Murphy Family - Ireland to Missouri

Nicholas J. Murphy was born in Ireland, between 1838 and 1841.  He had at least one brother named Joseph.  Nicholas’ military enlistment papers indicate that he was born in Dublin, Ireland, but this has not been confirmed.

He probably immigrated to the United States around 1860.  Family tradition says that he immigrated about 2 years before the Civil War.  The story goes that his mother, Kathleen Irene MacCartney (unverified), wanted Nicholas to be a priest.  (Perhaps he was the second son?)  Nicholas didn’t want to be a priest; plus, he was in love with a Protestant girl.  This girl’s family immigrated to the U.S.  Nicholas wanted to follow her.  Of course, there was a big uproar in the family, but Nicholas left anyway.  His brother, Joseph and a sister, Mary Bridget (or Bridget Mary), decided to go with him.  They chose St. Louis, because distant cousins had moved there following the Great Famine.  Bridget eventually moved to the Detroit area.  When Nicholas got to America, the girl he had loved was already married to someone else.  None of this story has been documented, however, many of the facts seem to be accurate.  Nicholas did have a brother named Joseph.  Census records indicate they came to the U.S. around 1861.  Nicholas did not seem to be a very observant Catholic. (This story was told to me by cousin Jane Turner)

The first documentation we have for Nicholas Murphy is the record of his enlistment in the Union Army on July 14, 1863. He was a private in Company B of the Missouri 23rd Infantry.  He enlisted in Glencoe, Missouri, which is in St. Louis County, but outside the City of St. Louis.  Nicholas apparently escaped danger during the war by being assigned as a clerk in various headquarters of the Union Army.  We know that he moved with his regiment to McMinnville, TN; Atlanta, GA and Louisville, KY. 

Unfortunately, no known photo of Nicholas survives.  However, according to his enlistment papers, he was 5 ft. 9 inches and was fair complexioned.  He had dark hair and blue eyes.  He was only 22 years old when he enlisted in the Union Army.  His occupation was listed as a carpenter. This is an occupation he would continue for most of his life. Most city directory entries during his lifetime list Nicholas and his brother, Joseph, as carpenters.

Nicholas was mustered out with his regiment on July 19, 1865 in Louisville, KY. He must have returned to St. Louis County where he married Martha Ann Potterfield (nee Robertson) on December 3, 1866. Martha had been a widow for about 2 ½ years. She had resided near Allenton, St. Louis County, Missouri for about 11 years.  Nicholas probably met Martha during the war. His regiment was stationed at various times in Pacific (then called Franklin), Missouri, which is a small town very near Allenton.  Martha had a young son, age 10 years, named James Albert Potterfield.  Two other sons by her first husband had died in childhood.  

Martha and James had inherited some land in Allenton, at the death of her first husband, John Henry Potterfield.  She continued to live there with Nicholas until about 1878, when they moved to the city of St. Louis.  Allenton was a small town, where everyone knew one another.  Nicholas must have been a charming and likable individual to have been accepted into a community where everyone remembered Martha’s first husband, including many Potterfield relatives.

Nicholas took over the administration of John Potterfield’s estate.  He also joined Martha in her battle to have an inheritance from her former father-in-law, redistributed more equitably. 

Nicholas and Martha had at least 3 sons, Joseph Miles, born on Oct. 23, 1867; William Nicholas, born on July 1, 1869; and Robert Emmet Gaylor born about 1874.  Both Joseph and William were born in Allenton, Missouri.  Robert was born in the City of St. Louis.

In 1870, Nicholas applied for and was granted U.S. Citizenship, where he cited his service in the war of the rebellion.

It does not appear as though Nicholas was a religious man.  When he married Martha Potterfield, they went to the Justice of the Peace.  Martha was reportedly Presbyterian.  Baptismal records have only been found for one son, Joseph, who was baptized at St. Bridget’s of Erin Catholic Church on April 21, 1882, at the age of 14.  His stepson, James, also baptized his second child, Anne Laura, on March 6, 1881.  Nicholas was Anne’s godfather.  It may be that Nicholas’s deteriorating health contributed to his unprecedented activity in the Catholic Church. Later in life, both Joseph Murphy and James Potterfield changed to Protestant denominations. 

Nicholas Murphy died of testicular cancer on Oct. 21, 1887.  He was only 49 years old. He apparently had been suffering for some time, as testimonies in his pension file attest.  Several neighbors indicated that he had suffered from dysentery for years and often couldn’t work.  His burial certificate lists cause of death as “cancer scirrhus (tumors) on gland penis and groin”, indicating that his disease was extremely advanced.  He is buried in Calvary Cemetery in St. Louis. There is no marker.  However, application will be made to the U.S. Veterans service to provide a marker.