The Orrs of Anderson Pt 1: From an Inn to the Governor’s Mansion

There has been an Orr family living in Anderson since its founding, and their actions helped shape not only the development of the town but of the state as well. From one of the first executions in Anderson County to the Court of St. Petersburg, this is the first part of the story of an Anderson family and the street that bears its name.

The Orr family of Anderson County traces its line back to one Jehu Orr who built a two-story home in the Craytonville area of Anderson County in the early 1800’s. This was one of the first such homes in the county, and it also served as a stagecoach stop for travelers. Jehu Orr was born in 1763, in Wake County, North Carolina. He served in the Revolutionary War as a Captain of Dragoons in the North Carolina cavalry. It was after the war that Orr moved to what was then called the Pendleton District, which comprised present-day Anderson and Pickens Counties.

It was in Craytonville that Orr settled with his family, his wife, Jane Clinkscales, and their children. The business of innkeeper was very profitable for Jehu. His inn was situated not far from what was called the General’s Road which connected Andrew Pickens’ Hopewell Plantation in Clemson to Abbeville. This was a widely traveled road and served as the main north-south thoroughfare in the district. Stagecoach inns such as Orr’s were necessary part of travel in those days.

On December 20, 1826, under the leadership of Joseph Whitner, the Pendleton District was divided into two smaller, more manageable districts. They were named Anderson and Pickens. Almost a year later, on the evening of December 5, 1827, a man named Uriah Sligh entered Orr’s Inn seeking lodging. As customary, he was granted a room. Orr was a likable man. He knew that goodwill was the secret of any successful business, and he would often spend time with his guests. After a few drinks, Orr and Uriah began playing cards. The drinks continued and for reasons not exactly clear there was a confrontation between the two in which Sligh stabbed Orr. The wound was deep and mortal. Jehu Orr died December 14, 1827. He was buried in the Ruthledge/Emerson Cemetery west of Starr on private lands.

Sligh was arrested, tried for the murder, and found guilty. He was sentenced to be hanged. In his defense, Sligh claimed not to remember harming Orr, such was his drunkenness, but he expressed remorse for his actions and asked for those hearing him to avoid the dangers of drinking. Sligh was hung on March 22, 1828. According to contemporary accounts, he was the third execution in the district.

Among the Orr children, it is Christopher which next put his stamp on Anderson. He was born in Craytonville May 2, 1794. In 1820, Christopher, at the age of 24, married a local girl called Martha McCann. Orr was influential in the layout of the town. In fact, his was the first map of the downtown area and for the next twenty-four years, the Orrs were a fixture in the life of downtown Anderson.

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Christopher Orr House, Manning Street, Anderson, SC (Author’s collection)

Like his father, Orr was an inn keeper. He established an inn/tavern near the courthouse. This two-story Greek Revival Style house was built in the early 1830’s and served not only as the Orr’s home, but was a bar, inn, and retail establishment. Eventually, this building was moved to its present location on Manning Street. The Christopher Orr House is one of the oldest residences in Anderson and is listed on the National register of Historic Places as part of the Anderson Historic District. In place of the home, Orr built another building, known as the Orr House. This was a lavish hotel for its time and stood until the 1880’s when it was torn down.

In 1844, Christopher Orr sold the hotel and moved most of his family to Pontotoc County, Mississippi. The advertisement for the hotel stated that it had twenty rooms and twelve fireplaces. On the ground floor were two law offices and a kitchen. Stables, a carriage house, and small orchard were also part of the property. Christopher Orr died in Mississippi May 17, 1864. His eldest son, James Lawrence Orr, remained in Anderson.

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James Lawrence Orr (Matthew Brady Collection, Library of Congress)

James Lawrence Orr was born at the Orr Inn in Craytonville, May 12, 1822. Of Christopher Orr’s children, James was by far the most successful. His political career would span just twenty-four years, but he would serve his state and country honorably. He attended the Anderson Academy where he excelled at Latin and Greek. He also worked with his father as a shopkeeper and bookkeeper. After graduating from the University of Virginia in 1841, Orr returned to Anderson entered the firm run by Judge Whitner. In 1843, at the age of twenty, Orr was admitted to the state bar. After dabbling as a newspaper editor for the Anderson Gazette, Orr returned to the law and represented clients in Anderson, Greenville, Pickens, Abbeville, and Laurens Counties.

