John Mitchell McMurry

1804 - 1875

Cumberland Presbyterian Minister

Deceased Ministers

J. M. McMurry - Lebanon Presbytery

[Source: Minutes of the General Assembly of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, 1875, page 38]


REV. JOHN MITCHELL McMURRY was born September 20, 1804, near Big Spring, Wilson county, Tennessee. His father and mother, David and Anna McMurry were pious persons of Scotch Irish Presbyterian origin. The early Cumberland Presbyterian Church contained a large proportion of this element, and no better element was ever embodied in any Christian organization. His maternal grandfather owned the land on Desha's creek in Sumner county, on which the second, if not the first, camp-meeting was held that ever was held in Tennessee. It was considered the Shiloh camp-meeting, but for some local reason was held two or three miles from the meeting-house, near the home of old Mr. Blythe. In the great conflict which grew up from the revival of those days, the parents of Mr. McMurry seem to have adhered from the beginning to what was denominated the revival party. This naturally threw them into the Cumberland Presbyterian organization, when the organization took place. The choice of these two good people must have been a matter of principle, as there were strong influences in existence which otherwise would have led them in another direction.

Bro. McMurry's parents were from early times members of the Big Spring congregation. Thomas Calhoon spent his ministerial life in the pastorate of that congregation. It became a celebrated nursery of preachers. In the course of forty years between fifteen and twenty young men who grew up there entered the Cumberland Presbyterian ministry. Under such influences as these our subject was brought up. He lived, however, to manhood before he made profession of religion. His life was moral and irreproachable during this time, but he was not a Christian.

In early manhood he professed religion at a camp meeting at New Hope. The tradition is, that being deeply impressed in the course of the meeting, and perhaps having been publicly engaged with others as a seeker, he determined to retire quietly to the grove, and consider the matter by himself. He did no, and the result was an intelligent and deliberate settlement of the great question. From the decision there made he never faltered.

He, very early after his conversion, turned his attention to the ministry, joined the Lebanon Presbytery at Providence meeting-house, as a candidate for the ministry, and being a good classical scholar, was soon licensed, and also, after a short probation, ordained. According to the custom of those days he spent some time as a circuit-rider. His first circuit extended through White, Overton, Warren, and perhaps other mountain counties. It was a fine field for training young men, and other men as well as Bro. McMurry learned to endure hardness there. His first sermon is said to have been preached at Liberty camp-ground, near McMinnville. Says my informant: "he labored so arduously on this circuit that he brought on an attack of pneumonia, and was confined to the house for the winter, and was never so robust afterward as he had been. After learning the itinerant work, he served each of the congregations, Dry Fork, Oak Grove, and Stoner's Creek for a time as pastor. He left a precious records and a good influence behind him in all these congregations.

In 1837, December 27, Mr. McMurry was married to Miss Elizabeth C. Anderson, of Sumner county. Miss Anderson was a few years before this event the "little girl" that professed religion at the Dry Fork camp-meeting, at the close of one of Mr. Chapman's sermons, of which an account is given in the second series of Biographical Sketches. She still lives, one of the best illustrations of the unspeakable excellence of an earnest spiritual religion, and an early dedication to God.

He, was during seven years, an agent of Cumberland University. In this work he was very successful, and had not the war occurred to destroy the fruits of his labors, the university would now be in possession of a respectable endowment. It is worthy of mention, especially in these money-loving times, that though offered a liberal salary he would receive nothing for these services except what was sufficient to defray his necessary expenses.

In 1856, having resigned his agency from ill health, he became the pastor of McMinnville congregation. In that work he continued honored and beloved, with the exception of three years of the war, to the fall of 1869, when another attack of pneumonia gave a permanent blow to his health. From that time to his death, April 6, 1875, he was an invalid. His last years were years of affliction. Says my informant: "With what beautiful patience and resignation he bore those five years and a half of sickness, only those can know who were with him constantly. His only regret was that he had not done more for Christ. He used to say: 'I thought I was earnest when I preached, but if I were able how differently I would deliver my message now!' if he were able to speak a word to all his dear brethren, I am sure it would be, that they should be more in earnest and urgent in teaching sinners of their danger, and more importunate in begging them to flee the wrath to come."

