Timothy Murphy

Timothy was the son of Irish immigrants, born in 1751 near Delaware Water Gap. It was frontier then, and he grew up hunting with a rifle. The stories of his accuracy as a marksman are legendary. He served in the Continental Army, wintered over at Valley Forge in 1777-1778, survived the war and became a successful farmer. When he died in 1818, the State Legislature voted to erect a monument. That monument would not be put in place until 1929 and we will return to it for the quote at the end.
First, we are going to go back to a particular day and two shots taken with a Kentucky long rifle. The day is October 7th, 1777 and the battle became known as the Second Battle of Saratoga. British General Simon Fraser is on the field, preparing his troops to flank the Colonial lines. He is somewhere between 300 and 500 yards away, a distance considered safe, even from the accurate fire of the Colonial marksmen.

A Colonial officer calls Timothy Murphy forward and says, “That gallant officer is General Fraser. I admire him, but it is necessary that he should die. Do your duty.”

Sgt. Murphy climbs a tree, takes aim, adjusts for windage and distance, and shoots Gen. Fraser off his horse, mortally wounded. He will die the next day. Sir Francis Clerke comes onto the field to take command. Sgt Murphy, having reloaded, shoots a second time and kills Clerke instantly. Shots taken on the battlefield, at very long range, with a black powder flintlock rifle.

The British could not recover from the loss of those two officers. The lines collapsed and the British retreated to a defensive position. Ten days later, having lost nearly a thousand men, Gen. Burgoyne surrendered his army. It was a huge victory for the Colonists, leading to France recognizing the United States as an independent country and providing a needed victory over what, to many, appeared to be the overwhelming power of the British Empire.

It is one of those pivotal moments in history. One rifleman, two shots, and the course of a battle, a war, the future of a nation, and the history of the world are changed. Which brings us back to the monument. In 1929, at the ceremony where the monument was unveiled, then Governor Franklin Delano Roosevelt gave the dedication speech. He had this to say:

This country has been made by Timothy Murphys, the men in the ranks. Conditions here called for the qualities of the heart and head that Tim Murphy had in abundance. Our histories should tell us more of the men in the ranks, for it was to them, more than to the generals, that we were indebted for our military victories.
–Franklin Roosevelt


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