Joseph McMurran, Jr., was the first principal of Shepherd College. Son of Joseph McMurran Sr., a man of wealth and influence who served in the Virginia State Legislature, Joseph Jr. was born on the family farm about two miles south of Shepherdstown, the fourth of nine children. After attending local schools, McMurran enrolled in Hampton-Sydney College at age 19, graduating in 1852 with a bachelor of arts degree.
Joseph McMurran began teaching in 1852, and for the next nine years held teaching positions in various private schools and academies in the South. He was teaching in Alabama when the Civil War broke out and returned to Virginia to enlist in a unit which later became known as the Stonewall Brigade. As a member of that unit, he participated in all of its campaigns and engagements. Wounded twice–once in the shoulder at Winchester and once in the lung at Gettysburg–McMurran was captured at Kernstown in 1862, and was confined to a Union prison for six months.
After the war, McMurran returned to the Shepherdstown area and began teaching once again. Utilizing the town hall, which had been built by Rezin Shepherd, a New Orleans merchant born near Shepherdstown, McMurran bagan plans to organize a college. The building had been converted to a courthouse from 1865 to 1871, but became available when the county seat of Jefferson County was moved back to Charles Town. McMurran was the college’s principal from 1872 until 1882. A curriculum was established, faculty were employed, and the college began to function in 1872. Financial support from the new state of West Virginia Legislature was sporadic and uncertain, and McMurran frequently spent money from his own pocket for building maintenance. Although the enrollment gradually increased, McMurran became discouraged, resigning in 1882, to establish a partnership in a drugstore called Baker and McMurran in Shepherdstown.
Joseph McMurran, Jr., always regarded his role in establishing Shepherd College as the most important achievement of his life. After leaving the college, he remained a firm supporter of its projects and endeavors, responding repeatedly to its needs when called upon. His final service to the institution was as member of the Board of Trustees, a position to which he was appointed in 1886. McMurran died on Saint Valentines’s Day, 1902.
Submitted by S. Ralph Sherrard
Associate Professor of History, 1968-98