MURRAY, JOHN (10 December 1741, Alton, England-3 September 1815, Boston, MA). Career: Itinerant Universalist preacher, 1770-74; preacher,
Gloucester, MA, and frequently traveling evangelist, 1774-93; chaplain in American Revolutionary army, 1775; preacher, Boston, 1793-1815.
The Universalist movement in America began when John Murray's boat from England ran aground in 1770 at Cranberry Inlet, New Jersey. There he met Thomas Potter, who had been waiting for God to send a preacher to him with a distinctive message. Murray, he believed, was that man, and Murray came to agree with him. Murray's background in England tells much about his own reasons for coming to Universalism and much about the emotional and intellectual basis of the entire movement as well. He was brought up a strict Calvinist and suffered much psychological torment from his fear that he was foreordained to damnation. The influence of John Wesley relieved that fear in some respects, but once the pattern of his progress away from the harsher elements of Calvinism had begun, it would not stop short of the total rejection of everlasting punishment. The key to Murray's development was his reading of James Relly's Union (1759) and his subsequent listening to his preaching. Relly argued that all humanity actually achieved union with Christ in his death and therefore had already paid the price for sin. Murray's espousal of this doctrine cost him friends and social standing, and his ostracism was accompanied by several other tragedies. He lost his child and his wife and was beset by economic difficulties, serving time in debtor's prison. His ultimate answer to his problems was the trip to America, which began his career as a preacher. After landing in New Jersey, Murray began preaching extensively in the colonies, going in 1774 to Gloucester, Massachusetts, where he enjoyed the patronage of Winthrop Sargent, a prominent ship captain who had read and taken an interest in Relly. With Sargent's help, a Universalist church was formed in Gloucester in 1779, with Murray as its pastor. Murray's pastorate in Gloucester was marked by struggle against the prevailing orthodox religious opinion and numerous legal struggles to achieve the right to form a dissenting church. But his message grew, and in 1793 he moved to Boston, where he stayed as minister until his death. In 1788 he married Judith Sargent Stevens ~Murray], the widowed daughter of Winthrop Sargent, whose literary career complemented Murray's religious work. Murray's pastorates were punctuated by extensive preaching elsewhere, as he worked to spread the Universalist message in the new nation.
A. Letters and Sketches of Sermons, 3 vols. (Boston, 1812-13); Records of the Life of the Rev. John Murray . . . Written by Himself . . . to Which Is Added a Brief Continuation . . By Mrs. Judith Sargent Munrayl (Boston, 1816).
B. DAB 13.360-62; Records of the Life of the Rev. John Murray (see above); Richard Eddy, Universalism in America, vol. 1 (Boston, 1884); Clarence R. Skinner and Alfred S. Cole, Hell's Ramparts Fell: The Life of John Murray (Boston, 1941); Russell E. Miller, The Larger Hope (Boston, 1979).