The old Midway Church got a new minister in March 1811 — the Rev. Murdoch Murphy from the Carolinas, who preached there for about 13 years.
Murphy started writing in a diary in 1813, and I had the privilege of reading a copy of it.
He wrote about the Midway Church, his sermons, how many joined the church, his plantation, slaves, etc. Murphy also wrote about his wife and child and his family back in North Carolina. He was always concerned about being so far away from his aging parents, brothers and sisters. Sometimes, years passed between him seeing them.
The church provided a home and land for the pastor to live; slaves also were provided. After Murphy had been there for a few years, the church decided to charge a fee of 75 cents per pew to raise money in order to give Murphy a raise. The parents sat on the pew’s ends, and the children sat between them on the pew that the family had paid for.
The church also gave Murphy $200 one year to buy some books for his library. A Britannica Encyclopedia set was the first choice.
Gen. Daniel Stewart’s plantation in Goshen Swamp was purchased by the church for a glebe for the use of the minister. In the last years of his ministry, Murphy’s salary was raised from $800 to $1,000 per year. They also agreed for him to visit his family two months each year during the summer.
The malaria fever took the lives of many people around the wet areas, and the people didn’t know the reason.
Also, difficulties in childbirth took the lives of many young women. It was not uncommon for a man to be married as many as four times in his life. Murphy told of one church member and his wife who had 33 children between them, as both had been married before.
Murphy was born around 1777 in North Carolina; his wife, Elizabeth, also from North Carolina, was born in 1784. They had a little girl named Catherine, who was born in 1809. On Dec. 23, 1816, his wife, 32, died and was buried on Christmas Day. Little Catherine, 7, died the day after Christmas. He did not give the reason, but the fever was killing people often in that area. Both are buried in the Midway Cemetery.
By April 1817, Murphy, not content living alone, was thinking about marriage again. He had made a resolution before he was first married not to marry a widow.
Now, his mind was altered, and he preferred a lady in widowhood. She couldn’t, however, have many children, nor be old or wholly without property — one child or two at most with suitable provision for them was as much as he could well endure.
Murphy said he was too old to marry one who was not past her teens and too young to marry a venerable matron. He said he was too poor to marry without having some little prudential respect to property. Murphy thought of a lady, who had one child, who was his cousin and lived in North Carolina and decided she would make a good wife. He wrote her a letter and made his proposition.
Murphy waited and waited for an answer. Three months went by before she finally answered his letter. His hopes were high.
A month or two later, he went to a meeting and heard from someone that his lady cousin had married another young man. His heart was broken, and he prayed about this situation many times.
Murphy was willing to accept it as God’s will for his life, but he did not give up!
As the months went by, he thought of three other women who would meet his expectations. Murphy wrote a wooing letter to each one and waited for a reply. However, he was turned down by all three women.
Murphy did not write any more in his diary of pursuing a wife. Maybe they did not want the responsibility of being a minister’s wife.
Through research, I found that he did marry again in 1827 to a 16-year-old cousin, Caroline McMillan, in Alabama, when he was 50. They had two sons, Neill and John.
Murphy grew a little cotton and mutton corn, guinea corn and many acres of sweet potatoes; he tried to grow rice in the cypress swamps but had no luck. In June 1815, he wrote about how difficult it was in this climate to cure bacon hams that would preserve them to last through the summer. He said there was no effectual remedy that he knew against worms and bugs. It was not always sufficient to pack them in barrels with salt and chaff or ashes.
The year before, about the last of February, Murphy made bags of newspapers and tied his hams in them to preserve them from flies, which he supposed generated the worms. But he decided he must have been too late in making the experiment, as it did not work.
The next year, Murphy found the same evil taking place and wished to do more experiments. He found that the worm or bug entered the flesh not far from the bone and never attempted to penetrate the skin where it was whole. He thought that a rag of well-tarred osnaburgs (rough cloth from which slaves’ clothing was made) made to cover every part of the ham that is not covered by skin would be a sufficient defense against them. Would not a covering of pitch or lime have the same effect? He said if God spared him another year, he was going to try the above experiments.
(I don’t think I would want a ham to eat that had been tarred!)
The Rev. Murphy recorded several of his dreams in his diary, even though he said he made no superstitious use of dreams. This one, from Aug. 9, 1814, made a great impression on his mind:
“I thought I was at the Midway Church though the scenery was different from that place. The time was the intermission between the two sermons and the people were sitting around fires, as they often do here in the winter. I stood some distance from the tents and heard a violent explosion as if underground making a sound similar to a cannon. I thought a fine sorrel horse broke his bridle and ran off with great violence, and then all the horses ran away at a great speed and they were pursued by dogs with sheep intermingled with sheep and boys who never attempted to stop the dogs. I thought I was in danger of being trampled underfoot, so I sheltered myself in a bunch of thick, grown dogwood trees. The people were all making their way from the church in the best way they could in a terrible downfall of rain. I distinctly (remember) bidding my Deacon Robert Quarterman farewell and omitting to preach the second sermon. After this, I thought I was in the meeting house with a few others and it seemed dreary and desolate.
“But what shocked me not a little was to find it full of ugly animals the like of which I had never known in zoology. They were somewhat like porcupines but without quills. I called them at the time polecats and thought they had a fetid smell. I saw several of them dead and they seemed the most voracious animals I ever beheld. They were very greedily devouring flesh of one kind or another.
“I awoke! This dream has or has not some signification or allusion. It is either the vagrant rovings of the imagination, or it was designed by divine providence as a condescending notice or monition of future things. This last is my opinion.”
Murphy thought the dream meant that the congregation would be scattered everywhere before long, and the fires indicated winter time. The ministry of the place will cease for a time in the church. This would probably be caused from some invasion or war, he would probably no longer be their minister, and the church house would be filled with savages.
(We now know that almost all this entire dream took place 50 years later when Gen. Sherman’s troops came to Liberty County and took up camp in the old Midway Church and Cemetery. Animals were chopped up on the inside of the church furniture and butchered on the slabs in the cemetery, where they corralled all the confiscated animals. The Rev. Murphy never lived to see the reality of his terrible dream.)
At his last service, in March 1823, he said that at least 1,000 white and black people were present and shook his hand as they filed out the door. Murphy left that year to go to Alabama and spend time with his brother.
Almost all of his family had died. His mother died when the carriage turned over and killed her as they were moving from North Carolina to Alabama. His father died in 1820 and then his brother and sisters. Murphy organized the first Presbyterian Church in Mobile, Alabama, and served as its pastor. He also found happiness with his new wife and sons. His brother, John, became the fourth governor of Alabama.
The Rev. Murphy died in 1833 and is buried in Spring Hill, Alabama.
Through the pages of Murphy’s diary, I learned a lot of history that took place from 1814-23 around Midway. He told about many of the outstanding men who died during his tenure. But what I learned most was that even with him being a minister, he still had the same problems, wants and desires that we have.