John Murray (1741–1815) is the founder of the Universalist denomination in the United States, a pioneer minister and an inspirational figure.
He was born in Alton, Hampshire (fifteen miles northeast of Winchester), in England on December 10, 1741. His father was an Anglican and his mother a Presbyterian, both strict Calvinists, and his home life was attended by religious severity. In 1751 the family settled near Cork, Ireland. In 1760 Murray returned to England and joined George Whitefield’s congregation; but embracing, somewhat later, the Universalistic teachings of Welsh minister James Relly he was excommunicated. In 1770 he emigrated to “lose himself in America”, and preached, as a Universalist minister, his first sermon in Good Luck, now Lacey Township, New Jersey, September 30, 1770, residing there with his patron and friend Thomas Potter until 1774, itinerating from Virginia to New Hampshire. Today the Potter farm is the site of the Murray Grove Retreat and Conference Center .
In 1774 he settled at Gloucester, Massachusetts, and established a congregation there out of a Rellyite study group. There he met his second wife, the author and catechist Judith Sargent Murray. He was suspected of being a British spy, but in 1775 was appointed chaplain of the Rhode Island Brigade before Boston by General George Washington despite petitions for his dismissal by other chaplains over his rejection of belief in hell. He participated in the first general Universalist Convention at Oxford, Massachusetts, September, 1785. On October 23, 1793, he became pastor of the Universalist society of Boston, and faithfully served it until October 19, 1809, when paralysis stopped his work. He was a man of great courage and eloquence, and in the defense of his views endured much detestation and abuse. In regard to Jesus, he taught that in him God became the Son; for “God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost, are no more than different exhibitions of the self-same existent, omnipresent Being.” He taught that all men would ultimately be saved through the sacrifice of Christ, the basis for this being the union of all men in Christ, just as they were united with Adam, and therefore partaking of the benefits of his sacrifice. He was also a writer of hymns and a compiler of hymnals.
Murray suffered a debilitating stroke on October 19, 1809, which compelled him to give up preaching and died in Boston, Massachusetts on September 3, 1815.
Sources are his own Letters and Sketches of Sermons, 3 volumes, Boston, 1812; Autobiography, continued by his wife, (also known as Life of Murray), Boston, 1816, centenary ed., 1870. Additional information and detailed writings from the letters of his wife Judith Sargent Murray were published in 1998 (edited by Bonnie Hurd Smith), in the book “From Gloucester to Philadelphia in 1790” with “Observations, anecdotes and thoughts from the 18th century letters of Judith Sargent Murray”. This publication describes the life of the Murray family as they traveled in 1790, with the majority of time in Philadelphia.