1658-1944; bulk: 1760-1890

Guide to the Collection

Collection Summary


This collection consists of the family and business papers of the Murray and Robbins families, including correspondence; business records; deeds, wills, and estate appraisals; genealogical and historical documents; and printed material. The correspondence includes letters from family members during the Siege of Boston and the Revolutionary War.

Biographical Sketches

James Murray (1713-1781) was the son of John Murray and Anne Bennet of Unthank, Scotland, and the brother of John Murray (1721-1781) of Norwich and Elizabeth Murray (1726-1785), later Campbell, Smith, and Inman. Murray emigrated to North Carolina in 1735, where he served as a member of the North Carolina General Assembly. A merchant, he moved to Boston, Mass. in 1765, also working in Milton, Mass. in the sugar business of his sister's husband James Smith. Murray was a Loyalist who fled from Boston to Halifax, Nova Scotia in 1776. He married Barbara Bennet in 1761, and his daughter Elizabeth Murray (1756-1837) later married Edward Hutchinson Robbins.

Elizabeth Murray (1726-1785), daughter of John Murray and Anne Bennet, was born in Unthank, Scotland. In 1749, following in the footsteps of her brother James Murray (1713-1781), she trained to be a merchant, eventually keeping a shop in Boston selling millinery goods. She subsequently trained other young women in the trade, including her brother James's daughters Dorothy Murray and Elizabeth Murray, and her brother John's daughters Mary Murray and Anne Murray. She also took care of the children of her brother James, a Loyalist, when he left for Halifax during the Revolution. She married first Thomas Campbell in 1755, and in 1760 she married 72-year-old John Smith, a sugar refiner who owned an estate at Brush Hill in Milton, Mass., property that stayed in the Murray-Robbins family for generations. She became a widow for the second time in 1769, marrying Ralph Inman in 1771. She died without children in Milton, Mass. in 1785.

Dorothy Murray (1745-1837) was the daughter of Scottish Loyalist James Murray (1713-1781). She was trained to be a shopkeeper by her aunt, Elizabeth Murray Inman (1726-1785). In 1769 she married Rev. John Forbes (1740-1783), a Loyalist who returned to England in 1783 and died the same year. Dorothy and John had three sons: James Grant Forbes (1769-1825); John Murray Forbes (1771-1831); and Ralph Bennet Forbes (1773-1824).

Mary Murray (born ca. 1754) was the oldest of the twelve children of John Murray (1721-1792) and Mary Boyles (1730-1819) of Norwich, England. In 1770 at the age of 16, she entered the shopkeeping trade in Boston with her aunt, Elizabeth Murray Inman. She returned to Norwich in 1774 and kept up a regular correspondence with her aunt, Elizabeth Murray Inman, and Edward Hutchinson Robbins, who married Mary's cousin Elizabeth Murray in 1785.

Edward Hutchinson Robbins (1758-1829), son of Nathaniel Robbins and Elizabeth Hutchinson, was born in Milton, Mass. Graduating from Harvard College in 1775, he became a lawyer, a delegate to the Massachusetts Constitutional Convention, and a state representative. After serving as speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives from 1793 to 1802, he became lieutenant governor of Massachusetts under Governor Caleb Strong from 1802 to 1806. In 1811 he was appinted judge of probate for Norfolk County. Robbins married Elizabeth Murray (1756-1837), daughter of James Murray and Barbara Bennet, in 1785, and had five daughters and two sons, one of whom was James Murray Robbins (1796-1885). He invested in the purchase and settlement of lands in Passamaquoddy, now in Maine, and his name is perpetuated in the town of Robbinston on the St. Croix River.

James Murray Robbins (1796-1885), son of Edward Hutchinson Robbins and Elizabeth Murray, was born in Milton, Mass. He attended Milton Academy, and in 1814 entered into partnership with his cousin John Murray Forbes (1771-1831), U. S. Consul-General at Hamburg, Germany, and conducted business in Europe. He also invested in real estate, buying 20,000 acres at Passamaquoddy (now in Maine) which he sold in 1834 for a large sum. He married Frances Mary Harris, daughter of Abel Harris and Rooksby Coffin, then bought the Brush Hill estate in Milton, Mass., where he lived for fifty years. He served as justice of the peace as well as a Massachusetts state representative and senator, and died in 1885 with no children.

