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Murray Hill, Manhattan

The Murray Hill neighborhood of Manhattan derives its name from the Murray family, 18th-century Quaker merchants mainly concerned with shipping and overseas trade. Robert Murray (1721-1786), the family chieftain, was born in Pennsylvania and came to New York in 1753 after a short residence in North Carolina. He quickly established himself as a merchant and about 1762 rented land from the city for a great house and farm. The total acreage was just over 29 acres. In today's terms, the farm began a few feet south of Thirty-Third Street and extended north to the middle of the block between Thirty-Eighth and Thirty-Ninth Streets. At the southern end, the plot was rather narrow but at the northern end it went from approximately Lexington Avenue to a spot between Madison and Fifth Avenues. The great house was built on a since-leveled hill at what is today Park Avenue and Thirty-Sixth Street.

The most illustrious member of the family was the oldest child, Lindley Murray (1745-1826). A New York lawyer, he was forced into exile after the Revolution as a loyalist, settling in York, England, where there was a Quaker community. In England, Lindley began writing school textbooks. He wrote 11 of them, beginning in 1798, and became the largest-selling author in the world in the first half of the nineteenth century. His textbooks were widely printed in Britain (particularly his English Grammar) but had their greatest success in the new United States, partly because no international copyright agreement existed and the books could be reprinted without royalties being paid. Some 15 million copies of Murray's books were sold in America and another 4 million in Britain. His most popular work was his English Reader, full of selections from the liberal-minded writers of the Scottish Enlightenment, most notably the Rev. Hugh Blair. Abrahm Lincoln praised the "English Reader" as "the best schoolbook ever put in the hands of an American youth." The English Reader utterly dominated the American market for readers for over a generation from 1815 into the 1840s. It was replaced mainly by the McGuffey series of reading texts, which began to appear in 1836.

The standard work on the Murray family is "The Murrays of Murray Hill" (Brooklyn: Urban History Press, 1998) by Charles Monaghan.



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