Locating the Ancestral Lineage of an African-American Slave Family and their Owner’s Family

A major economic and social component in America’s history was the ownership of American slaves, a practice that not only helped build a region, but would eventually cause its downfall. Yet, slavery was far more than a financial aspect, it was a major social and cultural element in the fabric of all Americans during the 18th and 19th centuries. Individuals most affected were African-Americans who were brought over to the United States as slaves or born into slavery in America.

For African-Americans, it can be quite difficult to trace their family lineage. Since the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 and the abolition of slavery with the 13th Amendment in 1865, there would be nearly 4 million slaves in the country eventually known as ‘Freedmen.’

With the end of the American Civil War and the former slaves’ emancipation, numerous individuals and families resettled in other parts of the country. Yet, countless others remained close to the only homeland they knew, selecting to remain in the same county to work as blacksmiths, laborers or farmers.

An inquiry came into the FamilyTree.com on the genealogy blog site from Janada Murphy Birro about her great grandparents, Henry and Catherine Murphy of North Carolina, who were born around the 1830s. She knew of her grandfather, Henry Murphy who was born in 1863 in North Carolina, but overall she was very limited in being acquainted with any circumstances surrounding the great grandparents.

To launch any family history research, you start with the known information. Janada had checked the 1880 U. S. Federal Census and knew her great grandparents and grandfather lived in Faison, Duplin County, North Carolina. Henry and Catherine had seven children in the household ranging in ages from 18 to 8-years-old, including the grandfather, Henry Murphy at age 7 in 1880. I verified what she had gathered from that census, making note of the children’s names, ages and places of birth. Also, on the records was that this Murphy family was listed as ‘Black’ on the census.

I then worked back to the 1870 U. S. Federal Census records. Checking Duplin County nothing was located. Expanding to neighboring counties; such as Wayne, Jones, Pender and Sampson; the closest match came in the Town of Taylors Bridge in Sampson County which was just west of Duplin County. By examining the children’s names and ages, I felt the 1870 record for a Henry and Caroline Murphy might be the same family from the 1880 census.

The oldest child in the household in 1880 was Jeff Murphy, age 18. In the 1870 census there was a Jefferson Murphy at age 8 years old. The other younger siblings; Henry, Ellen and Louisa also matched. The two youngest children in the 1880 census; Adaline and Ann were born after the June 1880 census.

The head of the household, Henry Murphy was listed as age 45, only a five-year difference from the 1880 census. That age variation is not uncommon, either from the person intentionally or unintentionally giving the wrong age to the census taker not understanding what was said at the time.

Another variation was the wife’s given name of Caroline versus the Catherine name on the 1880 census. Again, that is common, a person using a middle name one time and the first name at another time period. However, her age was correct for the 1870 census.

There were three older children listed in the 1870 census; Lottie, born in 1856, Stephen in 1857 and Margaret in 1859. They were not in the 1880 census, however, those three could have been married and living away from home ten years later. The father, Henry, was a farmer in Taylors Bridge. Neither Henry, his wife or several of his children could read or write as of 1870.

Going back another ten years would be more difficult since that would have been 1860, before the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation, before the outbreak of the American Civil War, and when slavery was still a major institution within North Carolina. What were located on the 1860 U. S. Census in Taylors Bridge in Sampson County were a Patrick Murphy, a slave-owner and family. There were three other Murphy families in Taylors Bridge; William, a farmer with just $3,000 in land value, Cornelius Tate Murphy, a medical doctor and Robert Murphy with just three female slaves. It appeared Patrick Murphy was the most likely owner of the Henry Murphy family.

Patrick Murphy was of an old North Carolina white family with roots back to the Isle of Arran, Buteshire in Scotland. It was Patrick Murphy’s grandfather, also Patrick Murphy, who came to America in 1774 to settle in Wilmington, North Carolina. The grandson, Patrick Murphy of 1860, was a lawyer and a large land-owner, $102,300 in value, as written on the 1860 census. He was born in 1801 and Patrick and his wife, Eliza A. Faison Murphy, had five sons and five daughters. Locating the basic information on Patrick Murphy was a simple matter of some Internet research to learn more about Patrick and his ancestral lineage.

To see if there was a connection with the African-American Henry Murphy family in Taylors Bridge and the Patrick Murphy’s Cuwhiffle Plantation, a check was made of the 1860 U. S. Federal Slave Schedules. The record showed Patrick Murphy was a slave-owner of some 114 slaves in 1860. Names of each individual slave were not provided on the schedule, but rather their gender and age.

