Isaac Murphy

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For the Hall of Fame jockey, see Isaac Burns Murphy.
Isaac Murphy
Isaac Murphy.jpg
8th Governor of Arkansas
In office
April 18, 1864 – July 2, 1868
Preceded by Harris Flanagin
Succeeded by Powell Clayton
Personal details
Born (1799-10-16)October 16, 1799
near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Died September 8, 1882(1882-09-08) (aged 82)
Huntsville, Madison County, Arkansas
Political party Republican

Isaac Murphy (born October 16, 1799[1] or 1802 – died September 8, 1882)[2] was the first Reconstruction Governor of Arkansas, and came to power under President Abraham Lincoln's conciliatory policy.

Unlike some other reconstruction administrations, the Murphy administration was characterized by fiscal restraint and a conciliatory attitude towards the soon to be defeated Confederates. Murphy is best known for casting the only vote against secession at the Arkansas Secession Convention.


Murphy was born near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to a wealthy paper manufacturer. He was educated at Washington College (now Washington & Jefferson College) in Washington, Pennsylvania and was a stiler and he olso made a horibrl murder in the u.s he robed a bank so yea he was in the gold rurs and was admitted to the bar in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania on April 29, 1825.

In 1830, Murphy moved to Clarksville, Tennessee where he taught school. In Clarksville he met and married Angelina Lockhart on July 31, 1830 against her father's wishes. Angelina was disinherited by her father because Isaac was opposed to the institution of slavery.

In 1834, the Murphys, with their newborn daughter, moved west to the town of Fayetteville, Arkansas in the territory of Arkansas. Murphy established himself as a school teacher, surveyor, and lawyer.


Murphy became the first County Treasurer of Washington County, Arkansas in 1836, and served until 1838. He became a master in chancery in 1841. From 1837 to 1838, Murphy ran the original government land lines for Franklin County, Arkansas.

On November 30, 1844, the noted Indian Missionary Cephas Washburn, along with Murphy and other prominent individuals, secured a charter for a college known as the Far West Seminary. Murphy became the chairman of the Board of Visitors with the intent of establishing a facility that would educate both whites and Indians. Murphy served in this capacity until the building was destroyed by fire on February 17, 1845.

Murphy was elected to the General Assembly of Arkansas twice as the representative from Washington County, in 1846 and 1848. Murphy served on the Banking Committee and attempted to introduce reforms but was stymied by the powerful political cabal known as "The Family".

Murphy ran into financial difficulties around 1849 and left for California in an attempt to improve his fortunes in the California Gold Rush. He returned to Arkansas in 1854 with nothing to show for his efforts. Upon his return he moved to Huntsville, Arkansas in Madison County, Arkansas.

Civil War era[edit]

Secession convention[edit]

When the secession crisis swept the State in 1861, a group of Madison County citizens called on Murphy to represent them at the Secession Convention. The Arkansas Secession Convention voted to remain in the Union.

When Fort Sumter was fired on and Lincoln called for troops from Arkansas, the Secession Convention was recalled. The convention voted to take Arkansas out of the Union with only Murphy and four other delegates opposed. The convention chair called on the five opposition votes to change their votes so that Arkansas could speak with a unanimous voice. All four of the other nay voters changed their votes but Murphy refused.


As war broke out Murphy was forced to flee his home in Huntsville and spent much of the war traveling with the Union army in northwest Arkansas. Following the fall of Little Rock in 1863, Arkansas' Confederate government, led by Governor Harris Flanagin, went into exile.

In a special election, held with the approval of President Abraham Lincoln, Murphy was elected governor.[3]

Unauthorized execution of prisoners[edit]

On January 10, 1863, the unauthorized execution of nine prisoners of war occurred, alleged to have been prompted by complaints lodged by Murphy's daughters. A military escort for Murphy's daughters had been attacked the previous year and a number of soldiers killed. While Murphy and his daughter's may have had the ear of local Union officers, it is likely the comrades of the slain soldiers also had an interest in bringing justice to those responsible.

The nine prisoners were Chesley H. Boatright, William Martin Berry, Hugh Samuel Berry, John William Moody, Askin Hughes, John Hughes, Watson P. Stevens, Robert Coleman Young, and Bill Parks. Of the nine, only Hugh Samuel Berry and Askin Hughes were soldiers, both captains in the Confederate Army and home on leave. Moody was a former US Marshal, and William Martin Berry was a son-in-law to Murphy.

