By Richard Gwynallen

John Franklin Murdock
(1845 – 1919)
Relationship to Fawn: 3rd great grandfather

John Murdock around 1910In 1850, John Murdock was probably a normal boy growing up on a farm. The 1850 U. S. Federal Census shows him living on the farm of his parents, James Murdoch and Nancy Ritchie, with four siblings.

The same census shows his grandparents, Joseph Murdock and Dorcas Witherspoon, as small landowning farmers, on a property valued at $800. Possibly James went out on his own and assumed the tenancy of a farm.

However, in 1860, James Murdoch dies, and that probably changes a lot. The1860 census shows James’ widow as the head of the household on farmland valued at $150. Probably James and Nancy bought a small farm between 1850 and 1860. However, John is now living with Robert Boyd’s family and appears on the 1860 U. S. Federal Census as a “bound boy.” The Boyds seem like they were prosperous farmers. Their real estate that year was valued at $2,500 and their personal property at $900. They seem to have been part of the yeoman farmer class described in my essay: An Allen and Thompson Story – From the Farm to the City.

A “bond” committed the person receiving the bound person to teach them a trade within a specified number of years. It was not uncommon for a widow, left with little support, to bind out one or more of her elder children in order to provide them with a trade and at the same time relieve herself of their support. Long-term, this seems to have worked out for John because he married one of the Boyd daughters, Nancy Angeline, in 1867.

However, before the marriage, the Civil War interrupted, and John enlisted on 5 May 1861 as a private in Company A, North Carolina 4th Infantry Regiment at only 15 years of age. Why he enlisted and why Robert Boyd let him out of his bond, we don’t know. Perhaps John wanted to escape the farm. Perhaps he wanted to prove his mettle to Robert Boyd. Perhaps it was adventure for John. We don’t have John’s service record, so we don’t know his rank at the end of the war, but we assume he was present at Appomattox Court House, Virginia, when his regiment surrendered with the rest of the Army of Northern Virginia on 9 April 1865.

That he survived the war was quite a feat given the unit he was in. I have no interest in glorifying the war, but to give a sense of what John faced I’ll include a couple examples. At the Battle of Seven Pines in 1862 the 4th North Carolina regiment earned its sobriquet of the “Bloody Fourth”. The Fourth went into battle with 520 men and 25 officers- dubbed later “the noble 545.” In capturing the well defended breastworks it lost 462 men and 24 officers killed and wounded in the bloodiest charge of the war.

At Spotsylvania, on 12 May 1864, Federal troops captured the Confederate breast works at the Horseshoe at Spotsylvania Court House, also many guns and two thousand of General Edward Johnson’s men.  The 4th North Carolina regiment recovered the entire works and all the guns, capturing many prisoners and killing more of the Federal troops than the brigade numbered men. General Lee himself rode down and thanked them.

After all that I am certain that the Murdocks and the Boyds were pleased to have him home alive.

We don’t know what John to make his living upon his return, but the 1870 U. S. Federal Census shows John and Nancy living in Iredell County, North Carolina with him working in a wagon shop. His family seems to be living on the farm owned by the Moose family. Several Moose family members are listed in the same household, and the census ascribes the property value to J. J. Moose. His time in the wagon shop may have been a further apprenticeship because the 1880 U. S. Federal Census shows his occupation as blacksmith. By 1880 the Murdocks are no longer living on the Moose farm. That seems to have been his principle occupation because the 1900 U. S. Federal Census shows him still as a blacksmith, though by this time he and Nancy own farmland. By the time of the 1910 U. S. Federal Census he has retired as a blacksmith and is shown as a farmer.

Unlike the trajectory of the Allens and Thompsons, the children, in this case John and Nancy, did not move from the farm to the city. The Boyds seem to have suffered the same loss of wealth the Allen-Thompson household did. The 1870 U.S. Federal Census shows the Boyd real estate valued at $500, a tremendous drop from $2,500 in 1860, and personal property at $500. Perhaps because they were so young at the end of the Civil War, or perhaps because John’s father was dead and he wanted to help support his mother, John and Nancy seem to have decided to keep their efforts focused at staying in their rural home area.

John died on the 23rd of December 1919, and is buried in the Concord Presbyterian Church Cemetery in Statesville, Iredell County, North Carolina.

John Murdock gravestone