First attempt, to discuss and present my family origins:
A great deal of time and effort over many years by our immediate family members have revealed a great deal. As an introduction here, the following info is recorded for research into what we have already ascertained. It directly relates to the family members who migrated to the US, but is vital to verifying and tying in the Australian relatives, in particular my own forefathers branches.
The Dalmellington Origin Myth
Richard K. McMurtry
May 2003, Rev May 2006
This essay describes the mythical origins of the family tradition that the New Jersey McMurtrie family of Joseph McMurtrie had its origins in Dalmellington, Ayrshire, Scotland. It shows that the family of David McMurtrie and his nephew William who came to Philadelphia in the 1750s were indeed from Dalmellington, but that the connecting of this family to the New Jersey McMurtries was an inaccurate leap of imagination.
Included are quotes from the correspondence from the 1880s and 1890s that reveal the process by which John Aten McMurtrie of Denver, Colorado came to create this tradition and shows how he was in error. It is recommended that family historians correct their records so as to not perpetuate this error.
It lastly describes the documentary evidence that confirms that the family of David McMurtrie who came to Philadelphia in 1752 and the family of his nephew William McMurtrie who came to Philadelphia in 1758 were from Dalmellington.
There is a tradition that Joseph McMurtrie who died in New Jersey in 1762 was born in Dalmellington, Ayrshire, Scotland irl 1685.
This tradition was circulated amongst family historians in the late 1890s, made its way into print in a New Jersey newspaper in 1934, and has since been found on numerous internet websites. However, despite the frequent repetition, the tradition is not true.
Family historians are therefore urged to replace the Dalmellington birth assertions for Joseph’s birth with the following:
Joseph McMurtrie born unknown died 1762 Sussex County, New Jersey
*birth is estimated at 1690-1705 based on Joseph being 25-30 years old when his son James was born 1720-1730. Birth of James is estimated at 20-30 years before the birth of his eldest son Joseph in 1750. Birthplace is most likely Northern Ireland, rather than Scotland, because of the relatively higher rates of immigration from Ireland during the early 1700s and a tradition that the family was Scotch-Irish, but Scotland is also a possibility.
There are three reasons to reject the Dalmellington origins tradition. First, neither the births of Joseph, Robert and Thomas in the 1690-1710 period nor the marriages in the 1720s, nor the births of their eldest children in the 1720s appear in the parish registers. Second, there is evidence in letters that John Aten McMurtrie of Denver, Colorado created the Dalmellington origin tradition in 1893 in response to a conversation his cousin had with a Dalmellington born McMurtrie who came to Pennsylvania in 1880. Thirdly, before John Aten’s assertion of a Dalmellington origin, no branches of the McMurtrie family had any knowledge of a Dalmellington origin.
John Aten McMurtrie’s Creation of the Dalmellington Origin Tradition
It all began in the spring of 1892 when John Aten McMurtrie hired Henry Teetor, a genealogist, to trace the family in New Jersey back to Scotland. By January 1893, Mr. Teetor had received from Miss Mary McMurtrie of Conygham, PA a treasure chest of information that contained all the pieces of a Dalmellington origin.
Miss Mary sent Mr. Teetor a copy of a letter from Abraham McMurtrie that said, ”
“Joseph and his brother and two sisters who emigrated from Scotland. . .The tract of land they purchased was known as the Alfred Tract..”
Thi.s letter was written in 1878 to William A. McMurtry of Somerville. A copy of it was sent to Miss Mary in Dec 1892 by William McMurtry of Newark, NJ (a cousin of William A.) who seems to have obtained the copy by writing to his cousins in the month previous.
Miss Mary also sent Mr. Teetor a copy of an interview she had with Wilhelm McMurtrie, an immigrant from Dalmellington and which she wrote up on Dec 30, 1892. She also described the circumstances that led to the interview in a letter of Jan 2, 1893. The Jan 2, 1893 letter states that John McMurtrie of Wilkesbarre, PA thought:
“his father (Wilhelm) could give the missing link between America and Scotland.” The key sentences of the interview were:
“…his name is Wilhelm McMurtrie, born June 15, 1818 in Dalmellington, Ayrshire, Scotland. His sister Jean could trace the family back 500 years in Scotland, by the stones in the graveyard… .Two of his grandfather’s brothers (his grandfather died at 86) came to America when they were young and he remembers hearing the name Joseph.”