Estimating Henry Murphy’s age in 1860 at around 30 years old, his wife Catherine / Caroline at age 20 to 25 and then the three children born between 1856 and 1859, there were matches. Patrick Murphy had slaves ranging from age 55 to 2 months old. Historically, seeing that many times African-American former slaves assumed the surname of a former slave-owner, made this scenario of Henry Murphy and his family having been on the Patrick Murphy plantation very probable.

Being that Patrick Murphy was so well-known in Sampson County, having also served in the North Carolina State Legislature made researching information about him easier and added another perspective to the complete Murphy story. The original spelling of this Murphy family ranged from Scottish McMurchie to MacMurcie and MacMurdick until it was made eventually Murphy after arrival in America. Patrick Henry married Eliza Ann Faison in 1833 as was located on marriage index records for North Carolina. He constructed himself a large two-story home along the Cuwhiffle Creek (also known as Quwhiffle Creek) in Sampson County. Besides developing his massive agricultural acreage, Patrick was also an elder in South River Presbyterian Church; one of the founders in the organization of the Clinton Church and promoted the organization of the Oak Plain Presbyterian Church.

Examining the 1850 U. S. Federal Slave Schedule showed Patrick Murphy of Sampson County had 42 slaves and a male at age 20 years old, just what Henry Murphy would have been in 1850. On the 1840 U. S. Federal Census there were 8 slaves listed for Patrick Murphy.

With the start of the Civil War, misfortune would follow the Patrick Murphy family. His wife, Eliza Ann died on June 14, 1862. Most of his sons joined the Confederate Army, serving with Capt. Moseley’s Co. (Sampson Artillery) of North Carolina. Four of his sons died during the war or shortly thereafter from their wounds. After losing his property in Sampson County during the course of the war, Patrick and his second wife, Elizabeth Fryar, moved to Wilmington, North Carolina so Patrick could practice law. Patrick lived until November 15, 1874 and was buried next to his first wife, Eliza at the Oak Plain Presbyterian Church cemetery. On his headstone, located on the ‘Find A Grave’ Internet site, is the inscription: “Mark the perfect man, and behold the upright for the end of that man is peace.”

His only surviving son, Patrick Livingston Murphy went on to become a well-respected medical doctor. His grandson, James B. Murphy, also became a doctor doing major cancer research during the first half of the 20th century. The great-grandson, James S. Murphy continued in the family tradition as a medical doctor.

Checking further on the Henry Murphy family there was no U. S. Federal Census for 1890 due to a fire which destroyed the records in the early 20th century. However, with the 1900 U. S. Federal Census, Henry Murphy, born May 1829 in North Carolina was listed with his wife, Caroline, born May 1840 in North Carolina and daughter, Ellen Murphy. The family was living in Faison, Duplin County, North Carolina. Included in the Murphy household were two granddaughters, Annie Murphy, born May 1881 and Cate Ezzell, who was born May 1891 in North Carolina. Even at the age 71, Henry was listed as a working farmer.

Reviewing the 1910 U. S. Federal Census, there was no listing for Henry or Caroline Murphy and they may have died between 1900 and 1910. Their son, Henry Murphy, born in 1862, had married Mary Ann Spann of Berkley Co., South Carolina about 1886. They had four sons and two daughters which they raised in St. Johns Berkley, Berkley County, South Carolina. Henry worked as a general farmer.

By January 1920 the Murphy family lived in Eutaw, Berkley County in South Carolina with several of their gown children living nearby. Henry continued as a farmer and he and Mary Ann had adopted three small children into their household.

In 1930 the Murphy family was still in Eutaw, South Carolina on Spring Plant Avenue. Henry owned his own home, valued at $1,200 and continued working as a farmer. He also served as a minister for the local Methodist Church in Cross, South Carolina.

Henry died on August 4, 1948 in Berkley County of heart disease. He was buried at the Zion Cemetery. This information was provided by the South Carolina Death Records of 1821-1955 on Ancestry.com. His wife, Mary Ann Murphy died in 1950.

So with some diligent research and use of several databases, new information on Janada Murphy Birro’s grandfather, Henry Murphy and her great grandfather, Henry Murphy was assembled. Having the information on Patrick Murphy of Sampson County, a slave-owner and finding the Henry Murphy family in Sampson County right after the Civil War makes for a fairly sure conclusion of Henry and his family having been a slave on the Cuwhiffle Plantation.

With what was collected, Janada can now use other resources such as the Schomburg Center for Research and similar African-American research institutions to learn even more on her ancestors.

NOTE: The photo is of Patrick Murphy (1801-1874) and unfortunately none located of either Henry Murphy (father or son).

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