David Murray was born in Bovina in 1830, the son of William Murray and Jean Black, both natives of Scotland. He grew up in Bovina, attending the one room schools there. A story related in a memorial publication after his death noted that not long after he started school, he fell and injured his leg. This confined him in a crib for a year. The doctor who nursed him back to health brought him a book on George Washington and promised him the book when he could read the first page. After finishing at the one-room school he attended Delaware Academy in Delhi.
After graduating from Union College in 1852, David had an extensive career as an educator. From 1857 to 1863 he was the principal of the Albany Academy in New York City. He was a professor at Rutgers College in New Jersey from 1863-1873. During his time there, he taught mathematics, natural philosophy and astronomy. While teaching there, working with George Cook, he was active in developing a full science curriculum and lobbied for the college to be named the state’s land grand college. Cook and Murray conducted surveys that established the boundary between New York and New Jersey in 1872. On top of all of this, Murray was responsible for building Rutgers’ first astronomical observatory.
When an embassy from Japan came to the U.S. in 1872, the representatives met Murray and invited him to become an adviser to the imperial minister of education. He was the Superintendent of Educational Affairs in Japan from 1873-1879, establishing the system of public education for the entire country. He returned to the U.S. for a visit in 1876 specifically to collect material for an educational museum in Japan. When he left Japan in 1879, the emperor of Japan awarded him the decoration of the Rising Sun.
On his return to the U.S., he was appointed the secretary of the board of regents of the University of New York. While in this position, the Delaware Gazette reported in 1883 that “David Murray, the Secretary of the Board of Regents, writes to the Brooklyn Board of Education that for the inspection of primary schools a woman is incomparably more efficient than a man.”
|Undated photo of David Murray from memorial biography written in 1915.|
David began having health problems in the 1880s, possibly related to the leg he injured as a child. When his brother, Delhi judge William Murray, died in 1887, he was too weak to attend the funeral. His poor health forced his resignation at the end of 1888, but he would live for another seventeen years. Murray wrote several books and numerous articles, including a history of education in New Jersey. He wrote The Story of Japan in 1894 as part of the Story of the Nations series.
David Murray never forgot his roots in Delaware County. He made frequent visits to his brother, William. He was chosen to be the editor of the Centennial History of Delaware County New York in 1897 and wrote the chapter on the “Anti-Rent Episode in New York,” which he originally wrote for and presented to the American Historical Association. It was one of the first histories written about this period.
He also continued his roots with Rutgers, serving on the College board of trustees until a few months before his death in 1905. He had been suffering from tuberculosis of the leg for some years. Murray is buried in the Elmwood Cemetery in New Brunswick, NJ. His grave records his birth in Bovina in 1830.
|From Find A Grave|