Rev. John Murray

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John Murray

Birthplace: Alton, Hampshire , England
Death: Died in Boston, Suffolk, Massachusetts, United States
Cause of death: After effects of stroke
Place of Burial: Boston, Suffolk, Massachusetts, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of John? Murray and ?? Murray
Husband of Eliza Murray and Judith Sargent Murray
Father of Fitz Winthrop Murray and Julia Maria Bingaman

Occupation: founder of American Universalism
Managed by: Erica "the Disconnectrix" Howton
Last Updated:

About Rev. John Murray


John Murray (December 10, 1741-September 3, 1815), a preacher from the British Isles, became the most widely-known and respected voice of American Universalism during the last three decades of the eighteenth century. The legal conflict surrounding his ministry was instrumental in undermining the monopoly of the established church in Massachusetts and in bringing about the legal organization of the first Universalist churches in New England. It was his vision that led to the first moves towards uniting the various independent American Universalist movements into a single denomination. While serving pulpits in Gloucester and Boston, he traveled frequently to Philadelphia and the mid-Atlantic states, being for a long time the only point of contact between Universalists there and those in New England. A friend of Generals George Washington and Nathanael Greene, and the husband of the literary pioneer Judith Sargent Murray, Murray moved in distinguished circles, which brought much-needed respectability, and a sense of self-respect, to a denomination comprised largely of shopkeepers and middling farmers. In his later years he was revered by many Universalists, including those with whom he disagreed, and regarded as primus inter pares among the generation of Universalist founders who treated him as if he were the denomination’s bishop.

John Murray (1741–1815) is the founder of the Universalist denomination in the United States, a pioneer minister and an inspirational figure.

Early life

He was born in Alton, Hampshire (fifteen miles northeast of Winchester), in England on December 10, 1741. His father was an Anglican and his mother a Presbyterian, both strict Calvinists, and his home life was attended by religious severity. In 1751 the family settled near Cork, Ireland. In 1760 Murray returned to England and joined George Whitefield's congregation; but embracing, somewhat later, the Universalistic teachings of Welsh minister James Relly he was excommunicated. In 1770 he emigrated to "lose himself in America", and preached, as a Universalist minister, his first sermon in Good Luck, now Lacey Township, New Jersey, September 30, 1770, residing there with his patron and friend Thomas Potter until 1774, itinerating from Virginia to New Hampshire. Today the Potter farm is the site of the Murray Grove Retreat and Conference Center.

Mature life

In 1774 he settled at Gloucester, Massachusetts, and established a congregation there out of a Rellyite study group. There he met his second wife, the author and catechist Judith Sargent Murray. He was suspected of being a British spy, but in 1775 was appointed chaplain of the Rhode Island Brigade before Boston by General George Washington despite petitions for his dismissal by other chaplains over his rejection of belief in hell. He participated in the first general Universalist Convention at Oxford, Massachusetts, September, 1785. On October 23, 1793, he became pastor of the Universalist society of Boston, and faithfully served it until October 19, 1809, when paralysis stopped his work. He was a man of great courage and eloquence, and in the defense of his views endured much detestation and abuse. In regard to Jesus, he taught that in him God became the Son; for "God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost, are no more than different exhibitions of the self-same existent, omnipresent Being." He taught that all men would ultimately be saved through the sacrifice of Christ, the basis for this being the union of all men in Christ, just as they were united with Adam, and therefore partaking of the benefits of his sacrifice. He was also a writer of hymns and a compiler of hymnals.

Murray suffered a debilitating stroke on October 19, 1809, which compelled him to give up preaching and died in Boston, Massachusetts on September 3, 1815.


Sources are his own Letters and Sketches of Sermons, 3 volumes, Boston, 1812; Autobiography, continued by his wife, (also known as Life of Murray), Boston, 1816, centenary ed., 1870.


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Rev. John Murray's Timeline

December 10, 1741
Alton, Hampshire , England
August 1789
Age 47
Gloucester, Essex, Massachusetts, United States
August 22, 1791
Age 49
Gloucester, Essex, Massachusetts, United States
September 3, 1815
Age 73
Boston, Suffolk, Massachusetts, United States
Age 73
Boston, Suffolk, Massachusetts, United States