Sketches Of

Tennessee's Pioneer Baptist Preachers


(pages 391 - 393)

William Murphy was born in southern or southwestern Virginia and was doing pioneer work for the Lord and the Baptists in Virginia long before Tennessee was a State. The date of his first and his second birth are alike unknown. We only know that he and his brother Joseph were converted when quite young, under the ministry of Shubael Stearns, both of them becoming active ministers of the gospel in their early Christian life. They were popularly known as "the Murphy boys," and sometimes stigmatized by their persecutors as "Murphy's boys." The educational advantages of both these preacher-brothers were meager, but both of them were effective preachers of the Word, and did pioneer work. William was the abler of the two. His "natural powers of mind were good. his addresses attracted attention, and through him many were brought to a knowledge of the truth. His discourses were of a doctrinal cast, and were sometimes controversial. But it is believed that he was more ambitious to glorify his Saviour in the salvation of souls than to distinguish himself as an able polemic (Taylor, Virginia Baptist Ministers). He was also strongly Calvinistic in his doctrinal beliefs. When, for instance, in May, 1775, this query came up to his Association. and occupied the attention of the body for a whole day, "Is salvation by Christ made possible for every individual of the human race?" while most of the talent of the Association took the affirmative or the so-called "Arminian" side, Elder Murphy championed the negative. The Association divided over the question, each party electing its own Moderator; before final adjournment, however, by concessions on the one side and forbearance on the other, the calamity of a permanent division was happily averted (Semple).

Perhaps Elder Murphy's greatest single achievement under God, while still in Virginia, was the leading to Christ of one, of Virginia's most prominent and useful Baptist minister, Samuel Harris.

Some time before 1780 Elder Murphy emigrated to "the west"; that is, to North Carolina, first, settling a little later. it seems, in upper East Tennessee, where he became "one of the most active ministers in the Holston Association." He was one of the constituent members of that body, being a messenger of the Cherokee Church, where the Association was organized (1786), with Tidence Lane as Moderator and William Murphy as clerk. The following year (1787) William Murphy was "chosen moderator."

In 1785 (June 11), William Murphy and Tidence Lane organized the old "Bent Creek" Church (now Whitesburg). In April, 1897, this church celebrated, with suitable ceremonies, its one hundred and twelfth anniversary.

September 14, 1798, William Murphy and Isaac Barton were a "presbytery" in the organization of the "Church of Christ on Lick Creek" (now the Warrensburg Church), with a constituency of "eighteen members," David Wisecarver, clerk.

Benedict, who gathered his information (1810) from near-at-hand sources, speaks in high terms of William Murphy's ministerial labors in the Holston Association, "which he assisted in raising up, and in which he was very active and much esteemed until his death, the exact time of which is not known, but it is believed to have been about 1800."


Burnett, J .J.  Sketches of  Tennessee's Pioneer Baptist Preachers.  Nashville, Tenn.:  Press of Marshall & Bruce Company, 1919.


[ Return to Index ]

HTML presentation of this material is
Copyright 2002  by Rose-Anne Cunningham Bray.
All rights reserved.