Thomas Potter and John Murray’s Story

In the mid-1700s, the land that is now Murray Grove, in Good Luck, New Jersey, was being farmed by Thomas Potter, a member of a locally prominent family. Though unlettered, Potter was a successful and deeply religious man. Probably a Quaker Baptist, he had caught wind of a radical new theological current called universalism: the idea, against strict Calvinist predestination, that all human beings will ultimately attain salvation. Based on his understanding of scripture as read to him, he worked out his own strong beliefs. He sought out those with knowledge, and with similar views, including visiting ministers, inviting them to his home to discuss current issues. 

About 1760 – his wife Mary having grown tired of hosting such discussions in her house – Potter built a meeting-house for the express purpose of housing a preacher of the universalist gospel. But, for ten years, he never found one. However, he persevered in his faith that one would be provided him, in the face of his neighbors’ skepticism.

At the same time, in England and Ireland, a young man with an intense interest in religion and a natural talent for public speaking was reaching a life crisis. Having first converted from conventional Anglicanism to Methodism, John Murray had then been convinced by universalist doctrines he read of and heard in London. Losing his position in the Methodist church as a result – and soon thereafter losing both his infant son and his beloved wife to illness – he was barely rescued from debtor’s prison. Downcast and distressed, he was determined to give up religion altogether and make a new life for himself in America.


Murray booked passage on the brig “Hand in Hand”, bound for New York. Diverted first to Philadelphia, they were on their way back up the Jersey coast when they swept over a sandbar in a fog just off Cranberry Inlet (which no longer exists) into Barnegat Bay. The captain off-loaded some of the cargo onto a smaller local vessel, which he asked Murray to oversee. The brig, now lighter and the wind having shifted, was able to return to the open ocean; but the wind changed again and the smaller boat was unable to follow. The “Hand in Hand” then proceeded on to New York, leaving Murray, the boat, the sailors and the cargo behind, trapped in the bay. They came ashore and, when Murray went in search of provisions, he was directed to the Potter home.


Thomas Potter, having seen the vessel stranded, met him with: “I have longed to see you. I have been expecting you a long time!” When Potter learned of Murray’s background, he was convinced that this was the preacher of universalism for whom he had been waiting, sent to him by providence. Murray protested that preaching was now in his past, that he wanted nothing more to do with it. Besides, he had to leave as soon as the wind allowed his boat out of the bay. Potter responded, “The wind will never change, sir, until you have delivered to us, in that meeting-house, a message from God.” 

Finally, they agreed that, if the boat were still stuck in the bay the following Sunday, Murray would preach in Potter’s meetinghouse. If it were freed before then, he would depart with it. The ship was still there on Sunday. Murray did, in fact, preach a sermon on universalism to Potter and his family and neighbors, on September 30, 1770. As soon as he was finished, a sailor ran up to inform him that the wind had turned, the ship was free, and they could now leave for New York. 


Murray departed but soon returned to Good Luck and his friend Potter. Freshly inspired, he stayed in this area for several years, traveling around to the nearby towns and villages, preaching universalism to enthusiastic listeners. He eventually left again, making his way to New England, earning ever greater popularity. He found a permanent home in Gloucester, creating and ministering to the Universalist church there – the first in this country – and later in Boston. He was instrumental in the organization of Universalism as a denomination in 1793. 

At Potter’s death, probably during the Revolutionary War, his will left the meetinghouse and the acre of land on which it sat to Murray. Murray was unable to claim it before his own death in 1815. It passed into the hands of a local Methodist congregation. The original building was taken down, and the current chapel was built on the site, in 1841.