Murphy is an Irish name.  It’s the English version of the Gaelic O’Murchadha which means descendant of Murchadh. The name Murchadh is composed of muir ‘sea” and cath “battle” or sea-warrior.


Michael Murphy and
Mary Katherine Myers

Michael Murphy Mary Katherine Myers

This photo of Michael Murphy, although of poor quality, is the only one known to be in existence.  The photo of Mary Katherine was taken with her son,


Stephen Murphy and
Ellen Scanlan

Stephen Murphy was born in April 1823 in County Kerry, Ireland.  His parents are believed to have been Michael Murphy (born c. 1791) and Ellen Murphy (c. 1793 or 1801).

Stephen was married c.1847 in Ireland to Ellen Scanlan.  Little is known about Stephen and Ellen’s life in Ireland, but they must have been resilient people.  They lived through the potato famine which killed so many Irish and drove so many others into exile.  The year they married was known as “Black ‘47” because it was the worst year of the Great Famine.

The first known record of Stephen and Ellen in Ireland is the record of the baptism of their daughter Mary.  Among the records for the Roman Catholic Parish of Castlegregory is the following:

Mary, daughter of Stephen Murphy and Ellen Scanlan of Ballyduff, was baptized on the 01/06/1849, the sponsors were Michael Murphy and Mary Murphy, the Rev. T. Cavanagh officiated.
(Note:  this date is June 1, 1849, which means Mary was probably born in May.)

This is the first record to locate the Murphys in Ireland.  Ballyduff (or An Baile Dubh in Gaelic) is a townland, an area of farms and scattered houses.  It is located on the Dingle Peninsula in County Kerry, approximately 7 ½ miles NE of the village of Dingle.  There is a description in Lewis’s Topographical Dictionary of Ireland, which dates to 1837.  At that time there were approximately 410 inhabitants, of which number 92 lived in the village. The only visible record of Ballyduff in 1999 was a stone bridge with the name An Baile Dubh on the end.  The village no longer exists.  There are no Murphys in the area today, nor have there been for at least one hundred years.  Because the south and west of Ireland were the hardest hit during the Famine, most of those who didn’t die were forced to leave in order to survive.
(Note:  There is a town of Ballyduff still existing today in County Kerry.  It is located near Tralee and is not the same Ballyduff as mentioned above.)

In 1851 Stephen and Ellen decided to come to America.  Most Irish emigrants first journeyed across the Irish Sea on the deck of a cattleboat to the English port of Liverpool, before embarking on a large ship for America.  This is probably what Ellen and Stephen did, since they came from Liverpool on the ship Saxony, arriving at the port of Boston, Massachusetts on February 19, 1851.  The ships coming from Ireland at that time were known as coffin ships because conditions were so terrible and so many died during the voyage.  It is not known when the Murphys left Liverpool, but voyages usually took from six to twelve weeks.  In addition to Stephen and Ellen and infant, the passenger list names Michael (age 60) and Ellen Murphy (age 50 or 58), and Pat Murphy, age 17.  Michael and Ellen were likely Stephen’s parents, and Pat was probably his brother.  All except the infant, who was Mary, were listed as labourers from Ireland, destination United States.

Little is known about the Murphy’s first years in the United States.  However, Stephen’s obituary states that the family first went to Lowell, Massachusetts for two years.  Many Irish immigrants worked at the mills in Lowell.  Stephen and Ellen’s oldest son, Michael, claims to have been born in Hillsboro, Ohio in 1853 (or possibly 1852 or 1854).  To date, no record of the family has been located there, nor has any record of Michael, Ellen or Patrick Murphy been found.

The first official documentation of Stephen’s location in the United States came on June 17, 1858 when he bought 40 acres of land in Juneau County, Wisconsin for $1.25 per acre.  At that time, farms of 40 or 80 acres were the usual size.  Although the land carried a Wonewoc address, it is actually located east of Elroy, Wisconsin.  As of 1995, the land is forested and is not accessible from the road.  During this time in Wisconsin, Stephen and Ellen had two more sons, Jeremiah, born c1857 or 1858, and Bartholomew, born c1859 or 1860.

On the U.S. Census of 1860 for Juneau County, Wisconsin, P.O. Wonewoc, Stephen and Ellen are listed, along with their children, Mary, Michael, Jeremiah, and Bartholomew.  Listed as neighbors were Jerry (Jeremiah) Murphy, wife Mary, and children Bartholomew and Ellen; and Bartholomew Murphy, wife Joanna and daughter Mary.  It is not known if Jerry or Bartholomew were related to Stephen, but is seems possible, particularly since so many of the same names appear in the families.  It is known that Jerry Murphy was also from County Kerry, Ireland.  Jerry and Bartholomew bought farmland together, which would seem to indicate that they were related.

The Juneau County Land Records Index located at the State Historical Society Library in Madison indicates that Stephen bought additional land in Juneau County in 1865.  However, the land records were not found at the Juneau County Courthouse.

