Joseph McMurran was born near Moler’s Crossroads in 1829 the son of Joseph and Elizabeth (Snodgrass) McMurran. He was a graduate of Hampden-Sydney College, class of 1852. He immediately began a career in education and taught first at the Green Academy in Huntsville Alabama, a school known as “prominent in training leaders of North Alabama.” From there he moved to Pittsylvania County Virginia where he taught at Chatham Academy. After a stint at Belfield Academy in Hicksford, Virginia, McMurran ended up at the Montgomery Male Academy in Christiansburg. He was teaching at the Montgomery Academy when Virginia left the Union in May 1861.
McMurran joined the local militia company when it formed up and marched north. They mustered into the Confederate Army at Winchester, Virginia in July 1861 and became Company G in the 4th Virginia Infantry Regiment, a part of the infamous Stonewall Brigade. At the start of the 1862 Shenandoah Valley Campaign, McMurran was captured on March 23rd at the Battle of Kernstown. He was imprisoned at Fort Delaware where he remained until exchanged on August 5th, 1862. He was made Sergeant Major of Company G on September 30th, 1862. McMurran was wounded on July 3rd, 1863, at the Battle of Gettysburg and again on August 17th, 1864 at the Third Battle of Winchester. On February 3rd, 1865 he was assigned to the invalid corps. Regarding his service, one of his compatriot’s wrote:
“His [Joseph McMurran’s] place in the line was on the right of that fine regiment [4th Virginia] and on the march in its front. His tall form and earnest patient bearing rise before my memory in great distinctness as Jackson’s Foot Cavalry were making some of those rapid and long marches for which it in common with Jackson’s ever increasing command became famous. He was always in place, rarely sick, conscientious, patient and determined. He filled his office well and satisfactorily with all fidelity yet with liberal common sense in the exercise of his authority towards men of his command. He was appreciated and respected by his superior officers and valued for the great intelligence and fidelity with which he discharged his duties.”
At war’s end, McMurran returned to Jefferson County. He resumed his teaching career at local academies in Shepherdstown and Duffields. In September 1871 McMurran was named principal of a school which was incorporated as Shepherd College in January 1872. The school got its start in a public building on the northeast corner of King and German Streets. Constructed in 1859 with funds given by Shepherdstown philanthropist Rezin Davis Shepherd, the building was used first as the town hall and from 1865 until 1871 it served as the Court House of Jefferson County. During McMurran’s tenure, Shepherd College became one of six normal schools in West Virginia.
In 1877 the degrees of Master and Mistress of English Literature were conferred. End of year examinations were required for advancement, and policy for both admissions and discipline were established. Under McMurran’s tutelage the Shepherd College Cadet Corps was formed, and student organizations such as the Parthenian Society for ladies, the Ciceronian Society for men, and the Young Men’s Christian Association were established.
Unfortunately, Shepherd College struggled financially in its early years. Due to his concern for the future viability of the school, McMurran retired in 1882. He joined Henry S. Baker in the operation of a pharmacy on German Street. Joseph McMurran died on February 14th, 1902. His obituary in The Shepherdstown Register reported that, “His vast store of knowledge was as free as the fountains that gush from the hillsides.” Joseph McMurran was buried in the Presbyterian Lot at Elmwood Cemetery.