Until recently, I had assumed that my 3rd-great-grandfather, Luke Robinson McMurry, was the only sibling of his family to migrate to Washington from the family’s home in Kentucky. I also assumed that Luke left Kentucky for Indiana on his own, as a young man. I recently learned that both of these assumptions were wrong. Luke appears to have been less of a maverick and remained closer to his birth family than I had imagined.
I don’t know why I thought that Luke broke with his family and moved north and then west on his his own, but that appears to not be the case. From the record of his siblings’ birthdates and places, it appears that Luke’s entire family migrated about 225 miles north when Luke was only 6–9 years old, moving from southern central Kentucky (Allen County, KY) to eastern central Indiana (Montgomery County, IN) by the time of the birth of his youngest sibling, Sarah Margaret McMurry, on January 22, 1835. I’ll look into evidence for an earlier family migration to Indiana in this post.
As for whether Luke and his immediate family ventured to Washington Territory on their own or with a larger group of family members, I recently visited Washington State’s Southwest Regional Archives facility and went through their old land grant indexes to help work out local land ownership details for our family. In their Grantor Indexes (handwritten indexes to real estate sales, organized by seller), I found an entry that documented a sale of land in January 1892 by Luke’s eldest brother, Isaac McMurry. The deed that was indexed gave the names of Isaac’s wife and daughter, confirming that this Isaac McMurry was indeed Luke’s brother. Later in this post, I’ll see what else I can learn about Luke’s brother joining him in Washington.
Did Luke move to Indiana with his family when still a child?
The birth dates and birth places of Luke and his siblings argue for Luke having moved from Kentucky to Indiana when he was still a child. What other evidence is there to support this?
I found two documents which support the idea of an earlier migration to Indiana by Luke’s parents (rather than a later migration by Luke on his own). The documents I found are two consecutively numbered certificates from the U.S. General Land Office, documenting the purchase of a total of 240 acres in Montgomery County, Indiana:
Luke’s father, James Benton McMurry (1788–1838), my 4th-great-grandfather, was apparently the purchaser of the 240 acres. The Land Act of 1820 allowed settlers to purchase land in what was considered “The West” at a minimum price of $1.25 per acre. The certificates shown above don’t record the amount James McMurry paid for this land, but it would have been at least $300 (about $6365 in 2012 dollars).
In the series of aerial images presented below, the exact location of James’ two adjoining parcels of land (outlined in red in the first four images) is shown in increasing levels of detail:
With a more thorough search of the records, I found a total of six land certificates relevant to the question of the McMurry migration to Indiana. In addition to the two purchases above (a total of 240 acres), James also bought another two parcels of land (also totaling 240 acres), bringing his Indiana land holdings to 480 acres:
I also found another two certificates for parcels totaling 240 acres that were bought by James’ younger half-brother, Hisner McMurry (his unusual given name was his mother’s maiden name: Christena Dice Hisner).
So two half-brothers from Allen County, Kentucky, apparently migrated together to Montgomery County, Indiana, and purchased six parcels of land totaling 720 acres. These six purchases were all finalized and certified on the same date—January 3, 1831—but the identical dates may just be an artifact of the way these certificates were processed and issued by the General Land Office.
The land purchased by the two half-brothers in 1831 is highlighted below—James’ purchases in red and yellow, and Hisner’s purchases in blue:
Given the above-documented land purchase records, I think it’s clear that Luke moved to Indiana as a child as part of a larger family migration. The reasons for this move are not yet clear. My wife suspects there’s a connection to the Hard Shell Baptist movement, and I tend to think she’s onto something. Another reason people would cross the Ohio River from Kentucky to Indiana was to live in an area where slavery was outlawed. Slavery became illegal in Indiana in 1816 due to the state constitution, and slavery was essentially non-existent in Indiana after 1826.
Did Luke’s older brother Isaac follow him to Washington?
Prior to my trip to Washington early last month, all I knew about Luke’s older brother Isaac was:
- he was a Baptist clergyman
- he was born on July 24, 1814 in Scottsville (Allen County), Kentucky
- he was married to Jane Semple Downing
- he and Jane had nine children (only four lived to adulthood):
- Sarah Elizabeth (born August 10, 1838) (died young)
- Benjamin Franklin (born May 30, 1841) (died young)
- James Silas (born September 7, 1843, in Allen co., KY)
- Lavina Judson (born August 15, 1845, in Allen co., KY)
- Amanda Adeline (born October 24, 1847, in KY)
- Mary Isabella (born May 27, 1851) (died young)
- Ann Borman (born November 19, 1853, in Allen co., KY) (died young)
- Elizabeth Ellen (born February 27, 1857, in Allen co., KY) (died young)
- Louretta Jane (born October 22, 1859, in Allen co., KY)
- he died on January 4, 1892, in Crittenden County, Kentucky
- he was buried in Repton Cemetery in Crittenden County, Kentucky
My previous assumption had been that Isaac stayed in Kentucky all his life (in part because he was born and died in Kentucky, in part because all his children were born in Kentucky, and in part because I had no evidence that he was ever outside of Kentucky).
But then, in Washington State’s Southwest Regional Archives facility, I found an index entry documenting the January 19, 1892, sale of land between an Isaac McMurry and his wife (“et ux”) and an Amanda A. Covert:
The index notes that the original warranty deed for the sale can be found on page 114 of volume 33 of the bound deeds.
If you’re good with dates, you’ll note that this document was signed and dated two weeks after Isaac’s death in Kentucky. My uninformed guess is that hadn’t gotten around to giving the land to his daughter before he died, and someone was doing a favor for the late reverend’s widow by allowing the land to be deeded to his daughter after his death so that it wouldn’t be a part of his estate.
Isaac’s wife’s name is given as Jane S. McMurry, and Amanda A. Covert is declared as being their daughter, and all are living in the same house at the time of the sale. Looking again at my records for Isaac’s family, I see that while he died in Kentucky, both his wife and his daughter (who died 13 months apart) are buried in Tumwater, WA:
So Isaac owned land in Olympia that was deeded to his daughter after his death, but did he live in Washington, or did he just own land there? According to the 1892 census of the Washington Territory, Isaac and Jane were living in Thurston County in 1892 (as was Isaac’s younger brother Luke, although I can’t easily tell how close they lived, as the enumerator rewrote the census in alphabetical order, rather than by location of house).
Isaac’s younger brother Luke was living in Washington by at least 1883, and Luke bought land on Ward’s Homestead in Thurston County in April, 1884. I haven’t found evidence of Isaac in Washington before 1889, and I don’t yet know when he arrived. I do know that he and Jane were living in Parker County, Texas, in 1880. For much of the 1870s, Isaac appears to have lived in Crittendon County, Kentucky, teaching and serving as commissioner of schools for the county in addition to being a clergyman. By 1876, his brother Luke had migrated to Lonoke County, Arkansas. From this limited evidence, it appears that older brother Isaac let younger brother Luke prospect for areas to settle, and then Isaac would follow suit and move to an area near where his younger brother had settled. An interesting idea, but one that needs further evidence and consideration.