Miss Mary adds the caveat that, “It seems that could not be the old Joseph of 1761.” Presumably she is noting that the grandfather’s brothers would have been born around 1750 and hence too young to be Joseph and Thomas.
Nevertheless, we find in the papers of John Aten McMurtrie the following:
“Dalmellington, Ayrshire is a town of 1500 inhabitants, situated upon the River Doon…. Here and around this historical locality, the McMurtrie family lived generations before Joseph and brother Thomas and their sisters emigrated to the American colonies….In this old romantic Scottish borough, Joseph McMurtrie was born about 1680.”
He seems to have taken the tradition from Abraham McMurtrie of two brothers coming to America and the story from Wilhelm of two brothers coming to America and then assumed the two traditions referred to the same family.
By 1896, John A. McMurtrie was broadcasting his theory in his correspondence as shown in a reply from Miss Mary Polloch of Easton, PA, dated Dec 30, 1896:
“Do you know where the first Joseph McMurtrie and his wife were buried? … We were very glad to learn from you what part of Scotland he was from. My mother only knew that he came from Scotland about 1735.”
And in a letter from her two weeks later in Jan 12, 1897:
“The account of the origin of the McMurtrie family is very interesting and is just what we were anxious to know.
That he thought there were only two brothers at this point is reflected in his letter to Rev. J.E.Peters, North Cramer Hill, NJ, Jan 13, 1897:
“Thomas McMurtrie was a brother of Joseph and both emigrated from Scotland with two sisters who married James Honner and Richard Hewis….”
At this point, he is still basing his position on the information provided him by Abraham McMurtrie’s 1878 letter.
Rev. Peters response led John to realize there were three brothers, not two as shown in his letter of Feb 2, 1897:
“I think … that you are right as to the number of brothers and sisters who emigrated from Scotland about 1735. Joseph McMurtrie, Robert McMurtrie, Thomas McMurtrie, James Hannah and Robert Hewey. Abram McMurtrie in one of his letters says their names were Richard Hewis and James Homer. The old deeds …would settle the matter.”
Around this time, John wrote to a McMurtrie in Dalmellington in an attempt to get the churchyard and the parish registers checked for McMurtries. The reply from the constable’s office on Feb 28, 1897, helped solidify the Dalmellington origin even though no evidence to support the idea was found:
“I have no doubt but Mr. McMurtrie is correct in thinking that the three McMurtries who emigrated to New Jersey in 1735 came from Dalmellington, as the name is quite a common one in this parish.”
The earliest McMurtrie found in the cemetery was a James McMurtrie 1715-1753 and the constable suggested he might be a younger brother of Joseph, Robert and Thomas.
The constable directed John to a record searcher in Edinburgh who could search the parish registers, but pointed out there were gaps in the register between 1705 and 1720. There is no evidence that John followed up on this.
Subsequent to all this research and definitely after Feb 1897, John appears to have compiled a synthesis of what he had learned in “Notes regarding the McMurtrie Family in Scotland and America” in which he leaves the Scottish origin more ambiguous. He writes:
“Tradition says they emigrated from Ayrshire, Scotland, about the year 1735, but there is no positive proof of that as the earliest record we have of them in America is about 1750 when they bought a tract of land in New Jersey.”
Perhaps he took to heart Mary McMurtrie’s note that the Dalmellington emigrants referred to in Wilhelm’s interview were of a later generation that the New Jersey immigrants.
John nevertheless also cites the origin information he had accumulated in his research namely,
1. “A family of McMurtries settled in Philadelphia long before the Revolutionary War (1761) and were shipping Merchants there. Their descendants say the family came from Ayr, Scotland, and the name of the original descendant was David McMurtrie.”
2. “In 1880 Wilhelm McMurtrie…came to this country from Dalmellington.”
The letter to John containing the Ayrshire origins of the Philadelphia family was not found, but the dates he had for the sons of the Philadelphia progenitor and the citation above about the family coming from Ayr suggests he had corresponded with family historian, David McMurtrie Gregg.
John Aten McMurtrie died in 1899, but the tradition he created continues to be cited as fact despite its inaccuracies.
Origins of the McMurtries of Huntingdon and Philadelphia, PA
Though the New Jersey McMurtries did not come from Dalmellington, there was a Dalmellington family that came to America – in an initial immigration in the 1750s to Philadelphia of David McMurtrie and his nephew William McMurtrie and then by John McMurtrie and his father Wilhelm McMurtrie in the late 1800s.
