Murphrees in the American Revolution

Although it seems very likely that several of Daniel Murphree’s sons served the patriot cause we can only prove service for two of them.   It is likely that all of them served to some extent in the local militia, records of which are quite scarce.   None of the sons, or their widows, applied for pensions based on their service, and only one is (as far as we know) mentioned in the pension applications of other soldiers.

Despite the theories of some family researchers, no North Carolina military land warrants were issued to any member of the family.  Since military land warrants were issued only to those soldiers with two or more years service in a Continental Line unit, we can be reasonably certain that none of the Murphrees served for that long a period in a regular army line unit.   The two sons whose service we can prove, Solomon and Moses, both served in a line unit, but for less than three months.  It may be that their brothers, if they served, did so in militia units.

There is a frustrating lack of records in North Carolina of militia service.  Given the Revolutionary events in Orange and Chatham counties, and with so many troops passing through Hillsborough during the first few years of the war, it would seem nearly certain that some of the Murphree sons would have served, however briefly.   However, Chatham County had no organized militia unit of its own during the war.   It did, however, provide troops to several line units.  One of those drafts dovetails nicely with the service of two of the sons.

North Carolina Revolutionary records list six persons named Murphree or Murfree:  the famous Hardy Murphree as well as Henry Murphree, Patrick Murphree, Daniel Murphree, James Murphree, and William Murphree.  Several more men named Murphy appear in those records, including two who were evidently Murphrees.

Solomon Murphree & Moses Murphree

The following record is (correctly) cited by family genealogists as proof of service by Solomon Murphree and Moses Murphree:

5 Aug 1779     Solomon Murphy and Moses Murphy enlisted in the 10th Regiment, Blount’s Company, Continental line, commanded by Colonel Abraham Shepherd.  Both were listed as deserted in October 1779.1

There is an error in this listing, but we have a means of proving that these were the same persons as Daniel Murphree’s sons.

15 men joined Blount’s company as privates on the same day, 5 August 1779, all of whom enlisted for the duration of the war, and all of whom “deserted” in October 1779.  [The State Records of North Carolina lists a total of 20 men who enlisted on the same date, 15 for the duration of the war and 9 for a period of nine months.  Of these 24 men, three died in August and all the others are listed as deserters in September or October.]    Of particular interest is that on the preceding day, 4 August 1779, Ensign John Hill and Sergeant Daniel McBane joined Blount’s Company as well.  Both of these men were from Chatham County, John Hill having been commissioned there and McBane later listing his residence in his pension application.  Both remained on the company rolls well past October, suggesting that the wholesale “desertion” of the 15 privates may actually have been a discharge.  At least half of the 15 men can also be identified as men from Chatham County — including some very unusual names.  [The 15 men were:  Nathan Bagley (who appears on the 1772 Chatham militia list), William Bailey, Jesse Brannon, James Brown, William Curby, Richard Copland, John Honeycutt, Othiel McPherson, William McPherson, James Mathews, Jesse Mitchell, James Walker, Abraham Towell, and the two “Murphys”.]   It therefore seems we can be reasonably certain that this record applies to the sons of Daniel Murphree.

A Chatham County history mentions that barely a week before these men enlisted, on 30 July 1779, the county informed the Governor that 47 troops had been raised in Chatham County.2   It appears that a small contingent of these men under Hill as Ensign and McBane as Sergeant was sent east to join the 5th Regiment a few days later.

The error in this listing is that these men were in the 5th Regiment, not the 10th.  The 10th Regiment had been disbanded at Valley Forge more than a year earlier, on 1 June 1788, and was never reconstituted.   Col. Abraham Sheppard, its commander, was transferred on 1 June 1778 to the 5th Regiment, which he commanded in 1779 at the time of this record.   One of his company commanders in the 5th Regiment during 1779 was Major Reading Blount, the only person of that surname who commanded a company during the war.   The 5th Regiment was assigned to three of North Carolina’s military districts, one of them being Hillsboro’s, thus it was a likely destination for troops raised from Chatham County.  During the summer and fall of 1779, when the Murphrees were in the regiment, it served a home defense role and was stationed somewhere in eastern North Carolina, likely in Duplin County or vicinity.

