June 15 2018,  Lynnfield

A Father’s Day Reflection: William Murray, early Irish settler in West Lynn

A Father’s Day Reflection: William Murray, early Irish settler in West Lynn


By Helen Breen


Among the numerous great-grandchildren of William Murray (1801-1884) was my father’s family. Their mother, Elizabeth Bowen Gallagher died shortly before this picture was taken. Standing is Ted and Ella, seated, Alice, my father, Francis, and oldest brother, Bill, on the floor, baby Marie.

When my paternal great-great-great grandfather William Murray arrived from Ireland in 1836, the Waterhill section of West Lynn was well established. A century earlier Yankee families had settled there on the banks of Strawberry Brook, near the main road leading to Boston. Gradually the area became industrialized because of the abundant water supply. Tanneries and shoe shops were scattered among the fields and orchards.


As the original inhabitants sought greener pastures elsewhere in Lynn, Irish immigrants were eager to acquire their properties. Among them was William Murray who in 1843 purchased “an acre, more or less, with a half house and shed thereon standing.” Murray’s flowing signature contrasts with the “X” marked by the seller Abigail Tarbox. Bit by bit, he enlarged his holdings and constructed a small shoe shop in his yard. Tradition maintains that the homestead boasted a beautiful orchard. When streets were cut through, Murray Street was named for him.

Murray was listed in the City Directory and subsequent records as a “tanner,” a trade that employed hundreds of Lynners. The farm, diary, and orchard sustained the family of his seven children including my paternal great-great grandmother Maria Murray. These seven children in turn had seven children, a circumstance that persuaded me to investigate direct lines only.


My grandsire was destined to play a part in establishing the Catholic Church in Lynn. His third child Margaret had been the first Catholic baby baptized in the city in 1837. At the time Catholics worshipped in the old Town Hall, and later at an abandoned Meeting House on Lynn Common. The latter was burnt down in 1859 in a wave of anti-Irish sentiment. In 1862 Murray mortgaged part of his property to fund the building of the new St. Mary’s Church, an impressive Gothic structure in downtown Lynn.

Earlier he had been the “straw man” in the purchase of acreage for St. Mary’s Cemetery off Lynnfield Street. The seller was Thomas Newhall from whom William had acquired a parcel on Waterhill years before. Murray then transferred the land to John B. Fitzgerald, Bishop of Boston.


   On his death in 1884, the Lynn Reporter observed: “William Murray, the first or one of the first settlers of Waterhill, died on Sunday at the age of 83. He was of a genial nature and received the appellation “The Father of Waterhill.” William Murray took deep interest in St. Mary’s Church, of which he was one of the original members, contributing largely to its success. He was held in high regard for his sterling worth.”

William Murray’s will, on file at the Salem Probate Court, is a beautiful document inscribed by a clerk before printed forms were widely used. He divided his property evenly among his seven children. At the time five of his offspring and their families were living on the Waterhill “compound.” To avoid squabbling, William assured “a full right and privilege in and to the use of the yard between the houses … in the same manner as hitherto enjoyed.” The two daughters (including Maria) who did not live in Lynn at the time were given equal shares from the sale of his effects.

William left real estate valued at $4,504 and a personal estate of $764. Quite a substantial bequest for a tanner who had provided well for his children. His funeral befitted a man of his circumstances. Among the expenses were: $10 for a requiem mass; a “gown” from Mr. Driscoll, $9.98; a “floral pillow” from M. McDowney $21; and coaches from Mr. Breed, $24. William Murray’s funeral was among the largest ever held at St. Mary’s Church.


William’s daughter Maria married Patrick Bowen, an Irish immigrant who served in the Civil War. Their daughter Elizabeth Bowen married my grandfather William Gallagher who died in 1956. Following the family tradition, Elizabeth and William Gallagher were instrumental in the founding of Sacred Heart Church on Boston Street in West Lynn. By the turn of the century, many other parishes had been carved out of the original St. Mary’s domain. Unfortunately Elizabeth Gallagher, said to be a handsome woman, died of “consumption” in 1908 leaving six children of whom my father Francis was the second youngest.

My long time interest in local history has led me to research scores of Essex County figures. To this gallery on Father’s Day I add my paternal grandsire, “The Father of Waterhill.” His name will not be found in any history book. Yet, the life of William Murray was a tribute to his family, his church, and the Irish community of West Lynn.

(Send comments to helenbreen@comcast. net)

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