The family structure of the Dalmellington family looked like this:
David McMurtrie 1721-1785 came to Philadelphia 1752
William McMurtrie 1722
James McMurtrie 1715-1753
William 1740-1809 came to Philadelphia 1759
Duncan 1748 remained in Ayrshire
James (son of James or son of William; came to Kingston, Jamaica)
The first immigrant from Dalmellington was David McMurtrie, a merchant, who came to Philadelphia from London in 1752. He was followed in 1759 by his nephew William McMurtrie who was in business with his uncle for a while. Around the time of the Revolution, David McMurtrie moved inland to Huntingdon County and the families eventually lost touch with one another.
David McMurtrie Gregg (1833-1916), a Civil War general and a great-grandson of the David McMurtrie the immigrant, began a search for the family origins. Apparently, no one in the Huntingdon branch of the family knew the answer to his questions. In 1880, he received a letter from Philadelphia from a William M. Tilghman, a grandson of William McMurtrie, the immigrant.
“My maternal grandfather, William McMurtrie, was born at or near Ayr, in Scotland, about 1739, where his father who was a manufacturer, died about 1756 or 7, leaving 3 sons, James, William, and Duncan, and three daughters, Janet, Margaret, and
James was at that time a Merchant in Kingston, Jamaica. For about a year after his father’s death, William was in the office of a writer to the signet in Glasgow whence he went to Kingston, where he was in business as a merchant for some years.
… His father’s brother David settled in the State some years before my grandfather did.
David McMurtrie Gregg Jr, son of the general, preserved the letter and, based on it, claimed in his history of the Huntingdon family, that David McMurtrie came from Ayrshire. Nowhere does he claim a Dalmellington source.
At the same time as General Gregg was corresponding with the Philadelphia family, he corresponded with E. Stewart McMurtrie (1842-1925) of the Huntingdon family. Stewart in an 1880 letter wrote that he had a small black box that contained a letter from Colvil, of Dalmilington, Ireland, dated Feb 26, directed to David McMurtrie, Merchant, Water Street, Philadelphia. Stewart also provided the dates of the births of the sons of this David. No where in the letter was a Dalmellington origin asserted.
In 1912-1913, Stewart corresponded with a James McMurtrie or Portland, Maine and his brother John of MacDuff, Scotland, who in turn had correspondence with a Rev. John McMurtrie of Skene, Aberdeenshire, Scotland and also a David McMurtrie in Hurlford, Ayrshire, Scotland. Presumably, Stewart sent John McMurtrie the same information he had provided to David McMurtrie Gregg which included the reference to the letter from Colvil in Dalmellington. John McMurtrie replied ” The evidence clearly shows that it is to Dalmellington we must direct our attention in trying to trace your branch of the family.”
There is no evidence that Stewart McMurtrie followed up on this suggestion.
Meanwhile, another historian was independently seeking the same origin information. Adnah McMurtrie of the Thomas McMurtry branch of the New Jersey family was very active in research between 1903 and 1914, between the ages of 31 and 42. He must have been aware of the correspondence of John Aten McMurtrie or of others who assumed the Dalmellington birth of Joseph McMurtrie, the immigrant. This is evidenced by the fact that he wrote to a woman in Dalmellington in 1903. He later became the first to actually secure an abstract of the Dalmellington parish registers. He found no references to the New Jersey progenitors and did not pursue this further.
However, looking at the Dalmellington parish records, along with the tombstone record referred to above, and a recently discovered reference in a 1799 land record, we find that the Dalmellington family very closely, though not perfectly, matches the family of David and William McMurtrie of Philadelphia.
We get a picture of a family headed by a William who had at least three children including James born 1715, David born 1721, and William born 1722 and that this James died 1753 had several children including sons Duncan (b1749) and William (1740). So what we have here is a William born about 1739 with an uncle David born about the right time to have been the immigrant to Philadelphia. And we have Duncan with a brother who went to America.
The land record we have connects Duncan to his grandfather William.
Ayr Sasines: “14 Nov 1799: Duncan McMurtry, weaver in Dalmellington, heir to William McMurtry, weaver, there, his grandfather.”