Solomon Murphree’s service is seemingly confirmed by his own 4 December 1851 affidavit in support of the pension application of Isaac Brewer.3   In it, Solomon Murphree states that “he himself also served some in the revolution and hired men to go in his place, but has never thought fit to seek any pension being able to live without it.”   The Battle of Cane Creek (also known as Lindley’s Mill), which Solomon Murphree swore that “he well remembers” and in which Brewer claimed to have fought, took place in Chatham County in 1781.  [The names of Whig officers in this statement are imaginatively spelled.   Col. Robert Mebane is “Maburn or Mayburn”, and Col. Richard Lutrell is “Literal”.]  Col. Robert Mebane, the hero of this battle, commanded a force of about 300 hastily assembled local militiamen from Orange and Chatham counties.  It seems likely that Isaac Brewer was one of those militiamen.  The name of Isaac Brewer appears in no North Carolina Revolutionary records, suggesting that he was a member of the local militia.

Daniel Murphree Jr.

Family tradition is that Daniel Murphree Jr. died during the war, though no independent confirmation has been found that he died in service.  Or, indeed, that he served at all.  (He appears in the 1774 militia list of Chatham County, but that was before the war.)

A Dan’l Murphy is listed in North Carolina records as a private in Hogg’s company, with no dates of service.4    Major Thomas Hogg, who was from Granville County, commanded a company in the 3rd North Carolina Regiment from 1 June 1778 until he was taken prisoner at Charlestown in May 1780 and imprisoned for a year.  He was afterwards ranked above a company commander, so this record would appear to indicate service before 1780.  A private named Daniel Murphree appears on a list of vouchers due to soldiers of the North Carolina Continental Line for service prior to 1 January 1782 and the same person, spelled as Daniel Murfree, also appears on a different list, dated 1 May 1792, of Continental Line soldiers due pay for an unspecified period.5   Whether this is the same person as the Daniel Murphy above is unclear: although no Daniel Murphy appears in these voucher records, the surrounding names were not in Hogg’s company.  Archibald Murphy, private, appears on both lists within four and seven names, respectively of Daniel Murphree.6  Archibald Murphy was of Rockingham County in 1791 when he executed a power of attorney to collect his pay.  One list is not alphabetical, suggesting that the soldiers listed together may have served in the same unit, but none of the surrounding names can be identified as Chatham County residents.

These records most likely apply to the Daniel Murphy who appears in the 1790 census of Anson County.  He later applied for a pension, stating that he was born in Anson County in 1763 and lived there at enlistment.7   He was pensioned in 1832, still a resident of Anson County.  I did not read his pension file to confirm that he was in Hogg’s company, but it seems likely that he is the soldier referred to in the above records.  I  also note that a Daniel Murphy was apparently living in Rowan County during the war, for he appears on the 1778 Rowan tax list.

It may be that Daniel Murphree Jr. served in Georgia rather than in North Carolina.  Georgia, lacking the population to raise its own army, recruited its soldiers mainly from North Carolina and Virginia.  A very interesting clue is found in a Wilkes County, Georgia record in which John Bynum and Daniel Murphree are listed as debtors or creditors of the estate of Richard Austin, apparently dated sometime in 1780.8   John Bynum, a neighbor in Chatham County, stated in his Revolutionary pension application that he was born in Chatham County, North Carolina, but enlisted on 2 July 1777 while living in Wilkes County, Georgia, and returned to Chatham County, North Carolina in 1780 after concluding his service.9   (He later lived in Pendleton District, South Carolina.)  Another pension application, by a Job Broughton, stated that he enrolled in Wilkes County in 1777 under Capt. Richard Austin who “got wounded accidentally by one of his own men and died”, this evidently occurring before1781 when Broughton says he was discharged after serving under a replacement captain.  Richard Austin is shown in Georgia records as a Captain on the rolls from 1777 through at least 1779.  Since Austin evidently never lived in North Carolina, Daniel Murphree could have become associated with his estate only if he had traveled to Georgia.  It is quite possible that he had joined John Bynum in enlisting in Georgia.

John Murphree

A John Murphy appears among the pre-war Regulators in and around Orange County, but cannot be identified as the son of Daniel Murphree.10

It seems nearly impossible to sort out the John Murphys who might have served in Revolutionary units in North Carolina.   The 1790 census for North Carolina enumerates a whopping twelve different persons named John Murphy or John Murphree.  Nonetheless, the following record has been cited by some family researchers as proof of service for John Murphree:

22 Dec 1780    Zeph. Murphey (Sgt.), John Murphey (Pvt), and William Murphey (Pvt) are among 88 names appearing on a company pay roll for Capt. John Johnstone’s Company in Col. John Collier’s Regiment of North Carolina Militia, under General John Butler, for the 106-day period 8 September through 22 December 1780.  All three names appear on a corresponding Receipt Roll dated 29 Jul 1783 for the pay due for 1780.11

