William Murray


Murray was one of the most important early painters of family records in the state of New York. Born in England on November 17, 1756, he enlisted at the age of eighteen inthe British army and, according to an unconfirmed report, went to America in General John Burgoyne’s army, but deserted in 1776 because of concern over England’streatment of its colony. By February 1, 1777, he was a private in the First Battalion of New York Forces.Following his discharge from the army in 1783, Murray visited Montgomery County, New York, and his first known work, a birth record for John I.D. Nellis of Fort Plain, was painted in the latter part of that year. On February 12, 1783 he married Keziah Hilton in Montgomery County. His second known work, producedabout this time, is a decorative drawing that may have been a gift for his new brother-in-law. Shortly after their marriage, Murray and his wife moved to Schenectady, New York, where he painted at least two family records. He left there before 1789, thenfor years traveled through Albany, Ulster, Chautauqua, Chenango, Otsego, and Montgomery Counties in New York. Although his most active years were 1818through 1822, on April 24, 1818 Murray applied for a pension as a Revolutionary War veteran. Two years later he requested an extension, claiming that he had been ateacher, but that failing eyesight effectively ended his career. There are no known paintings from the period between 1822, when he made a family record for Frederick Sexton, and his death on May 19, 1828.Of the eighteen known watercolor and ink paintings, fourteen are signed “Drawn BY/WILLIAM MURRAY,” or with some variation, with the date of executionusually inscribed after or below his name. A green leafy vine, with yellow-centered red flowers at regular intervals, generally forms a border. In many of the paintingsthere is a large central heart in which are placed the names of the parents, and with a large flower-like form growing from the top. On either side of the heart, andoccasionally above, Murray has positioned circles, rectangles, or small hearts in which he had inscribed the names and the dates of birth of the children. Other symbolsfrequently used include clover leaves, snowflake-like shapes, black coffins, Masonic emblems, soldiers, and pineapples.