Murray was born to Scottish immigrants to South Carolina. His mother died about 1847 (1867 according to one source), and his father in 1857. Sources differ about the rest of his childhood: one implies that he went into the Charleston Orphan House when his mother died; the other that he was raised by his father and a housekeeper until his father's death, when he went to the orphanage. He was fostered in 1860 and adopted when he was 17 by Washington Jefferson Bennett, the son of Thomas Bennett, Jr., and the adoptive brother of Christopher Gustavus Memminger.
He became a partner with Bennett's two born-two sons in the family's rice and lumber company, from which he made a large fortune. In 1876 he married Bennett's daughter, Mary. Principal beneficiaries of his philanthropy were The Citadel military academy, the Charleston Orphan House, the College of Charleston, Murray Vocational School and Murray Boulevard.
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