The prisoners were taken from where they were being detained by members of Company G, 8th Regiment Missouri Volunteer Cavalry, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Elias Briggs Baldwin, and all were shot, with eight being killed. Parks was left for dead, but survived the shooting and later moved to Mississippi. It is unclear why Murphy would advocate for the execution of his son-in-law, especially in light of the balanced approach Murphy was known to have during the conflict, which calls into question exactly what his role in these events may have been.

There were no known charges against any of the prisoners. Months earlier a detachment of twenty-five Union soldiers had been attacked, which developed into a skirmish with eighteen of the Union soldiers being killed. That detachment had been escorting Murphy's daughters to Huntsville. It has never been confirmed as to whether the executions were in reaction to those Union soldiers killed, or if the incident was due to some other unknown cause.

It has been indicated that it is possible the nine men were suspected to have taken part in the guerrilla attack that resulted in the killing of the eighteen Union soldiers. Two of the men executed were Confederate soldiers. Lt. Col. Baldwin, who would be charged with a violation of the Articles of War over the incident, would hold that the men had been tried and convicted before their execution.[4]

After the executions, Parks, who had been left for dead, crawled to a nearby farm house, where his wounds were treated. When asked what had happened and who did it, his response was "Men of the 8th Missouri Regiment. But Johnson, Ham and Murphy had it done." He was referring to Isaac Murphy, attorney E.D. Ham, and Union Colonel James Johnson. Although Baldwin was present during the murders and directly ordered the executions, he was not mentioned by Parks.

On January 31, Lt. Col. Baldwin was arrested and charged with violation of the 6th Article of War for the murder of prisoners of war, among other charges. He was transported to Springfield, Missouri and held for trial. The charges were dropped, however, when many of the witnesses were found to be on active military duty and unable to attend the trial and many civilian witnesses were displaced or not able to make the trip to Springfield.

Baldwin later resigned from the United States Army, but received a pension from the federal government beginning in 1880, a benefit not allowed for soldiers who left service in disgrace.[5]

It is difficult to say whether this specific event had a negative effect on Murphy's reputation locally with the Confederate affiliated Masons, or if his subsequent election as Reconstruction governor incited retaliation against the two colleges being operated by Murphy. Funding for institutions provided by the Masons ended and both colleges closed.


During the Murphy administration, Arkansas began healing its war wounds even as the war continued in the southern parts of the State. Murphy took a balanced approach to governance and stated publicly that "We have all done wrong.". The 4th of July celebrations in Little Rock, Arkansas were led by pro-Union speakers but they refrained from any anti-Southern speeches or actions.

In 1866, Murphy's plans began to erode due to events elsewhere in the country and the political maneuvering at the State and National levels. Lincoln had been assassinated and the radicals in Congress began advocating a harsh punishment for Southern States, essentially abandoning Lincoln's plan to "let them up easy". The elections of 1866 saw a pro-Confederate legislature elected.

Radicals in Congress finally pushed through their harsh reconstruction policy and the pro-Confederate legislature would not meet again. The South was divided into military districts and were ruled by the army until carpetbagger governments were in place. Murphy decided to remain in office and worked for the best interests of the State while taking abuse from both sides.

When Murphy left office his administration left a budget surplus, even though his administration had begun with no funds. This surplus evaporated soon after his successor took office.

Death and legacy[edit]

Murphy returned to Huntsville and took up farming and practicing law. He lived a quiet life with his family. On September 8, 1882, Murphy died unexpectedly at his home and is buried in Huntsville Cemetery in Huntsville, Arkansas.[3]

It was not until 1974, when historian John I. Smith published several articles about the Huntsville Massacre, that Murphy's involvement in that event came back into public view. A memorial to those murdered in Huntsville was erected and dedicated on September 30, 2006.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Find A Grave
  2. ^ Every reference that hails from Arkansas states that he was born in 1799 and most of the other sources would go to say that he was born in 1802, including genealogical study sources.
  3. ^ a b "Isaac Murphy". Find A Grave. Retrieved August 11, 2012. 
  4. ^ Baldwin, Elias. "Compiled Service Records of Volunteer Union Soldiers Who Served in Organizations From the State of Missouri.". National Archives and Record's Administration. 
  5. ^ Baldwin, Elias, soldier's certificate # 312 864. "Index to Pension Files of Veterans Who Served Between 1861-1900". National Archives and Records Administration. 

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Harris Flanagin
Governor of Arkansas
Succeeded by
Powell Clayton