Stephen Murphy is listed on the 1870 census for Juneau County, Wisconsin.  Also listed are Ellen, Michael, Jerry and Bartholomew (although Bartholomew is listed erroneously as Patrick).  Mary is no longer listed.  It is possible that she had died or she may have married.  In addition, four younger children are listed: Bridget, Ellen, John and Elizabeth.  Census takers counted whoever was in a house on the day they came.  It is not known whose children they were.

The last official record placing Stephen Murphy in Juneau County was October 26th, 1868 when he filed a Declaration of Intent to become a citizen.  Final papers have not been found, so it is not known if he actually became a citizen or not.  However, since he later acquired land under the Homestead Act of 1862 which required that the purchaser was either a citizen or had filed to become one, it is assumed that he did become a citizen at some time.

In 1870 the State of Iowa published quite a lengthy brochure to encourage settlers in the state, particularly in the western counties.  This brochure was distributed all over the United States and in many foreign countries.  It is probably this brochure that encouraged Stephen and Ellen, along with Michael, Jeremiah and Bartholomew, to leave Wisconsin and move to Emmet County, Iowa in 1871.  Stephen is listed as one of the earliest settlers in Emmet County in an early county history.  Although a few settlers had arrived during the 1860’s, it wasn’t until the 1870’s that settlers started arriving in greater numbers.  Stephen and Ellen were included in that group.  On June 2, 1871, they filed a claim for 160 acres under the provisions of the Homestead Act of 1862.  The act provided that if a settler lived on the land and made improvements, at the end of five years, the land would be his.  The final certificate filed June 15, 1876 listed the improvements that Stephen and Ellen had made:  built a log house 13 x 17, one and half story high, 4 windows and 2 outside doors; plowed, fenced and cultivated about 40 acres of land; and built stables, planted one acre of forest trees and dug a well.  This land was in Armstrong Grove Township, northwest of the present town of Armstrong.
(Note: The farm is currently owned by Beryl Corderman. It is north of 160th St. and east of 540th Ave.)

Although little is known about Stephen and Ellen’s life in Emmet County, a history of Estherville describes plagues of grasshoppers in the early 1870’s which drove many settlers to leave.  The Murphys stayed long enough to take title to their farm. But on June 30, 1876 (only 15 days after they received that title), they sold the farm to William H. Shea of Palo Alto County for $1,000.  The previous day, June 29th, they had purchased 40 acres of land in Palo Alto County, plus a lot in Emmetsburg, from William H. and Louie Shea for $1,000.

In the 1880 census for Palo Alto Co., Iowa, Stephen and Ellen are listed, along with Michael, Jerry and Bartholomew.  In Palo Alto County, as in Emmet County, Stephen was listed as a farmer.

Stephen and Ellen’s oldest son, Michael, was married on July 3, 1883 at Assumption Church in Emmetsburg to Mary Katherine Myers.  They had 13 children:  Mary Ellen, Jeremih Charles, Julia V., Louisa Christiana, Phillip P., Anna, Leo A., Isabella, Joseph John, Frances DeSales, Maurice T., Cyril, and Hilary.  On April 21, 1883 Stephen sold his land in Palo Alto Co. to Michael.  This is the Murphy farm which was located on the southeast edge of Emmetsburg.  It remained in the Murphy family until after the death of Cyril in 1979.

Stephen and Ellen’s son Jeremiah was killed in a terrible accident on July 2, 1884.  He was working near Sibley as a laborer in the pile driver gang for the Sioux City and Omaha Railroad.  According to newspaper accounts, he was on the tracks at 1:00 A.M. for reasons unknown.  The engineer and fireman saw what they thought to be a pile of ashes on the track, by the time they realized it was a man, it was too late to stop. 

It is unknown what happened to Bartholomew.  The census records for 1890 were destroyed by fire and he does not appear in the records for Palo Alto Co. in 1895 or 1900.  One of Stephen’s obituaries in 1904 states he is survived by one son, Michael,  The other says that he is survived by Michael, and perhaps another, but that the location of Bartholomew is unknown.  Michael’s son, Leo, stated that he was known as Uncle Bat and supposedly lived in Superior, Wisconsin.  To date, no records have been found that would put him at that location.

The last official record of Mary was the 1860 census in Juneau County, Wisconsin.  She may have married, but Wisconsin didn’t keep official records that early.  The local Catholic Church burned years ago and their records were destroyed.  Her father’s obituary mentioned only that he had a daughter who died many years ago.

Ellen Murphy died July 13, 1896 at the home of her son, Michael, after a brief illness.  She was buried on July 14 in the family lot in the cemetery, after services in the Catholic Church.

After Ellen’s death, Stephen lived with Michael and his family.  He died June 20, 1904 at Michaels’s home on the Murphy farm at the age of 81. Funeral services were held June 23 at Assumption Church and he was buried in St. John’s cemetery.  It is assumed that Stephen and Ellen are buried in the two unmarked graves in the Murphy family plot, next to their son Jeremiah.


Rhio Graphics