‘Lindley Murray’ is familiar to many in Lebanon County. It’s the name given to a restored one-room schoolhouse, a former city elementary school, and a road north of Palmyra. It’s also the name of a Harper Tavern native who became one of the best-known authorities on English grammar of all time.
Lindley Murray, eldest of 12 siblings, was born on March 27, 1745, to Robert Murray and Mary Lindley, near what is now known as Harper Tavern in East Hanover Township (the tavern that lends its name to the area opened in 1850). His parents were both Quakers; Robert converted to the faith through his marriage with Mary. Robert operated a nearby flour mill for a year at the time of his son’s birth.
The Murray family stayed in the area for several years. According to researcher Lyda Fens-de Zeeuw, Lindley was sent to a Philadelphia school at around age 10 but left to accompany his family on a move to North Carolina. Robert eventually transplanted the Murrays again to New York City, where he became a very successful businessman.
In New York, Lindley studied and lived with his family (aside from a period where he ran away from home) and pursued his interests in science and literature. Though his father wanted him to become a businessman, Lindley instead began a career as a practicing attorney. In 1770, the Murray family, Lindley and his wife included, moved to England, but Lindley returned to New York the next year to continue his practice.
Lindley stayed in the US for over a decade until moving to England for good in 1784. It’s there that he began publishing the books that would make him known as the “father of English grammar.”
‘The father of English grammar’
Murray’s best-known work is English Grammar, a 1795 instructional book that, according to some researchers, became the best-selling book on English grammar of all time (a scanned copy of the book can be found here). Murray was such an authority on the subject that his name itself was used as a shorthand for the rules of proper English: someone making an egregious grammatical error was said to be “ignorant of Lindley Murray.”
His writings and exercises were so widely used that references to them can be found in connection with classical literature in the 19th and 20th centuries. Edgar Allan Poe, for example, was familiar with Murray’s grammar books from an early age and referenced them in critiques on other writers’ grammar. References to Murray can also be found in the writings of Charles Dickens, Oscar Wilde, and George Eliot, among others.
In the United States, the first edition of English Grammar was not published until 1800, but it was picked up quickly: nine other editions were published before the end of the year, with dozens more to come. It is estimated that by 1850 English Grammar had sold around 2 million copies sold worldwide; the total number of works by Murray sold worldwide is estimated to be around 14 million.
Lindley Murray died in 1826 in his home in Holgate, a suburb of York, at the age of 80.
In the 1850s, a one-room schoolhouse named for Murray was constructed near Fort Indiantown Gap. The schoolhouse taught students in grades 1-8 from the same area that its namesake had lived in a century ago. The schoolhouse functioned as such until the mid-1940s, when it closed during a wave of similar school closings around the county.
In the decades that followed, the building was used as a paint shop for the government, including the National Guard, and its original interior was lost. But in 1973, a group of students from Northern Lebanon High School undertook a project to renovate the school and fill it with appropriate interior furnishings. By the country’s bicentennial in 1976, the Murray School was restored to its approximate 1890s appearance. Today, it is the only restored one-room schoolhouse in the county.
Murray also lent his name to a bigger school in the city. The Lindley Murray Elementary School at 10th and Church Streets was constructed in 1870 and remained in use until 1976, when the opening of Northwest Elementary rendered it obsolete.
The elementary school had been renovated and expanded with four additional rooms in 1957. The Lebanon School District sold the property in 1979; today, the building is in use as the Iglesia El Faro church.
There’s no way to know for certain, but it’s entirely possible that the grammar exercises of Lindley Murray were taught at some point within the schools named after their author.
The Murray family made a long-lasting mark on history. Murray Hill, an area of Manhattan, is named for them. Mary, Lindley’s mother, is credited with inviting the troops of British General William Howe in for tea at their New York home — thereby allowing the 5,000 American troops under General Israel Putnam to make a safe retreat and avoid what would have been an outmatched battle in the Revolutionary War.
But only Lindley Murray belongs, in some part, to Lebanon County.
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