Mr. McMurry was several years stated clerk of the Middle Tennessee Synod. He was a model clerk. He was several times a member of the General Assembly. He was never noisy, but was always a safe and faithful counselor. In the Assembly of 1866, he made a report on Sabbath-schools, which was pronounced by a prominent member, the best report made in the course of the sessions. As a preacher, he was clear, earnest, tender, and impressive. It was not the tempest, or the tornado, but the gentle breeze bearing health and life upon its wings. His widow lives, and one child, an only daughter, to whose filial affection I am indebted for much of the material of this brief sketch. Says this delicate and gentle authority, "You knew his character, how just, firm, and upright he was; how devoted to his work; how consistent, how pure in heart and conversation; how humble, how gentle to the erring, how tender to the sorrowful. He was never harsh even in reproving error, and while he condemned sin, he mourned over the sinner."
Two days before his death in a conversation with some friends he reviewed the ground of his hope, and set forth what would be the fearfulness of his condition then, feeble, dependent, and utterly helpless, had he no reliance upon another, or hope beyond the grave. It would have been good to be there to hear the last struggling expression: "For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain." As we have seen, his own family was small, but for many years he was as a father to a number of orphan children, left providentially to his care by those who preceded him to heaven. They mourn his loss as a second great bereavement.

The friends of Bro. McMurry will soon be able to see his likeness, the work of a great artist, in the gallery of paintings in the Cumberland University, as one of the benefactors of the institution.

[Source: The Cumberland Presbyterian, August 26, 1875, page 2]



When he died it may be truly said that a great man has fallen in Israel. My acquaintance with him extends back to his boyhood, when he was going to school. He obtained--for that day in Tennessee--what might be termed a pretty liberal education in the Latin and, I think, in the Greek languages, and the sciences. After finishing his academical studies he was, for sometime, engaged--how long not remembered--in teaching school at Cainesville, in this State, or in its vicinity. During this time there was held a camp-meeting at Big Spring, in the vicinity of his father, who was always a regular camper on such occasions. Young Mr. McMurray was at the meeting. The writer was there, also. At this meeting there was a high state of religious interest. The altar was crowded with weeping penitents; and ere the occasion closed, many were rejoicing from a heart felt sense of the pardoning love of God in Christ Jesus. On Monday or Tuesday of the meeting, the writer, being unwell, had lain down on a bed in his father's camp. This furnished young McMurray with a plausible excuse for staying in the camp to keep him company, and to wait upon him; meanwhile, the work of grace was going on in the congregation out at the stand. The writer introduced to him the subject of religion, and it was soon apparent that he, too, was seriously impressed; and as he afterwards confessed, was afraid to mix with the worshiping assembly, lest he should lose the control of his feelings. During the same fall, or the fall succeeding, there was held a camp-meeting at New Hope, Wilson county, which he attended. He had then become a true penitent. The writer was there, also. On Monday the officiating minister proposed to all the penitents, and there were many, to make a solemn dedication of themselves to God as he pronounced the words: "Lord, I give myself to thee in the bonds of an everlasting covenant." To this proposition Mr. McMurray consented; and whilst an awful stillness pervaded the large assembly, the minister slowly and solemnly pronounced these words, "With all his heart he gave himself to God, and felt in his soul the power of an endless life." From that hour his course was marked with devotion and zeal in the cause of his divine Master. He was much engaged in private conversation with the unconverted to persuade them to turn to God, and was quite efficient in the altar of prayer, in leading penitents to the Saviour of sinners. But this was not enough. He became the subject of serious impressions that it was his duty to act in a wider sphere. On this subject, however, he was quite taciturn.

The writer was a member of the Presbytery under the care of which, he became a candidate for the ministry. This he did after much prayer and hesitation. The responsibilities of the sacred office appeared to be more than he was able to bear; but "necessity" was laid upon him, and the "woe is me" seemed to meet him as a lion in the way. The writer was present when he made known to the Presbytery his impressions to preach the gospel. This, however, he would not consent to do until he had spent sometime in private prayer to God to direct him in the path of duty. He was received as a candidate; not long afterward was licensed to preach, and in due time was set apart to the whole work of the ministry.