Collection Description

The Murray-Robbins family papers consist of three document boxes, two cased volumes, and one oversize box spanning the years 1658-1944, with the bulk of the material dating from the 1760s to the late 1880s. The collection contains the papers of the interrelated Murray and Robbins families, including correspondence, business and financial papers, legal papers, genealogical and historical papers, and printed material. Family correspondence is the largest series and contains letters (removed from a bound volume) of Mary Murray (born ca. 1754) to her aunt Elizabeth Murray Inman (1726-1785) and to her cousin Edward Hutchinson Robbins (1758-1829); James Murray Robbins (1796-1885) to his parents while he conducted buisines in Europe; and Dorothy Murray Forbes (1745-1837) to various family members. A second bound volume "Legends and Letters," contains biographical information, excerpts from Elizabeth Murray Inman's 1770 journal, copies of letters from Christian Barnes to Elizabeth Murray Inman, and copies of letters from Elizabeth Murray Robbins (1756-1837) to her sister Dorothy Murray Forbes. Letters from 1775 to 1785 chronicle the Loyalist family's financial struggles as they face property impoundments and imprisonments, and as they strive to stay in contact with each other in Massachusetts, Florida, England, and Scotland. Several letters mention slaves and slavery in St. Augustine, Florida (1769) and in London (1771).

Business and financial papers include shipping records related to the business interests of Edward Hutchinson Robbins (1758-1829), such as port clearances and inventories of trading ships. Bills, receipts, and accounts are also primarily those of Edward Hutchinson Robbins, but a small volume contains an account of Dorothy Murray's expenses from 1763-1773, and other bills list payments for goods and services provided.

Legal papers consist of wills and estate appraisals; deeds, particularly of the Brush Hill property in Milton, Mass.; various appointments to office; warrants for payments, and summons to appear in court.

Genealogical and historical papers contain genealogical notes, biographies, and memoirs of the Bennet, Hutchinson, Murray, and Robbins families. Memoirs of James Murray, James Murray Robbins, and Elizabeth Murray Inman comprise much of this series.

Printed material consists of political pamphlets about Massachusetts governor Caleb Strong, under whom Edward Hutchinson Robbins served as lieutenant governor, as well as the issues of slavery and the Union. Other pamphlets relate to the Brush Hill estate in Milton, Mass., including a speech given by James Murray Robbins on the 200th anniversary of the town of Milton.

Acquisition Information

Gift of Margaret Ewing, June 2010.

Detailed Description of the Collection

I. Murray-Robbins family correspondence, 1758-1908

Arranged chronologically.

A large component of this series is a volume of approximately 85 letters that have been removed from the volume due to their fragile condition. The bulk of these letters are from Mary Murray (born ca. 1754) to her aunt, Elizabeth Murray Inman (1726-1785), her cousin Edward Hutchinson Robbins (1758-1829), and other family members. The disbound volume also includes correspondence between Dorothy Murray Forbes (1745-1837), her father, James Murray (1713-1781); her sister Elizabeth Murray Robbins (1756-1837); her aunt, Elizabeth Murray Inman; and her sons James Grant Forbes (1769-1825), John Murray Forbes (1771-1831), and Ralph Bennet Forbes (1773-1824). Early letters discuss shopkeeping and other financial affairs, as well as family news, descriptions of social events, and news of neighbors and friends. Beginning in 1775, the correspondence chronicles the increasing difficulties the family faces as Loyalists in Boston and Milton, Mass. as they first debate options to return to England and later face property seizures and imprisonment. Many letters describe the family's struggles to stay in touch with one another in Massachusetts, Florida, England, and Scotland, and their continuing efforts to feed and clothe the family.

Of particular significance are a 1769 letter from Dorothy Murray Forbes describing the sale of a slave woman in St. Augustine, Florida, and a 1771 letter from Henry Barnes in London discussing his slave Prince, and his intention to bring him to America. Also of note are a 26 July 1775 notice from Loyalist James Murray to his sister Elizabeth Murray Inman and daughter Dorothy Murray Forbes announcing that he has obtained permission from General Howe to visit them in Charlestown, Mass.; Dorothy Murray Forbes's 12 Dec 1775 letter to the Mass. General Court pleading with them to return the family's seized Brush Hill estate; and a 12 Aug 1776 letter from Elizabeth Murray Inman describing the reading of the Declaration of Independence in church.

