John Van Antwerp MacMurray was born in Schenectady, New York on October 6, 1881 and entered boarding school in 1892 before attending Princeton University (1898-1902). After a year of travel in Europe he entered Columbia Law School in 1903. In 1906 he was admitted to the New York Bar. By this time MacMurray was trying to secure an appointment in the Foreign Service. While waiting for an appointment, he made a study of Elizabethan drama at Princeton. In 1907 he received a master of arts degree from his alma mater and was appointed Secretary of Legation and Consul General at Bangkok, Siam, followed by a position as Second Secretary of the embassy in St. Petersburg (1908-1911). After a brief interlude as Assistant Chief of the Division of Information, he became Assistant Chief and then Chief of the Division of Near Eastern Affairs at the State Department (1911-1913). He started specializing in Far Eastern affairs with his consecutive appointments as Secretary of Legation in Peking (1913-1917), Counselor of the embassy in Tokyo (1917-1919), and, back at the State Department, Chief of the Division of Far Eastern Affairs (1919-1924). In 1921 he published Treaties and Agreements with and Concerning China. In the same year he served as expert assistant on Pacific and Far Eastern affairs to American Commissioners at the International Conference on the Limitation of Armament in Washington. He also was an observer for the U.S. government at the Chinese-Japanese negotiations for the settlement of the Shantung question (1921-1922).

In 1924 MacMurray became Assistant Secretary of State, but one year later he was back in his area of specialization as Minister to China (1925-1929). In this capacity he chaired the American delegation to the Special Conference on the Chinese Customs Tariff (1925-1926). In 1930 he made a very different career choice, accepting an offer to become Director of the Walter Hines Page School of International Relations at Johns Hopkins University, a position he officially held until 1935. Faced with the fact that he could no longer secure enough funding for the School, he relinquished his salary and reentered the Foreign Service in 1933 as Minister to Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, followed by an ambassadorship to Turkey (1936-1942). In these years, he also served as the Assistant Chairman of the International Wheat Advisory Committee (1933-1938) and chaired the Joint Preparatory Committee on Philippine Affairs (1937-1938). His last two years before retirement were spent back at the State Department as Special Assistant to the Secretary of State (1942-1944).

MacMurray married Lois R. Goodnow in 1916 and had three children: Joan Goodnow, Frank Goodnow, and Lois Van Antwerp. He died at his home in Norfolk, Connecticut on September 25, 1960.

His father, Junius Wilson MacMurray, was born in Missouri, the son of Irish immigrant and blacksmith John Dennison MacMurray and Eliza Wilson. At the outbreak of the Civil War, Junius recruited a company, and as a volunteer in the Army of the Republic he rose to the rank of captain. At the close of the Civil War, he was appointed lieutenant in the First Missouri Light Artillery. He joined the regular army in 1866 and graduated from the Artillery School at Fort Monroe, Virginia in 1870. He married Henrietta Van Antwerp of Albany, New York, and by the time of John Van Antwerp’s birth in 1881, he had been a professor of military history at Cornell, lectured publicly, and was considered an authority on the history of the American Indian. He was the editor of A History of the Schenectady Patent in the Dutch and English Times; being Contributions toward a History of the Lower Mohawk Valley, by Jonathan Pearson et al. (1883).

To find more on the diplomatic papers from him, go to the Princeton library.

(Given the ties to Albany and Schenectady where the first Van Antwerps to the new world settled, I think it is pretty safe to assume he is a relative.)

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