Murphree selling this land.  In fact, it was still being described as his when Cader Powell sold the land in October 1768.13

The Move to Orange County

Sometime in 1765 Daniel Murphree moved over 100 miles west to Orange County.  He may have been there as early as 1763, for he must have entered a claim for a Granville grant prior to 1763 when the Granville land office closed, as the pending grant was mentioned in his will.  On 14 May 1765 he bought 180 acres from James Kirksey and 175 acres from Luke Bynum.14  The following day, Daniel Murphree, now of Orange County, sold to James Jenkins the 220 acres in Bertie that he had bought three years earlier, as well as the remainder of his patent.15  A day later, on 16 May 1765,he sold his remaining 125 acres in Bertie to Lewis Jenkins.16   On 25 October 1768 he bought another 180 acres in Orange County from James Underwood, with “Daniel Murphy Jr.” a witness, and another 375 acres from Dempsey Rawls on 23 September 1769 proved by “James Murphy”.17  All of this land was in what is now northeastern Chatham County, just south of the present-day – and quite charming – town of Chapel Hill.

His Will

Daniel Murphree died not long after this purchase.  His will was written a few weeks later on 10 November 1769 and was proved in August 1771.   By the time the will was proved, the part of Orange County in which he lived had become Chatham County.  Chatham had been officially formed on 1 April 1771, but the court records had not yet begun.

The will was saved among the county’s loose papers but was never recorded.  It was preserved as a loose paper among the unrecorded wills of Chatham County at the NC Archives, along with an inventory dated 4 November 1771.  The sleeve in which the will is stored contains the notation that it was proved at the August 1771 court by John Hatley and Thomas Ward, two of the witnesses.  The court clerk had received the will but apparently failed to record it.  This means the will is likely the original document, given to the clerk to copy into the will book. The land on which he lived (the land bought from Kirksey) was lent to “my well beloved wife Sarah Murphree” for her lifetime, then was to go to his son William Murphree.  He bequeathed to sons James Murphree and Daniel Murphree the land on which each lived (the land bought from Underwood and Bynum).  Sons Levi Murphree and John Murphree were given the land purchased from Dempsey Rawls, to be equally divided.  Sons Solomon Murphree and Moses Murphree were each given half a Granville grant which had evidently been claimed but not yet granted (the Granville land office had closed in 1763 and would never reopen).  An eighth son, David Murphree, was given 30 pounds.  Two married daughters, Elizabeth Barns and Sarah Blyth, received 5 shillings apiece, while ten pounds each was left to unmarried daughters Edey, Milly and Mary Murphree.

James and William Murphree were named executors.  The will further provided that “if either (sic) of my children should die without issue, their land or part shall fall to my younger son David Murphree, and if more than one should die without issue their part to be divided amongst the rest.”

The Widow Sarah Murphree

The identity of the widow Sarah is unknown.  Nor can we be sure that she was the mother of all the children, for she appears in no records while Daniel Murphree was alive.   She was called “Sarah Dempsey” in a 1974 manuscript by O. D. Bates entitled “The Descendants of Daniel I. Murphree and Benjamin and Nancy Murphree Ellis”18   Mary Taylor reported to me in 1979 that some early researchers believed her maiden name was Dempsey, though no evidence has been uncovered.  The source of this speculation appears to be a 1902 letter written by Thomas Marion Murphree which calls Daniel’s wife “Mary Dempsey”, not Sarah Dempsey, and which contains so many errors that it can’t be considered seriously.

The land on which Daniel Murphree was living was evidently the 180 acres purchased from James Kirksey.  The will left this land “whereupon I now live” to his wife Sarah with reversion to his son William Murphree.  On 20 March 1780 the widow Sarah and William Murphree sold the land to Nicholas Quesenberry.19  It is not known what became of Sarah.

The Queen Connection

A very curious reference to Daniel Murphree is made in the will of John Queen of Nansemond County, Virginia.20   This will is dated 19 June 1769 and was proved on 14 August 1769.  It mentions his wife Mary and “the child she is now supposed to be pregnant with”, Priscilla the daughter of Abraham and Isabel Avis, James Edwards, William Shepherd, Robert the son of William Shepherd and Lydia Roberts, and Levi, Solomon, and Moses Murphee the “sons of my bro. Daniel Murphee”.   This would be a truly striking coincidence if it does not refer to our Daniel Murphree, though why only the middle sons (all minors at the time) are named is unclear.  The meaning of “brother” is also unclear – it could mean a brother-in-law or a half-brother.  The widow Mary mentioned in John Queen’s will may have been the Mary Knott of Chatham County, North Carolina, who on 9 August 1790 deeded three slaves to her son John Queen which had been left to him by his deceased father John Queen of Nansemond County.21  Presumably this was the posthumously-born son just turning 21.

One obvious possibility that might account for Queen’s naming only the middle children is that Daniel Murphree had those three sons by a sister of John Queen.  That would lead us to speculate that Daniel Murphree had at least three wives — one being the mother of the first four sons (and perhaps two daughters), a second who bore Levi, Solomon, and Moses, and perhaps a third who was the mother of David.  (Note that it is possible that David had the same mother and Queen simply didn’t know of the birth when he wrote his will.)

Other possibilities exist, but are best explored in a separate document.

The Children

Daniel Murphree’s children are covered in a separate page.

  1. Patent Book 5, p222.  Abstracted by Hofman as Grant #2832 []
  2. Bertie County Deed Book G, p100. []
  3. Virginia Gazette, issue of 7 November 1745, refers to a mortgage on this tract and several others by Pugh. []
  4. Bertie County Deed Book F, p29.  John Barfield to David Ward, 125a on Watton Swamp at Cashy Swamp adjoining Richard Hines and Nathaniel Rowland. []
  5. Bertie County Deed Book G, p96. []
  6. Bertie County Deed Book G, p98. []
  7. Bertie County Deed Book G, p434. []
  8. Bertie County Deed Book G, p433. []
  9. Grant Book 11, p37. []
  10. Bertie County Deed Book K, p199. []
  11. Bertie County Deed Book I, p347. []
  12. Bertie County Deed Book K, p158. []
  13. Bertie County Deed Book L (part2), p172. []
  14. Orange County Registration of Deeds 1752-1793 (2 boxes) at NC Archives.  Also abstracted in Register of Orange County, North Carolina Deeds 1752-1768, and 1793, Eve B. Weeks  (1984), p37.  The original deeds are lost.  This is a deed register. []
  15. Bertie County Deed Book K, p477. []
  16. Bertie County Deed Book K, p474. []
  17. Ibid.  The originals of these deeds no longer exist. []
  18. A typed manuscript by O. D. Bates (1974), p1. []
  19. Chatham County Deed Book B, p393. []
  20. Williamsburg Wills ( Southern Book Col., 1954), William Armstrong Crozier, ed., p47.  This is an abstract of a will left behind in Williamsburg when the capital was moved to Richmond. []
  21. Chatham County Record of Estates 1782-1799, Volume 1,  p7a. []