Murphy, William Sumter (ca. 1796–1844)

By: Thomas W. Cutrer

Type: Biography

Published: 1952

Updated: May 1, 1995

William Sumter Murphy, United States diplomat, was born in South Carolina about 1796 and moved to Chillicothe, Ohio, in 1818. There he established a legal practice and, in 1821, married Lucinda Sterret. His powers of oratory were such that he came to be called the "Patrick Henry of the West." Politically, Murphy was at first a Democrat but later supported Whig candidates William Henry Harrison and John Tyler. He was greatly interested in military affairs and was appointed a brigadier general in the Ohio state militia. In 1843 President John Tyler appointed Murphy minister extraordinary to Central America and chargé d'affaires to the Republic of Texas, in which office he replaced Joseph Eve. From his ministry in Galveston Murphy worked diligently toward the annexation of Texas to the United States. When, in February 1844, annexation appeared imminent, Murphy, without authorization from his government, acceded to President Sam Houston's request for United States warships to patrol the Gulf of Mexico to protect Texas ports and harbors. For this action the chargé received the reprimand of his superiors and was given to understand that his appointment would not be confirmed by the Senate. This report caused Houston to write to Murphy on March 30, 1844, of his "regret that anything should at this time withdraw you from this Government, until the work which you have been instrumental in commencing should be terminated either by annexation, or rejection of Texas by the U[nited] States." The treaty of annexation, signed by the Texas government on April 11, 1844, was rejected by the United States Senate, and Murphy was recalled to Washington. "The tail went with the hide," as he summed up the situation. Murphy died of yellow fever in Galveston only a few weeks later, on July 12, 1844, and was buried there the following day. He was the third United States minister to Texas to die at his post since 1840.

Dictionary of American Biography. Amelia W. Williams and Eugene C. Barker, eds., The Writings of Sam Houston, 1813–1863 (8 vols., Austin: University of Texas Press, 1938–43; rpt., Austin and New York: Pemberton Press, 1970). Henderson K. Yoakum, History of Texas from Its First Settlement in 1685 to Its Annexation to the United States in 1846 (2 vols., New York: Redfield, 1855).

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

Thomas W. Cutrer, “Murphy, William Sumter,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 16, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

May 1, 1995