Also within this series are letters from James Murray Robbins (1796-1885) to his parents Edward Hutchinson Robbins (1758-1829) and Elizabeth Murray Robbins containing accounts of his journey to Europe and his description of the seizure of the Spanish vessel on which he was traveling, as well as letters from Europe where he was a business partner with his cousin John Murray Forbes (1771-1831). Robbins' letters from Hamburg discuss the imminent resumption of war upon the escape of Napoleon Bonaparte from exile.

The volume entitled "Legends and Letters" is a letterbook copied in several hands. It contains genealogical narratives of Elizabeth Murray Inman and Loyalist James Murray that were compiled by Sarah Lydia Robbins Howe (1787-1862). The volume also contains copies of letters from Christian Arbuthnot Barnes, a friend and fellow shopkeeper of Elizabeth Murray Inman, written in large part to Inman from 1768 to 1781. It also contains copies of letters from Barnes to her cousin and niece in 1784-1785. The letters discuss family matters such as engagements, marriages, and children, references to Prince, a slave who painted her portrait, and pre-Revolutionary War accounts of conditions in Marlborough, Mass. Copies of letters from an unnamed niece of Christian Barnes from Cambridge in April 1775 includes an eyewitness account of the Siege of Boston, and copies of June 1776 letters from Elizabeth Murray Inman to her sister Dorothy Murray Forbes describe the effects of the war in Boston. Also included in this volume are a series of hand-drawn silhouettes, excerpts from the 1770 journal of Elizabeth Murray Inman, and an 1854 letter of James Murray Robbins.

Box 1Folders 1-7
Vol. 1
"Legends and Letters," 1768-1854

II. Business and financial papers, 1658-1849

Arranged chronologically and by record type.

A. Shipping records, 1658-1804

This series contains shipping records, including a copy of a 1658 survey of landing places. Other shipping records are primarily those of Edward Hutchinson Robbins (1758-1829), largely to and from Passamaquoddy, now a part of Maine. Some of the the Passamaquoddy region later became the town of Robbinston, named after Edward Hutchinson Robbins. Among these are ships' cargoes, ship repair records, fire and marine insurance contracts and payments, and permission to sail from various ports. The most frequently mentioned goods imported are rum, sugar, meat, coffee, building materials, tea, and molasses.

Box 2Folders 1-3

B. Bills, receipts, and accounts, 1763-1849

This series consists primarily of the bills, receipts, and accounts for services done and goods received by Edward Hutchinson Robbins. A small volume contains an account of Dorothy Murray's expenses from 1763-1773.

Box 2Folder 4
Dorothy Murray account book, 1763-1773
Box 2Folders 5-10

C. James Murray Robbins letterbook, 1818-1823

The letterbook of James Murray Robbins (1796-1885) contains copies of letters and accounts which he kept for his trading business in Copenhagen, Havana, and St. Petersburg.

Vol. 2

III. Legal papers, 1679-1887

Arranged chronologically.

Included in this series are wills, estate inventories and probate records for John Phillips (1763), Isaac How (1769), James Murray (1781), Edward Hutchinson Robbins (1830), and James Murray Robbins (1885). Deeds and leases, comprising the largest category of legal documents, date from 1679 and relate largely to the Brush Hill farm in Milton, Mass., which became the family home for the Murrays in 1760. Appointments to office include Edward Hutchinson Robbins as chief justice of the court of common pleas of Norfolk County and as justice of the peace, James Murray Robbins' appointments as justice of the peace, and certificates of James Murray Robbins' election as a state senator in 1840. Many of the items in this series, especially land records and appointments to office, are housed in the oversize box.

Of particular interest is a ca. 1769 proposal from James Murray (1713-1781) to attorney John Hancock on behalf of John Mein regarding the lawsuit Longman v. Mein.

Box 2Folders 11-16

IV. Genealogical and historical papers, 1828-1912

Arranged chronologically.

This series includes a typescript copy of the 1783 property inventory of Loyalist James Murray (1713-1781); handwritten and typescript copies of an 1839 memorial of James Murray (1713-1781); a 1901 handwritten memoir and a biography of James Murray Robbins (1796-1885); a 1910 lecture on Milton Academy by Edward Hutchinson Robbins (1758-1829); undated genealogical notes on the descendants of John Murray (1720-1792), founder of Norwich hospital and brother to James Murray and Elizabeth Murray Inman; an undated handwritten memorial of Elizabeth Murray Inman; and undated genealogical notes on the Hutchinson and Bennet families.

