So I still can’t find my journal with my notes in it. Now I’m starting to doubt myself… was there ever really a journal?! I had my library special order that book from another library, so I can’t get it back easily to write this. But if you’re interested, check out the book yourself: it’s called The Murrays of Murray Hill by, Charles Monaghan.
Robert Murray and his wife Mary Lindley Murray lived about a mile outside of New York City, on Murray Hill. He was a well-to-do Quaker merchant, and his farm, known as Inclenberg, included all the high ground in the vicinity. One note from the book that I did find was a description of Inclenberg. I hope my drawings did it justice in The Dreamer!
“[Inclenberg was] approached by an anvenue of magnolias, elms, spruce and lombardy poplars, which led to a wide lawn bordered on either side by extensive gardens. The spacious, two-story mansion had a broad veranda extnding around three sides and the front windows commanded a view over Kip’s Bay and the East River.”
Later the book said, “it was frequently spoken of as one of the loveliest places on the island.” I have no doubt that it was!
The Murrays are remembered during the Revolutionary War because of what happened at their home on September 15th, 1776. Legend has it that Mary Murray and her two lovely daughters Beulah and Susannah fed Howe and his officers Maderia and cake, delaying them with their womanly charms, buying the Americans time to escape New York City without being pursued. There were even two Broadway plays about it, Dearest Enemy and A Small War on Murray Hill. Most historians treat the legend as complete hogwash, and scoff at the Historical Marker that the Daughters of the American Revolution erected on the site of the Murray Mansion, commemorating Mary Murray as an American patriot and hero.
But Mary Lindley Murray had several cousins who fought for the Americans–and even fought at the Battle of Long Island just weeks prior. This is often cited as evidence of her secret patriotism–that she had married a loyalist but held her familial patriotic ties closer to her heart. I don’t think this idea holds water for several reasons. Firstly, the couple had been married for thirty odd years by the time the famous event happened. Thirty years before the Revolution, the French and Indian War hadn’t even been fought! Let alone the events that followed which highlighted the schism between Britain and her American Colonies. Mary Lindley couldn’t have been raised with those sorts of persuasions because they didn’t exist in this way at that time. Further more, New York in 1776 was home to a divided citizenship–more so than most of the other major American cities. Many families had members with sympathies on different sides. That two cousins fought for America isn’t enough to convince me that Mary would have differed from her husband politically.
What I believe is that the Murrays–both Robert and Mary–were the most common sort of American at the time: the type that was willing to give their allegiance to whichever side had the most potential to bring them personal gain. There are records that show that Robert and his grown son John entered into business with both sides during the war. Sometimes with the Americans, sometimes with the British, and sometimes both simultaneously! They were involved in manufacturing gunpowder (I can’t remember what part of the process) so they were actually profiting from the war. During the British occupation of New York City (1776-1783) the Murray mansion hosted many lavish balls for the British officers to attend. But the week before Howe used it as a rendezvous point, it had actually been George Washington’s headquarters! (I wrote about Howe’s motives for lingering at Inclenberg in my previous blog post about Kip’s Bay.)
We know that Howe’s lingering at the Murray’s home did indeed aid the American retreat. Thousands of soldiers would have been taken prisoner if not. But did she do it on purpose? I really don’t think so. Did it happen? Yes, absolutely! There was a surgeon in the Continental army named James Thacher who journaled regularly about the war. He mentions Mary Murray days after the Kip’s Bay affair, and accredits her with saving the American Army by entertaining the British officers. At the very least, the idea gained traction and spread quickly.
It’s a beloved American legend, though like most legends, most of it probably isn’t true. When I wrote Issue #10 of The Dreamer I tried to hold in balance this cherished little story with the historical facts I was able to track down. I hope my version reads as a plausible (if fictional!) explanation of how the legend could have gotten started. I tried to pay tribute to both fact and myth. I hope you enjoyed my interpretation.
Well, that was from memory and a few websites so do the research yourself before you quote me in a history paper! I don’t trust websites for hard facts, but they can often point you in the right direction and can sometimes lead you a source that you can trust.