Murphy, John Bernard (1821–1884)

By: Frank Wagner

Type: Biography

Published: May 1, 1995

John Bernard Murphy, lawyer and politician, was born in 1821 in Mallow, County Cork, Ireland. He immigrated to the United States in the early 1840s, and he and his brother, P. F. Murphy, moved to Texas in 1846 in search of economic opportunity in connection with the United States Army. Upon the start of the Mexican War in 1846, he served as a reporter under Zachary Taylor's command; he remained in Monterrey, Nuevo León, to edit a newspaper after the city capitulated to Taylor. When he returned to Texas he entered the commercial house of Strothers and Kathrens. He subsequently went into trade on his own account at Matamoros and eventually had business interests in Freeport, Corpus Christi, Laredo, and San Patricio. Murphy married Margaret Mary Healy (see HEALY-MURPHY, MARGARET M.) on May 4, 1849. Through the friendship of the empresario James McGloin, the young couple bought a ranch in 1850 at the Point, about twenty miles upriver on the Nueces from San Patricio. Murphy ranched. He also studied law with future Texas governor Edmund J. Davis. He opened his first office at Nuecestown in 1851, and his first political office was that of justice of the peace at Freeport, near Brownsville. During the Civil War, he enlisted in Davis's First Texas Cavalry, which fought on the Union side. After the war, the Murphys leased their ranch and moved to Corpus Christi, where John practiced law and oversaw his various business interests. At one time he served as district attorney for Nueces County.

During Reconstruction, Murphy was recognized as a leader of the conservative faction in the Democratic party. He was elected to the Constitutional Convention of 1875. At the convention, he opposed measures in support of education, advocated the poll tax for revenue, and sought to have large land grants made to railroads to encourage commerce. He was mayor of Corpus Christi from 1880 to 1884, when poor health forced him to resign. Shortly after his resignation, he died, on July 4, 1884. He and his wife were devout Catholics. Though no children were born to them, they did adopt two. His widow devoted the rest of her life and her husband's estate to the Catholic Church, eventually organizing a teaching order of nuns.

Seth Shepard McKay, Debates in the Texas Constitutional Convention of 1875 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1930). Mary A. Sutherland, The Story of Corpus Christi (Corpus Christi Chapter, Daughters of the Confederacy, 1916). Sister M. Immaculata Turley, S.H.G, Mother Margaret Mary Healy-Murphy (San Antonio: Naylor, 1969).

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Frank Wagner, “Murphy, John Bernard,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 19, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

May 1, 1995