Charles Murray

Charles Murray (?-1776):
Trailtrow Chapel and Repentance Tower, Hoddom, Nr Lockerbie DG11 1AS

High above the remains of Hoddom Castle near Lockerbie is the haunting presence of Repentance Tower, surrounded by a burial ground. Amongst the headstones is one dedicated to Charles Murray, “a native of Africa”, who died in 1776.

The headstone states that Charles was a “servant to Mr Murray of Murraythwaite”. “Mr Murray” was John Murray, the 4th Earl of Dunmore (1730-1809), who played a pivotal role in the American War of Independence (1775-83). In 1770, he had been appointed British Governor of the Province of New York. However, not long after he had taken up the post, the colonial governor of Virginia died. John Murray was selected to succeed him and became the last royal governor of the colony. Initially, he was popular with Virginians for his draconian campaigns against the Shawnee and Mingo American Indian nations, often referred to as Lord Dunmore’s War. However, as tensions between the patriots and loyalists fermented, his motivations were increasingly questioned.

On 7 November 1775, Murray issued a proclamation offering freedom to the slaves and indentured servants of patriots if they were prepared to fight for the British. Waves of rebellion and the desertion of many thousands of slaves threatened the economic survival of the South. In such chaotic times, slaves seized an opportunity such as that offered by Murray, and thousands attempted to take it. Many didn’t make it, and the punishments meted out to those who were caught were horrific. Ultimately, somewhere between 500-2,000 men, women and children made it behind Dunmore’s lines; it was notable that not just young men escaped to join up, but entire family units. Murray gathered the men together as the Ethiopian Regiment, also known as Lord Dunmore’s Ethiopian Regiment, arming them and kitting them out in uniforms that were inscribed with ‘Liberty to Slaves’. The regiment saw some battle, but was substantially wiped out by a smallpox epidemic, followed by an outbreak of typhoid. A number of survivors became key players in the Black Brigade, which saw action in New York in 1778-79.

Although Murray became a hero to many freed slaves, with some even naming their children after him, his attitudes towards the enslaved were far more politically expedient than humanitarian. Controversy continued to shadow him at his next appointment as Governor of the Bahamas (1787-96), where he attempted to protect British interests in the midst of turbulence provoked by large numbers of loyalist refugees from the war of independence as well as numerous freed slaves attempting to build new lives for themselves. Records show him purchasing yet more slaves shortly after he arrived in the Bahamas, in addition to those he already owned in Virginia.

Whilst his master’s life has been much debated and written about, Charles Murray remains unknown to us. John Murray’s wife and six of their children joined him in Virginia in early 1774. However, the worsening political situation meant that the family left on 9 June 1775. It is probable that Charles left with them. Murray himself eventually left Virginia in July 1776, six months after Charles’ death.

Here lyes
Charles Murray
A native of Africa
Servant to Mr Murray
of Murraythwaite
Who died 5th Febry 

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