He arrived in Baltimore at the age of sixteen after his family left Ireland during the famine of the 1840’s. The Murphy family of eight settled in a neighborhood off Pratt St. in west Baltimore. Through a cousin, William was able to get a job working as a laborer on the B&O Railroad. He joined the hundreds of men who worked their way west from Baltimore building bridges and laying track. William and his fellow laborers did the most strenuous and dangerous work associated with the railroads. They worked in the bitter cold and oppressive heat. The workers were poorly paid and, in the days when William was employed, received no benefits. They lived in temporary housing that followed the construction projects. They were crowded, dirty, and it was not uncommon for William to occasionally drink too much and get into a fight. It was a hard life. He was thirty-five when he was killed in an accident while working on the construction of a bridge in western Maryland. His fellow workmen took up a collection to help his family pay for his burial.