John Murray

Rev. John Murray


John Murray, for whom Murray Grove was named, was considered by early Universalists to be the father of Universalism in America. He was born in Alton, Hampshire (fifteen miles northeast of Winchester Hampshire England), on December 10, 1741. His father was an Anglican and his mother a Presbyterian, both strict Calvinists, and his home life was attended by religious severity. In 1751 the family settled in Ireland. There he converted to Methodism and, though never a minister in Britain, was a gifted lay preacher. In 1760, Murray returned to England and joined George Whitefield’s Methodist congregation in London. 

Having been sent by the group to the home of a young woman who had been won away by the Universalist teachings of James Relly, with the mission of winning her back to the fold, exactly the opposite happened. She was able to answer all of his objections and questions, caused him to explore Relly’s faith further and ultimately become completely convinced of the truth of Universalism. Upon returning to the Methodists with his good news, he was excommunicated. 


In 1770 he emigrated to “lose himself in America,” only to encounter Thomas Potter and be persuaded, in the course of events described in detail in The Story of Thomas Potter and John Murray. He gave his first Universalist sermon on the American continent and became known as one of the parents of Universalism in America. 

Judith Sargent Murray

In 1774 he settled at Gloucester, Massachusetts, and established the first Universalist congregation there out of a Rellyite study group. There he met his second wife, the author and catechist Judith Sargent Murray. Their church, the Independent Christian Church, played a central role in one of the landmark court cases establishing the separation of church and state. It is located on historic Middle Street in Gloucester and is still the home of an active Unitarian Universalist congregation. 

Murray was suspected of being a British spy, but in 1775 was chaplain of the Rhode Island Brigade before Boston, and was supported by General Washington in the face of protests by more orthodox Protestant chaplains. He participated in the first general Universalist Convention at Oxford, Massachusetts, September 1785, and in 1793 was a central figure in the creation of the Universalist Church of America. On October 23, 1793, he became pastor of the Universalist Society of Boston and faithfully served it until October 19, 1809, when paralysis stopped his work. 

He was a man of great courage and eloquence, and in the defense of his views endured much detestation and abuse. In regard to Jesus, he taught that in him God became the Son; for “God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost, are no more than different exhibitions of the self-same existent, omnipresent Being.” He taught that all men would ultimately be saved through the sacrifice of Christ, the basis for this being the union of all men in Christ, just as they were united with Adam, and therefore partaking of the benefits of his sacrifice. He was also a writer of hymns and a compiler of hymnals. 

Murray suffered a debilitating stroke on October 19, 1809, which compelled him to give up preaching, and died in Boston, Massachusetts on September 3, 1815, where he is buried in the historic Mount Auburn Cemetery.