Isaac Murphy

Isaac Murphy

"For the African-American Hall of Fame jockey see: Isaac Burns Murphy"

Infobox Governor
name = Isaac Murphy

order = 8th
office = Governor of Arkansas
term_start = 1864
term_end = 1868
lieutenant =
predecessor = Harris Flanagin
successor = Powell Clayton
birth_date = birth date|1799|10|16|mf=y
birth_place = near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
death_date = death date and age|1882|9|8|1799|10|16
death_place = Huntsville, Madison County, Arkansas
party = Republican
spouse =
profession =
religion =

Isaac Murphy (October 16 1802 - September 8 1882) was the first Reconstruction Governor of Arkansas. He was the first reconstruction governor to come to power under President Abraham Lincoln's conciliatory policy. Unlike some other reconstruction administrations the Murphy administration was characterized by fiscal restraint and conciliatory attitude towards the soon to be defeated Confederates. Murphy is best known for casting the only vote against secession at the Arkansas Secession Convention. Although it never effected him during his lifetime, his involvement in the little known Huntsville Massacre during the Civil War has only come to light in recent decades.

Early life and career

Murphy was born near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to a wealthy paper manufacturer. He was educated at Washington College in Pennsylvania and was admitted to the bar in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania on April 29 1825.

In 1830 Murphy moved to Clarksville, Tennessee where he taught school. In Clarksville he met and married Angelina Lockhart on July 31 1830 against her father's wishes. Angelina was disinherited by her father because Isaac was opposed to the institution of slavery.

In 1834 the Murphy's, with their newborn daughter, moved west to the town of Fayetteville, Arkansas in the territory of Arkansas. Murphy established himself as a school teacher, surveyor, and lawyer.

Murphy became the first County Treasurer of Washington County, Arkansas in 1836 through 1838. He became a master in chancery in 1841. In 1837 through 1838 Murphy ran the original government land lines for Franklin County, Arkansas.

On 30 November 1844 the noted Indian Missionary Cephas Washburn along with Murphy and other prominent individuals secured a charter for a college known as the Far West Seminary. Murphy became the chairman of the Board of Visitors with the intent of establishing a facility that would educate both whites and Indians. Murphy served in this capacity until the building was destroyed by fire on 17 February 1845.

Murphy was elected to the General Assembly of Arkansas two times as the representative from Washington County in 1846 and 1848. Murphy served on the Banking Committee and attempted to introduce reforms but was stymied by the powerful political cabal known as "The Family".

Murphy ran into financial difficulties around 1849 and left for California in an attempt to improve his fortunes in the California Gold Rush. He returned to Arkansas in 1854 with nothing to show for his efforts. Upon his return he moved to Huntsville, Arkansas in Madison County, Arkansas.

Civil War era

When the secession crisis swept the State in 1861 a group of Madison County citizens called on Murphy to represent them at the Secession Convention to which he agreed. The Arkansas Secession Convention voted to remain in the Union.

When Fort Sumter was fired on and Lincoln called for troops from Arkansas the Secession Convention was recalled. The convention voted to take Arkansas out of the Union with only Murphy and 4 other delegates opposed. The convention chair called on the 5 opposition votes to change their votes so that Arkansas could speak with a unanimous voice. All 4 of the other nay voters changed their votes but Murphy refused.

Huntsville Massacre

As war broke out Murphy was forced to flee his home in Huntsville and spent much of the war traveling with the Union army in northwest Arkansas. Upon the fall of Little Rock an election of sorts was held with the approval of President Lincoln and Murphy was elected governor. On January 10, 1863, the Huntsville Massacre occurred, prompted by complaints lodged by his daughters that local citizens were harassing them.