The tombstone abstract from the 1897 letter from the constable in Dalmellington connects James to Duncan and his sister Agnes:
“Here lies the corpse of James McMurtrie, weaver Dalmellington who died March the 2nd 1753, aged 38 years. Also the corpse of Agnes McMurtrie his daughter who died October 1753 aged 1 year. Also the body of Jane Stevenson spouse to the above James McMurtrie”
Hence, James born ca 1715.
Birth Records from Dalmellington Parish Register
1721 David son of Wm McM
1722 15 Apr Wm son of Wm McM
1737 26 Mar Janet dau of James McM
1738 5 Nov William son of James McM
1740 27 Aug William son of James McM
1742 Nov? 16 Agnes dau of James McM
1744 22 Jul Elizabeth dau of James McM
1746? 26 May Agnes dau of James McM
1748 8 May Duncan of James MeM
1751 5 May Jannet dau of James McM
We are missing James b 1715 son of William but that is explained because there is a gap in the birth registers from 1705 to 1720. We are also missing James son of James for some unknown reason. The younger James appears to be corrobated by the ledger books of David McMurtrie which mention a letter to James McMurtrie in Kingston.
I also found an obscure note from my visit to the Huntingdon County Historical Society which indicated that a letter to James McMurtrie dated 1751 made mention “…if you willing to venture your son William abroad….as your Brother and I have confisted at London….”. This appears to be a Thomas McJannet letter to David’s brother James and confirms that William McMurtrie was the son of James.
I also have a note:
“..letter from my brother’s son James McMurtrie in Kingston…”. This appears to be a letter of David referring to their being a James, presumably also a son of James. These two brothers going to America would correspond to the tradition of Wilhelm/William McMurtrie in the Dalmellington family that came in the 1800s to northern PA that his grandfather had two brothers who went to America.
Later Elaborations of the Dalmellington Origin Tradition
Frederick James McMurtrie (1867-1947) of Detroit MI was an avid family historian from 1912 until his death. In 1933, parts of his family history were published in The Compendium of
American. In 1934, his “The Coming of the McMurtrie Family to Northwestern New Jersey” was published in the Blairstown Press newspaper in 18 installments. In his article, he assumed a Dalmellington origin for both the New Jersey and the Philadelphia families and asserted that David and William of Philadelphia were brothers to each other and sons of Joseph McMurtrie who d 1762 in Sussex County, New Jersey. A chart showing the family as construed by Frederick James McMurtrie compared to the family as we currently understand it is attached at the end of this essay.
Frederick James also seems to have influenced Ira Smith Brown to include a Dalmellington origin in his 1940s manuscript on the branch of the New Jersey family that came to central Pennsylvania in the late 1700s. The manuscript was published by Mr. Brown’s daughter in 1964 as One McMurtrie Family.
Frederick James seems to have been motivated by a desire to connect all the McMurtrie families back to Scotland. WE do not know how he concluded there was a connection between the Philadelphia familes and the New Jersey families. It is possible in his corresponce he learned of the tradition of a Dalmellington origin created by John Aten McMurtrie in 1892 and learned of the tradition of an Ayrshire origin to the Philadelphia families and guessed at a relationship.
Excerpts from original sources
Excerpts from the Denver collection” of John Aten McMurtrie as transcribed by A.D. McMurtrie in March 1948.
“Dalmellington, Ayrshire is a town of 1500 inhabitants, situated upon the River Here and around this historical locality, the McMurtrie famiy lived generations before Joseph and brother Thomas and their sisters emigrated to the American colonies.”
Tradition says they emigrated from Ayrshire, Scotland about the year 1735, but there is no positive proof of that as the earliest record we have of them in America is about 1750 when they bought a tract of land in New Jersey.
Letter of Abraham McMurtrie,great-grandson of Joseph McMurtrie, the immigrant, from Belvidere, NJ, dated Nov 9, 1878 to William A. McMurtry, Somerville, NJ
The letter indicates he had lost the “old records a long time ago” and implies the letter’s assertions were from memory. The letter also suggests that he was familiar with records in the state archives in Burlington, NJ. The early history is a bit garbled – he refers to “Joseph McMurtrie and his brother and two sisters who emigrated from Scotland” as purchasers of the “Alfred” tract and indicates that Joseph of the 1761 will was the father of the purchasers and that this Joseph had a brother.
