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Martin Murphy: An Immigrant’s Courage Written by William Briggs, Board Member Morgan Hill Historical Society Martin Murphy, Sr. (1850) Clyde Arbuckle Collection, San Jose Library California Room. M artin Murphy Sr. was born in County Wexford, Ireland, in 1785. The Murphy family motto, Fortis et Hospitalis, translates to “Brave and Hospitable.” A fitting senti- ment for a patriarch whose courage, industry and hospitality would become legendary in Santa Clara Valley. Murphy immigrated to Canada, then to the United States, and after a stint in Missouri, settled his family in California. But what steeled his charac- ter to lead his family on a difficult jour- ney to settle far from their native land? English overlords had ruled Ireland for centuries, denying the Irish the right to own land or practice their Catholic religion. Martin Murphy had joined his 108 father in the bloody rebellion of 1798. While he escaped punishment, Murphy faced a bleak future of farming. Ireland was a country of small tenant farms. Crops and livestock were not for personal consumption, but for landlord profit and rent. Farmers often subsisted on a single acre relegated to a single crop: potatoes. Rents increased and ten- ants were ousted by absentee landown- ers consolidating farmlands. Murphy was modestly successful with long-term leases, but not immune to such pres- sures. Only his oldest son (of eight children) could inherit the farm, leaving younger siblings without opportunities. The promise of land ownership, reli- gious freedom, and a better life for his children all factored into the difficult and risky decision to emigrate and start anew in Canada. Murphy could not have imagined what lay ahead. After 35 days sailing across the cold North Atlantic in dank steerage, the Murphy family arrived at Quebec City in 1819. Because they had simply moved from one part of the British Empire to another, they were not legally considered to be immigrants. They joined other Irish Catholics in Frampton, near Quebec. The St. Lawrence River bottomlands were soggy, while higher ground was rocky and the soil of poor quality. Malaria and cholera were a constant danger. The weather was harsh. The Irish and French Canadians of Lower Canada did not assimilate well and anti-Irish discrimination was prevalent in English- dominated Upper Canada. By 1840, Murphy’s attention was fixed on America, a young country that twice defeated England and enshrined liberty and religious freedoms within its borders. It promised fertile lands, warmer weather and better health. The Murphys traveled south to Missouri and a settlement near St. Joseph known as Irish Grove where harvests were bounti- ful but fresh-plowed virgin farmland released centuries’ worth of air-borne pathogens including malaria and ague. Disease claimed the lives of Martin’s wife Mary and several grandchildren. A Catholic priest visiting the grieving Murphy clan told of better farming and GILROY • MORGAN HILL • SAN MARTIN SPRING 2020 a safe haven for Catholics in a coastal region known as California. Martin Murphy’s spirit kindled like a peat fire in an Irish cottage hearth, and his desire to push westward took hold. Historic diaries and memoirs chron- icle how, in 1844, the Murphy family joined a wagon train led by Elisha Stephens and headed west. An Indian named Truckee showed them a pass in the Sierra Nevada Range through which they maneuvered their wagons and survived winter snowstorms to arrive at Sutter’s Fort, Sacramento. There, they were caught up in the Bear Flag Rebellion, the Mexican War, and ultimately, California’s independence and eventual statehood. As a Catholic, Murphy could obtain Mexican citizenship, facilitating his purchase of Mexican land grants. In 1845, he bought the Ojo de Agua de la Coche rancho, located between modern Morgan Hill and Llagas Creek, from Juan Maria Hernandez. Murphy called his estate San Martin in honor of his patron saint, St. Martin of Tours. The land acquisitions of his son Daniel Murphy, the “Cattle King of Nevada,” made him the world’s larg- est landowner at that time. Daniel’s daughter Diana Murphy and her husband, Hiram Morgan Hill, built a country home they called Villa Mira Monte, facing Murphy’s Peak (El Toro Mountain), which have become iconic symbols of modern-day Morgan Hill. After the discovery of gold in 1848, several of the Murphys made fortunes in placer mining as well as in lumber, cattle ranching, wheat production and trading. Throughout the Santa Clara Valley the Murphys were revered for their vision and works, establish- ing Santa Clara College, Notre Dame Academy for Girls, San Jose Normal School, the county courthouse and post office in San Jose, as well as the foundations for the cities of Mountain View and Sunnyvale. When Martin Murphy Sr. died in 1865, he was mourned by thousands. The gritty Irishman had realized his dream, provided for his family, and paved the way for progress in California. Fortis et Hospitalis.