In the early morning hours of January 10th, 1863, nine local men, previously arrested due to Murphy's daughters complaints, were taken from where they were being detained by members of Company G, 8th Regiment Missouri Volunteer Cavalry, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Elias Briggs Baldwin. Those nine men were Chesley H. Boatright, William Martin Berry, Hugh Samuel Berry, John William Moody, Askin Hughes, John Hughes, Watson P. Stevens, Robert Coleman Young, and Bill Parks. Of the nine, only Hugh Samuel Berry and Askin Hughes were soldiers, both being captains in the Confederate Army and home on leave. John William Moody was a former US Marshal, and William Martin Berry was a son-in-law to Isaac Murphy. All were shot, with eight being killed. Bill Parks was left for dead, but survived the shooting and later moved to Mississippi.

There were no known charges against any of the men. Months earlier a detachment of twenty five Union soldiers had been attacked by local Guerillas, which developed into a skirmish with eighteen of the Union soldiers being killed. That detachment had been escorting Murphy's daughters to Huntsville. It has never been confirmed as to whether the executions were in reaction to those Union soldiers killed, or if the incident was due to some other unknown cause. It has been since indicated that it is possible the nine men were suspected to have taken part in the guerilla attack that resulted in the killing of the eighteen Union soldiers. Two of the men executed were Confederate soldiers. There is no way of knowing for certain as to whether that did play a part in the executions. However, even in the event that any of those shot had been involved in the earlier attack on the Union detachment, it would have been considered an act of war on their part, and not punishable by death as the men would have then been considered prisoners of war.

After the executions, Bill Parks, who had been left for dead, crawled to a nearby farm house, where his wounds were treated. When asked what had happened and who did it, his response was "Men of the 8th Missouri Regiment. But Johnson, Ham and Murphy had it done." He was referring to Isaac Murphy, attorney E.D. Ham, and Union Colonel James Johnson. Although Baldwin was present during the murders and directly ordered the executions, he was not mentioned by Parks.

Word of the executions spread quickly through the ranks of the Union Army, and Lt. Col. Baldwin was arrested and charged with "violation of the 6th Article of War for the murder of prisoners of war." He was transported to Springfield, Missouri and held for trial. However, when many of the witnesses were found to be on active military duty and unable to attend the trial, and many civilian witnesses were displaced or not able to make the trip to Springfield, charges were dropped, and Baldwin was discharged from the army. The event had a negative effect on Murphy's reputation locally with the Masons, and caused them to cut off funding for two colleges being operated by Murphy, his daughters, and his wife. Both colleges closed, but short of this Murphy was effected very little over the event.


Despite that negative event, during the Murphy administration Arkansas began healing its war wounds even as the war continued in the southern parts of the State. Murphy took a low-key approach to governance and stated publicly that "We have all done wrong.". The 4th of July celebrations in Little Rock, Arkansas were led by pro-Union speakers but they refrained from any anti-Southern speeches or actions.

By the start of 1866 Murphy's plans began to erode due to events elsewhere in the country and the beginnings of political maneuvering at the State and National levels. Abraham Lincoln had been assassinated and the radicals in Congress began advocating a harsh punishment for Southern States, essentially abandoning Lincoln's plan to "let them up easy". The elections of 1866 saw a pro-Confederate legislature elected which increased Murphy's problems dramatically.

Radicals in Congress finally pushed through their harsh reconstruction policy and the pro-Confederate legislature would not meet again. The South was divided into military districts and were ruled by the army until carpetbagger governments were in place. Murphy decided to remain in office and worked for the best interests of the State while taking abuse from both sides.

When Murphy left office his administration left a budget surplus even though his administration had begun with no funds. This surplus evaporated soon after his successor took office. Murphy returned to Huntsville and took up farming and practicing law once again and lived a quiet life with his family. On September 8 1882 Murphy died unexpectedly at his home. It was not until 1974, when historian John I. Smith published several articles about the Huntsville Massacre, that Murphy's involvement in that event came into public view. A memorial to those murdered in Huntsville was erected and dedicated on September 30, 2006.

External links

* Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture entry: [ Isaac Murphy]
* [ Huntsville Massacre]
* [ Huntsville Massacre Dedication]

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