Murphree Grants in Tennessee


NC Land Grants in Tennessee:  Some Background

Although many genealogists assume that North Carolina grants in Tennessee were most often made to Revolutionary veterans, the fact is that only a very small percentage were made to soldiers.  North Carolina, which claimed most of what later became Tennessee, froze all land grants in 1781, then passed an act in 1782 setting aside a huge military reservation east of the Tennessee River.  Its primary purpose was to discharge the state’s obligation to its Revolutionary veterans by awarding land grants whose size would be determined by military rank and length of service.  The act provided that soldiers who served at least two years in the Continental line (not the militia) from North Carolina could apply to the Secretary of State for a warrant, which could be redeemed for a land claim in this reservation.  These warrants are numbered and recorded in the Secretary of State’s office in North Carolina, and do not include any members of the Murphree family.   The majority of these warrants were transferred to land speculators and others who claimed the grants.  A special land office to process these claims was opened in Knoxville with Col. Martin Armstrong its entry-taker.

In addition to these military grants, settlers already living in the area as of 1 June 1780 were allowed “preemptive grants.”  In this case, the entry taker noted that the basis of the claim was “prior right” rather than a military warrant.

On 26 April 1783, North Carolina passed a “Land-Grab Act”, which opened up land in the Tennessee military reservation to any citizen of North Carolina who was willing to pay 10 pounds per 100 acres.  The act provided that species certificates could be redeemed only for land in this reservation, and conversely that the purchase money for these grants had to be paid in specie certificates.   Although this act was in effect for only seven months, about a third of all grants in Tennessee were made in this manner, mainly to speculators.  These grants are easily identified because the entry-taker noted the purchase price in each claim, and because they were filed at a special land office set up for that purpose in Hillsboro, North Carolina (in Orange County) on 20 October 1783 with Martin Armstrong’s brother, John Armstrong, as the entry-taker.  The “Land-Grab Act” was repealed after only seven months, and the Hillsboro office was closed on 24 May 1784 after a tidal wave of entries by land speculators.

The process for obtaining these purchase grants was to first stake out the land, then travel to the appropriate land office (200-odd miles in the case of  the Hillsboro land office) to file a claim, giving a description of the land, and then pay for it with specie certificates.  The entry-taker first drafted a document describing the claim.  After a waiting period to allow for conflicting claims, an order was drafted to a surveyor, who then surveyed the land and filed the survey with the land office.  A second copy of the survey was attached to the grant.  Once completed, the grant files were forwarded to the governor’s office twice a year for signature.  Once issued,  the claimant filed the grant and survey in the county in which the land was located.   All other documents, and the survey original, were retained by the Secretary of State.  All these documents are preserved in the North Carolina Archives, and copies of some of them were later made for the Tennessee Archives.  At each step, the claimant paid small fees to the officials involved, even the chain bearers.  The lack of hard currency to pay these fees sometimes resulted in a lengthy delay in completing these steps.

Murphree Grants

None of the Murphree grants were for military service.

1782                  Four grants to William Murphy in Washington County.

Despite the later presence of John Murphree in Washington County, this is surely not the son of Daniel Murphree. (See entry below)  


9 Oct 1783      Entry:  William Murfey, 200 acres on Brown’s Creek and Spring Creek in Sullivan County, grant issued 4 June 1788 for land now in Hawkins County.  Chain bearers: Miller Dogwood and David Murfy.

These are not the sons of Daniel Murphree.  A Baptist preacher from Virginia named William Murphy had been transferred to Tennessee in 1780, and in 1783 was pastor of the Cherokee Baptist Church of Hawkins County.  Other records show he had a son named David Murphy.  He is surely the man referred to here.   This is also surely the William Murphy who had grants on or near Cherokee Creek in 1782.  Note also that William Murphree of Chatham County is continuously mentioned in its records as a Chatham resident during this period.

See History of North Carolina Baptists, George Washington Paschal, Vol. I for a profile of William Murphy, and his North Carolina and early Tennessee ministries.  A General History Of The Baptist Denomination In America and other works by David Benedict, repeat the information that he moved to the vicinity of the Holston River in 1780 and was on Cherokee Creek by 1783.

— 1784            Grant:  Solomon Murphy, 150 acres on Sinking Creek of the Holston River in Washington County, the claim assigned to him by George Vincent.     [North Carolina Land Grants in Tennessee, 1778-1791, Goldene Fillers Burger, p25. (NC Grant #657)]

Sinking Creek runs across the present-day border between Washington and Sullivan counties, Tennessee.  It was in Washington County in 1784, but a 1787 border realignment between Washington and Sullivan County put much of Sinking Creek, apparently including this parcel, into Sullivan County.

Solomon Murphy (Murphrey) either did not live on this land or abandoned it.  See the entry for 9 August 1791 below.


10 Nov 1784   Grant #232:  Levy Murphey, 100 acres [actually plots to 97.8 acres] in Sullivan County on a branch of Holsten River including where the Island Path crosses same… near the River… dividing line between said Murphey and Joseph Moor…  Entered by Jacob Light 1 February 1779, assigned to Levy Murphey.

10 Nov 1784  Grant #301:  Levy Murphey, 150 acres [plots to 149.6a] in Sullivan County “at head of Alex Cavet’s Branch nigh to Holston” adjoining Alexander Cavett.  Entered by Levy Murphey 21 February 1780.
[Originals in NC Archives (and a copy in Tennessee), abstracted in North Carolina Land Grants in Tennessee 1778-1791, Goldene Fillers Burger, p44, p47.]

These parcels were located in the southwestern part of modern Sullivan County, and may have adjoined one another.  Grant #232 included a spot where the “Island Path” crossed a branch of the river, apparently meaning the Long Island Path leading from Long Island (present Kingsport) southwesterly towards Washington County.  This would seem to place the land in the vicinity of present-day Colonial Heights.


9 Aug 1787     Grant #421:  John Murphrey, 100 acres in Sullivan County, Tennessee…  including the place where Solomon Murphrey formerly lived…  adjoining Nathanel Boman .   [Grant #421, Sullivan County Deed Book 1, p 476.]

This is apparently the son of Daniel Murphree.  Solomon Murphree’s 1784 grant is now in Sullivan County, thanks to the border realignment earlier in 1787.  Solomon Murphree seems to have abandoned his grant in Tennessee and John Murphree is now claiming part of it.