Additional genealogical and historical accounts of James Murray and Elizabeth Murray Inman can be found in Volume 1, "Legends and Letters", in Series I.

Box 2Folders 12-33

IV. Printed material, 1711-1944

Arranged chronologically and by size.

Consisting largely of pamphlets and memoirs, this series also contains a 1771 sermon by Increase Mather for John Foster, great-grandfather of Edward Hutchinson Robbins, a 1762 sermon by Joseph Sewall, and an oversize 1796 map of Boston.

Some of the 1803-1806 pamphlets relate to Massachusetts governor Caleb Strong, under whom Edward Hutchinson Robbins served as lieutenant governor. Others relate to Milton, Mass., including an 1809 pamphlet about small pox inoculation in Milton and an 1862 speech delivered by James Murray Robbins on the 200th anniversary of that town. Other pamphlets dated from 1819 to 1832 demostrate the family's interest in slavery and abolition.

Some genealogical information can be found in several 1885 memorials of James Murray Robbins as well as an 1885 printed copy of his will; a 1901 pamphlet on Anne Hutchinson, and a 1914 article "Hutchinson Ancestry and Descendants of William and Anne Hutchinson" in The New York Genealogical and Biographical Record.

Box 3Folder 1
Increase Mather. Sermon, 1711.
Box 3Folder 2
Joseph Sewall. Sermon, 1762.
Box 3Folders 2-19

Preferred Citation

Murray-Robbins family papers, Massachusetts Historical Society.

Materials Removed from the Collection

Silhouettes Removed

A framed silhouette of James Smith, Esq., husband of Elizabeth Murray (1726-1785) has been removed to the Massachusetts Historical Society silhouette collection.

Photographs and Engravings Removed

Photographs of portraits and engravings from this collection have been removed to the Massachusetts Historical Society photographic archives.

Printed Materials Removed

Book of Common Prayer and Sacraments. Includes James Murray's bookplate.

Bevans, William and United States Circuit Court (Massachusetts). Sketch of the Trial of William Bevans, for the Murder of Peter Lunstrum on board the United States' Ship Independence on the 6th of November, 1816. Boston: 1816.

Dean, John Ward. History of the Gerrymander. In The New England Historical and Genealogical Register: 1892.

Shattuck, George O. Brush Hill and Hyde Park. 187[?].

Teele, A. K. Five Reasons Why Brush Hill Should Not be Set Off From Milton, to the Proposed Town of Hyde Park. 186[?]

Access Terms

This collection is indexed under the following headings in ABIGAIL, the online catalog of the Massachusetts Historical Society. Researchers desiring materials about related persons, organizations, or subjects should search the catalog using these headings.


Barnes, Christian Arbuthnot.
Forbes family.
Forbes, Dorothy Murray, 1745-1837.
Forbes, James G. (James Grant), 1769-1825.
Forbes, John Murray, 1771-1831.
Forbes, Ralph Bennet, 1773-1824.
Murray family.
Murray, Elizabeth, 1726-1785.
Murray, James, 1713-1781.
Murray, Mary, b.1754.
Robbins family.
Robbins, Edward Hutchinson, 1758-1829.
Robbins, Elizabeth Murray, 1756-1837.
Robbins, James Murray, 1796-1885.


Account books--1763-1773.
Account books--1818-1823.
American loyalists--Massachusetts.
Boston (Mass.)--History--Revolution, 1775-1783
Boston (Mass.)--History--Siege, 1775-1776.
Family history--1750-1800.
Family history--1800-1850.
Massachusetts--History--Revolution, 1775-1783
Milton (Mass.)--History.
Napoleanic Wars, 1800-1815.
Real property--Massachusetts--Milton.
Slavery--Florida--St. Augustine.
Slavery--Great Britain.
Transatlantic voyages--19th century.
United States--History--Revolution, 1775-1783--Confiscations and contributions.
United States--History--Revolution, 1775-1783--Public opinion.
United States--History--Revolution, 1775-1783--Women.
Women merchants--Massachusetts--Boston.