However, this is almost certainly not the son of Daniel Murphree.  General Butler was commander of the Guilford military district, and Captain Johnstone’s company was drawn mainly, if not exclusively, from that district.  Indeed, most of the soldiers listed in that company payroll are enumerated in Caswell, Guilford, or Orange County in the 1790 census — including a John Murphy.   There are three further problems with this identification.   First, if John Murphree was serving outside Chatham County from September through December of 1780, how did he find time to appear in court on 23 October 1780 in the midst of this service to record his land grant?  Second, the presence of “Zeph. Murphey” on this list requires some explanation – the possibility that all three Murpheys were related, members of a different family, can’t be ignored.   Finally, there were so many persons named John Murphy, including the one in the 1790 Guilford County census, that there is seemingly no way to identify precisely which one this record refers to.

Only four John Murphys are mentioned in pension records.  In 1833, in support of another man’s pension application, a John Murphy deposed in Rutherford County, Tennessee that he had served three months in 1780 from Caswell County under Capt. John Graves in General Butler’s militia.   Another John Murphy, a captain of militia under Col. Young, petitioned for back pay and damages while living in Duplin County in 1789.  He claimed to have been commissioned a captain of militia in Wilmington, taken prisoner, and never received any pay.  He also claimed damages to his house and business when the British evacuated Wilmington.12

James Murphree  & William Murphree

Like John Murphree, these names were common among “Murphy” families in North Carolina.   Several James Murphys appear in Revolutionary records, none of whom appear to be our man since they enlisted with collections of soldiers from distant counties.  At least three pension records exist for James Murphys in North Carolina units.13    At least two others are identified in later depositions by their heirs.  Polly Dickson, widow of James Murphy, and her husband Joseph Dickson testified in Lincoln County, North Carolina in 1818 that James Murphy died in service under Capt. Alex Brevard.  Joseph Dickson testified that he served 12 months with James Murphy and “saw him die in his hills of Santee River, S.C. before his 12 months expired.”14    Still another James Murphey of Lincoln County, North Carolina deposed on 29 July 1786 that he served eighteen months in Capt. Lytle’s company under Col. Lytle and Gen. Greene.15

It is perhaps significant that our James Murphree’s widow, when applying for a widow’s pension, based her application of her first husband’s service rather than on James Murphree’s record.

Likewise, two (perhaps three) William Murphys appear in North Carolina Revolutionary records, none of them in conjunction with other Chatham County names.  Note that seven William Murphys appear in the North Carolina 1790 census, any of whom might account for these records.  One William Murphree was a delegate to the Provincial Congress in 1775 from Hertford County.   Only one Revolutionary pension, of a William Murphy who enlisted in Anson County, specifically mentions North Carolina service.16

Levi Murphree

No Levi Murphree or Murphy appears in any North Carolina Revolutionary record.

David Murphree

No David Murphree or Murphy appears in any North Carolina Revolutionary service record.

Some descendants claim that he served in the South Carolina militia during the war, though the evidence is unknown to me.  If true, it would mean that he moved to South Carolina several years before the rest of the family, though I could find no evidence for it.  Other descendants think he served in North Carolina militia,  though I could find no record of that either.   I note that there were at least two other men named David Murphree or Murphy at the time, one in South Carolina and one in North Carolina.


  1. The State Records of North Carolina, Walter Clark, ed., Vol. 16, p1118. []
  2. Chatham County 1771-1791, Hadley, Horton, and Strowd, p21. []
  3. R1185.  This was brought to my attention by Fern Taylor. []
  4. The State Records of North Carolina, Walter Clark, ed., Vol. 16, p1117. []
  5. N.C. Revolutionary Army Records, Vol. X, p75 and Vol. II, p4.  It is likely that they are the same person, as the same names appears surrounding this one. []
  6. This is not the Col. Archibald Murphy of Caswell County, but rather a private of the same name who was apparently from Franklin County.  A bounty land warrant was issued later to his heirs. []
  7. Pension file #S1861. []
  8. Wilkes County, Georgia, Book of Mixed Records, Wills, Administrations and Deeds 1777-1778, p45 abstracted in The Early Records of Georgia, Vol. 1, p34. []
  9. Pension File No. S3111. []
  10. The State Records of North Carolina, Walter Clark, ed., Vol. 7, p734. []
  11. North Carolina Revolutionary Army Accounts, including two reproductions posted on the internet. []
  12. NCGSJ, Vol. 2, No. 3, p150. []
  13. Pension files S9047, W24167, and R7512. []
  14. NCGSJ, Vol. 6, No. 4, p239. []
  15. NCGSJ, Vol. 13, No. 4, p239. []
  16. Pension file S16986. []