Mary Lindley Murray (unknown - Unknown)

Mary Lindley Murray is known for stalling British troops while General Israel Putnam’s American troops escaped undetected. 

Mary Lindley Murray’s father Thomas Lindley immigrated to America from Ireland in 1719.  Although a blacksmith, he quickly became well associated with many of the most powerful men in Pennsylvania.  In a business venture with fellow Quakers, Lindley opened Durham Furnace, which became one of the leading workshops in the country and proved to be quite prosperous. The Lindley family moved to Lancaster County where Thomas Lindley became a Justice of the Peace and served in the Pennsylvania Assembly.

In Lancaster County, Mary Lindley met Robert Murray, a local merchant who lived near the Lindley home.  They married in 1744, after he converted from a Presbyterian to the Society of Friends as a Quaker.  In 1753, the Murray family moved to New York.  Robert quickly became one of the most successful and wealthiest merchants in the city. 

Robert Murray was a Loyalist and continued to buy British goods.  However, Mary Murray was sympathetic to the Americans.  Many members of her family were Revolutionaries and served in Washington's army.  Her independent ideology was influenced by her father, an anti-establishment politician.  Because of that, her husband was not exiled at the war's end, as was the case for many of those who were loyal to the British government.

Mary Lindley Murray proved to be a true patriot despite her husband’s loyalties to the King. After the British won the Battle of Brooklyn, General George Washington’s troops began to retreat.  On September 15, 1776, British troops led by General William Howe landed in Kip’s Bay with intending to trap General Israel Putnam’s retreating troops.  Mary Murray knew that Putnam’s troops were within a mile of her Long Island home and that the British troops were almost double those of Putnam’s army.  If Murray did not do something to stop the British troops, Putnam would be trapped.  Murray stalled the British troops by inviting them in to eat.  Murray and her daughters entertained them while they waited for Putnam’s troops to escape.  It is rumored that Murray asked her maid to keep watch from an upstairs window and to let her know when the troops had safely withdrawn.   Murray successfully kept the British from capturing the American soldiers. 

In a journal entry on September 20, 1776, James Thacher, a surgeon with the Continental army, recorded the incident, which is strong evidence of Murray's genuine assistance to the American cause. Some writers have questioned whether Murray truly intended to delay the British or if she was in fact trying to ensure her family’s social position with the Americans, while also appearing to please the British. Throughout the war - especially in places such as New York that were taken and retaken by opposing forces - it made sense to place bets on both sides. The sum of the evidence, however, points to Murray's actions as genuine support of the Revolution.

However, historians feel that Mary Murray’s actions may have been exaggerated.  There is some question as to whether Murray intended to delay the troops or if that was just an attempt to ensure her family’s social position with the Patriots while at the same time graciously entertaining the British.  At the beginning of the war, many people remained undecided about where there loyalties lie, and even those who had decided often remained polite to their opponents.  It was not until later that the country became thoroughly divided.  There is no definitive evidence concerning Mary Lindley Murray’s true intentions. However, the legend of Murray’s actions speak volumes of the effects that women had on the Revolutionary War and how they could turn an everyday task like entertaining into an act of Patriotism.  

The legend of Mary Lindley Murray was developed into two Broadway plays: Dearest Enemy in 1925, and A Small War on Murray Hill in 1957. 

Additional Resources:


Web Sites:

Books:

  • Diamant, Lincoln, Ed.  Revolutionary Women: In the War For American Independence. (Westport: Praeger, 1998) p 82-83.
  • Flick, Alexander C. Loyalism in New York (New York: Columbia University Press, 1901).
  • Lindly, John M. The History of the Lindley-Lindsley-Linsley Families in America (Winfield, IA: Published by the author, 1924).
  • Monaghan, Charles.  The Murrays of Murray Hill.  (Charlottesville:  Urban History Press,  1998). 

 

Works Cited:

 

Biography researched and written by NWHM Intern of Summer 2006 Albrey Diece