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Murphey, Archibald DeBow

Archibald DeBow Murphey (1777?-1832) was one of seven children born to Archibald and Jane DeBow Murphey. He attended David Caldwell's school in Greensboro and enrolled in the University in 1796, becoming a member of the Dialectic Society. Graduating with honors in 1799, Murphey served as a tutor and was professor of ancient languages for the 1800-01 academic year. Then he moved to Hillsborough to study law with William Duffy, qualifying for the bar in 1801. That same year he married Jane Armistead Scott and began to build an estate of some 2,000 acres that included a gristmill, sawmill, and distillery supported by slave labor. From 1818 to 1820 he was a superior court judge. Murphey is best known for a series of reports outlining plans for improving the lives of North Carolina citizens. In addition to arguing for good transportation, more productive agriculture, and the abolition of slavery, he projected a comprehensive system of education that included public schools, academies or high schools, schools for the deaf and dumb, and the University. Murphey died before any of his plans found sufficient support to be implemented, but when public schools finally were inaugurated in 1840, they were modeled on Murphey's reports. The end of Murphey's life was troubled by financial crises, and he spent twenty days in prison for debt in 1829. Though Murphey had reason to believe that his life had been a failure, most historians recognize that the future he envisioned for North Carolina far surpassed the notions of most of his contemporaries. Four sons and a daughter survived him (Dictionary of North Carolina Biography 4:345-46; Powell, North Carolina through Four Centuries 253-66).