In a short time after he entered the ministry. He attended a camp-meeting, of ten days continuance, at Providence, Wilson county, Tennessee, in the writer's immediate neighborhood. After the first three or four days, the preachers nearly all left. Bro. McMurray stayed until it closed. On that occasion the Master, according to his promise, was with him. His preaching had the "right ring." We thought it best that he should preach every day at 10 o'clock, which was all that seemed to be needed. There was on hand a great revival, a glorious work of grace, and his one sermon a day appeared so well to meet all the wants of the occasion that we had not other preaching. The work went on by day and by night, under the shelter, in the camp, in the grove, on the way home, and at home, in the neighbor's houses. Two hundred and fifty conversions were then and there, some of the fruits of that meeting. How many of that number will sparkle in the crown of Bro. McMurray, the great day alone will disclose. Great and glorious has been the work in the city of London, under the ministrations of Messrs. Moody and Sankey, but the camp-meeting at Providence for the length of time it was held, and the number of persons in attendance, falls not far behind it, if it does not excel it.

Bro. McMurray traveled and preached sometime--how long not recollected--as an evangelist. Wherever he went he made many friends, and lost none. Unobtrusive, affable, easy of access, winning in his manners, and full of zeal in his Master's cause, the same attractions that won the hearts of the people, still bound them to him. Of studious habits, his reading and general information was diversified and extensive. As a sound and systematic theologian there were comparatively but few his equals, and still fewer his superiors.

His manner of preaching was plain, direct, and forcible. He seldom preached more than an hour. His mind clear and comprehensive. He grasped the salient points of his subject, delivered his discourses extemporaneously, and always "quit when he was done." He sought not after the flowers of Rhetoric, and yet his discourses were often full of appropriate figures, and of apt and striking illustrations. His great aim appeared to be by a clear exhibition of divine truth to edify the people of God, and to find the nearest way to the sinner's heart. He was, for a number of years, the much beloved pastor of the church at McMinnville, and was highly instrumental in building up the highly useful and popular female seminary in that town. He was, also, a successful agent in obtaining funds for the endowment of the Theological Department of Cumberland University. He labored in his Master's vineyard as long as his strength of body permitted him. While with us he was in the true sense the Christian gentleman, and the faithful minister, the popular, successful preacher, and now, gone to his reward, he is doubtless a saint of glory. May his mantle fall upon many young men who shall be brought into the ministry.

[Source: The Cumberland Presbyterian, September 30, 1875, page 2]

MRS. E. C. McMURRY was born December 25, 1809, in Sumner County, Tenn., and is a daughter of Thomas and Elizabeth
(McCorcle) Anderson, born in North Carolina and Kentucky, in 1779 and 1791, and died in 1852 and 1870, respectively. They were married in 1809. He was quite successful as a farmer, owning upward of 400 acres of land. The mother came to Tennessee with her maternal grandparents, and resided in a fort a number of years to protect themselves against the Indians. After her husband's death she lived with her daughter, Mrs. E. C. McMurry. Our subject was educated in the female department of a college at Gallatin, and December 27, 1837, was married to Rev. John M. McMurry, son of David and Anna McMurry. Rev. McMurry was born in Wilson County in 1804, and attended school in Gallatin. He entered the ministry in 1833, being a circuit rider for a short time, and then was given local work. In 1837 he became agent of the endowment fund for the Cumberland University, serving eight years. During that time he was very successful, raising about $60,000. In 1856 he became pastor of the church at McMinnville, Tenn., remaining seventeen years, with the exception of a few years during the war. Owing to ill health he gave up ministerial work in 1869, and retired to his farm, where he died in April, 1875. He was very public spirited, and was a man of talent and influence in the county. His wife and daughter reside in Lebanon, both being earnest workers in the Cumberland Presbyterian Church.

[Source: The Goodspeed History of Wilson County, Tennessee. Biographical Appendix. Originally published 1886. Woodward & Stinson Printing Co. Edition, Reprint 1971]

Family Information

David McMurry
wife: Anna Unknown

Children of David McMurry and Anna ? McMurry:

1. John Mitchell McMurry
Cumberland Presbyterian Minister
born: 20 September 1804 - near Big Spring, Wilson County, Tennessee
died: 6 April 1875
married: 27 December 1837
wife: Elizabeth Charlotte Anderson
[daughter of Thomas Anderson and Elizabeth McCorcle]
born: 25 December 1809 - Sumner County, Tennessee

Child of John Mitchell McMurry and Elizabeth Charlotte Anderson McMurry:

1.1. Ann Eliza McMurry

Updated August 15, 2016

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