According to Tennessee prison records, John Andrews Murrell was born in Lunenburg County, Virginia, and raised in Williamson County, Tennessee. Murrell was the son of Jeffrey Murrell and Zilpha Andrews and was the third born of eight children. While incarcerated, his mother, wife, and two children lived in the vicinity of Denmark, Tennessee.
John Andrews Murrell (1806–1844) was a horse thief, a slave stealer, and a counterfeiter who was transformed into a legendary highway robber and murderous outlaw whose criminal exploits took him throughout the South in the 1820s and 1830s. Modern-day treasure hunters are still trying to find his supposed caches of hidden gold in Tennessee, Arkansas, Illinois, Louisiana, and Mississippi.
The disappearance of two slaves belonging to a friend in 1834 prompted Virgil A. Stewart to pursue Murrell in the hopes of learning their whereabouts. Stewart befriended him on his journey to Arkansas, and he claimed the unsuspecting outlaw shared with him knowledge of his secret criminal network called the Mystic Clan of the Confederacy and his intention to incite a slave insurrection as a diversion for his Clan’s thievery throughout the South.
Accepted facts about his life include stealing horses, for which he was branded. He was also caught with a freed slave living on his property. Murrell was known to kidnap slaves and sell them to other slave owners. He received his 10-year prison sentence for slave-stealing. Murrell would be considered a conductor on the Reverse Underground Railroad
Murrell was known as a “land-pirate”, using the Mississippi River as a base for his operations. He used a network of 300] to 1,000, and even as many as 2,500 (as some newspaper reports claimed) fellow bandits collectively known as the Mystic Clan to pull off his escapades. Many of these were members of cultural/ethnic groups such as the Melungeons and the Redbones. He was also known as a bushwhacker along the Natchez Trace. To cover up his deeds, he played the persona of a traveling preacher. Twain’s work and others say he would preach to a congregation while his gang stole the horses outside, but the accounts are unanimous that Murrell’s horse was always left behind. The location of his hideout and operations base has been in question. Possibilities are Jackson County, Tennessee; Natchez, Mississippi, at Devil’s Punch Bowl; Tunica County, Mississippi; the Neutral Ground in Louisiana; and even the tiny Island 37 on the Mississippi River. One record, a genealogical note, even places him as far east as Georgia; in fact, Atlanta historian Franklin Garrett makes clear that a lawless district in that town named was for him, “Murrell’s Row”, in the 1840s. Because Murrell has come to symbolize Natchez Trace lawlessness in the antebellum era, his “hideouts” (whether any hideouts existed or not) understandably have been said to have been located at most of the well-known areas of particular lawlessness along the Natchez Trace.
Research from various web sites
Interesting reading material
Mark Twain’s Life on the Mississippi
Mark Twain in his novel Tom Sawyer has Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn seeing “Injun Joe” finding “Murel’s” treasure and then after “Injun Joe”‘s death by starvation, Sawyer and Finn find the treasure again