UU Minute #87

John Murray, part 1

John Murray – the founder of Universalism in America – was born in Alton, Hampshire, England, the oldest of 9 children. When he was 9, the family moved to Cork, Ireland. In Ireland, the Murrays became Methodists. At age 18, John returned to England and gravitated to London, where he joined the Tabernacle of George Whitefield, whom he had heard preach when Whitefield toured through Ireland.

Around age 19 or 20, John married Eliza Neale. Becoming a leader in Whitefield’s congregation, often leading prayers, John was sent to try to bring back into the fold a young woman who had adopted James Relly’s Universalism. The young woman confounded him with arguments in favor of universal salvation, so John and Eliza went to hear James Relly for themselves. They studied both Rellyan and anti-Rellyan literature before, first Eliza, then John, converted to Universalism – for which they were expelled from the Tabernacle.

Calamities then struck. His only son died in infancy. Then Eliza, too, fell ill and died. John was thrown into debtor’s prison. His brother-in-law rescued him from prison, and John managed to pay off his debts, yet he remained in despair. James Relly was encouraging John to preach the good news of Universalism, but John was just too depressed. He wished, he said, “to pass through life, unheard, unseen, unknown to all, as though I ne’er had been.”

In 1770, at age 29, he resolved to sail for America and see if he could build a new life in the new world. Arriving in America, Murray’s ship was grounded on a sandbar and remained for a time becalmed off the coast of New Jersey. The captain sent Murray ashore on a foraging expedition – and that’s where John Murray fatefully met Thomas Potter.

NEXT: Thomas Potter's Field of Dreams

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