Letter from William McMurtry, of Somerville, NJ to Miss Mary A. McMurtrie, Dec 26, 1892 “The above is an exact copy of a letter from Abraham McMurtrie in 1878 to my cousin William
Letter dated Dec 30, 1892, Conyngham, PA (probably Miss Mary McMurtrie to Henry Teetor)
“I came across an old Scotchman recently, as broad in brogue as you can find outside his native clime- his name was Wilhelm McMurtrie, born June 15, 1818 in Dalmellington, Ayrshire, Scotland. His sister Jean could trace the family back 500 years in Scotland, by the stones in the graveyard. .. Two of his grandfather’s brothers (his grandfather died at 86) came to America when they were
young and he remembers hearing the name Joseph. It seems that could not be the old Joseph of 1761. He only remembers as far back as his grandfather, named Duncan.. \\
Letter from Mary Alice McMurtrie to Henry D. Teetor,Jan 2, 1893
“In one of our County papers at election time, I saw the name of John McMurtrie -who was running for some office, and in connection with his name the word Scotland. I wrote him and received an early reply. He thought his father, living with him aged 74 could give the missing link between America and Scotland. This old gentleman’s name is Wilhelm, came to America in 1880, John the son has been here for 26 years. The old gentleman is a weaver by trade as was his father. … Papa and I went to Wilkesbarre, Pa to see them and the result of the interview I have given you.
*this would be 1893-26 years 1867
Letter from Mary Pollock to John A. McMurtrie, Dec 30, 1896
“Do you know where the first Joseph McMurtrie and his wife were buried? …
We were very glad to learn from you what part of Scotland he was from. My mother only knew that he came from Scotland about 1735.”
Letter from Mary Pollock of Easton, PA to John A. McMurtrie, Jan 12, 1897
“The account of the origin of the McMurtrie family is very interesting and is just what we were anxious to know.”
John Hendry, Constable, Dalmellington, Ayrshire, Feb 28, 1897
“I have no doubt but Mr. McMurtrie is correct in thinking that the three McMurtries who emigrated to New Jersey in 1735 came from Dalmellington, as the name is quite a common one in this parish.
Books relating to births and marriages were removed from Dalmellington to Edinburgh. A note of the condition of these books:
Births blank May 1662 till Oct 1671 and July 1676 till Aug 1690 after which the -es are agin intermixed with the births. Both records blank 1705 to 1719.
Letter from J.A.McMurtrie to Rev. J. E. Peters, North Cramer Hill, NJ, Jan 13, 1897
“Thomas McMurtrie was a brother of Joseph and both emigrated from Scotland with two sisters who married James Honner and Richar Hewis..
Sometime in the spring of 1892, 1 employed Henry Dudley Teetor, a genealogist, to compile and publish for me a record of the McMurtrie family, with the understanding that he was to take the matter up in New Jersey where they settled and follow the family back into Scotland. I paid him considerable money, and have received very little satisfaction. About all the data I received from him I afterwards understood he obtained from Miss Mary A. McMurtrie, having heard nothing from him lately, I am inclined to think he has dropped the matter. In the past few months, I have taken the matter up with Miss McMurtrie and have collected some data on the Joseph McMurtrie side of the family.”
Letter from J.E, Peters to John A. McMurtrie, Jan 19, 1897
“I am now tracing the property of Joseph as that will tell us more nearly when the three brothers, as in my family tradition, or when the two brothers and married sisters, as in your family tradition came to America.”
“Most probably he (Thomas) was a brother of Joseph. So my grandmother, who died in my house aged 85 said.”
“In another respect, the traditions do not agree, for my grandmother (as I recollect her saying) never mentioned any sisters and she had a tradition of an Alexander.
Letter from J.E. Peters to John A. McMurtrie, Jan 22, 1897
“New light has come to me since I wrote you.. I known now by far than I did a few weeks ago as to the members of the family to which Joseph and Thomas belonged.”
I an now to go to Trenton, Burlington for proofs of what I now have. There were five brothers and sisters, so my grandmother was right. A Robert whom I have been at for a long time is now placed.”
Letter from J. A. McMurtrie to Rev. J.E. Peters, Feb 1, 1897
“I think … that you are right as to the number of brothers and sisters who emigrated from Scotland about 1735, Joseph McMurtrie, Robert McMurtrie, Thomas McMurtrie, James Hannah and Robert Hewey. Abram McMurtrie in one of his letters says their names were Richard Hewis and James Homer. The old deeds .. would settle the matter.”