Orr was elected to the South Carolina House of Representatives in 1844 and remained there for two terms. In 1849, Orr was elected as a Democrat to the United States House of Representatives, representing what was then South Carolina’s Second Congressional District (later the Fifth). He held this seat until 1859, and for the last two years, 1857-1859, he was the thirty-fifth Speaker of the House, the second (and so far last) representative from South Carolina to do so. He was also the chairman of the House Committee on Indian Affairs from 1853 to 1855.

Orr married Mary Jane Marshall of Abbeville in the 1840’s. They would have five children.

Had the Civil War not happened, it is likely Orr would have continued to hold his seat. However, Orr was politically astute and he foresaw South Carolina’s secession. Orr was a strong supporter of states’ rights, but he was concerned about the actions in his home state. He personally opposed secession and would often warn others about the possible consequences. Still, his loyalty to South Carolina caused him to resign his seat in the House and return home.

Five men were appointed delegates from Anderson to the state’s secession convention in December 1860. They were Benjamin Franklin Mauldin, James Lawrence Orr, Jacob Pinckney Reed, Richard Franklin Simpson, and Joseph Newton Whitner, Jr. Abraham Lincoln had been elected president a month earlier; in response, and by a unanimous vote on December 20, South Carolina seceded from the United States.

After the vote, Orr is reported to have said, “Friends, you are headed for hell, but if you are determined to go, I’ll go with you.”

Of primary concern to the new South Carolina government was the status of federal properties in the state most notable were the forts in Charleston Harbor. Orr was one of a commission of three that was sent to Washington to negotiate a peaceful transfer of the properties. The failure of this commission was a direct cause of the later bombardment of Fort Sumter, the first shots of the Civil War.

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Marker at the old Muster Ground Site. The other side speaks of a Methodist Camp which also used the location. (Author’s collection)

Orr’s social and political status gave him the rank of colonel in the new Confederate Army. He formed his own regiment, the First South Carolina Rifle Regiment, or Orr’s Rifles, Sandy Springs. A historical marker stands on the site.

Orr’s Rifles did not see much action for the first year of the war. They were nicknamed the “Poundcake Regiment” because of their easy assignments. Orr resigned from his command in January 1862, when he was elected to the Confederate Senate. He held this seat until May 10, 1865, serving on both the First and Second Confederate Congresses.

Incidentally, the regiment he formed was reassigned in April 1862, to the Army of Northern Virginia and fought in most of the major engagements of the war. Orr’s rifles began the war with over one thousand enlisted men and officers; it finished at Appomattox with just nine officers and one hundred and forty nine enlisted men. According to legend, Orr’s Rifles yelled the loudest in protest when Lee surrendered.

Orr focused his attention to rebuilding his state, and he turned his eyes to the governor’s seat. His opponent was none other than state hero Wade Hampton III. In November 29, 1865, Orr became the seventy-third Governor of South Carolina, the first governor to be directly elected. Prior to Orr, the governor was elected by the state senate. Orr remained in office until July 6, 1868, when the state adopted a new constitution based on Reconstruction.

One of the main accomplishments of his administration was the conversion of South Carolina College to South Carolina University. Otherwise, the state was under Federal military occupation and Orr largely served as a figurehead.

Like most politicians of his day, Orr was a mason. He was a member of Hiram No. 68 in Anderson but never served as grand master of the lodge. He did serve as Grand Master of Masons in South Carolina from 1865 to 1868. He refused another election as grand master, although it was clear he would have won again.

After leaving the governor’s office, Orr retired from public life, hoping to live quietly in his home on McDuffie Street called Forest Home (but locally known as Arlington). The people of Anderson, however, had other plans. Although he did not campaign for it, he was voted a circuit court judge in 1868, and established a reputation for a fair and balanced bench. He remained a judge until, in a gesture of post-Reconstruction healing, President Ulysses S. Grant appointed Orr the Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary of the United States to Russia, an exalted title which is the equivalent to being an ambassador today. He took office on December 12, 1872 but unfortunately died in St. Petersburg on March 5, 1873, shortly after arriving, presumably due to the harsh climate.

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Governor James L. Orr Monument (Author’s Collection)

Orr received a funeral in St. Petersburg at the English chapel. All English speaking and American residences attended and the casket was draped in flowers placed there by Maria Alexandrovna, the Empress of Russia. Afterwards, the body was packed in ice for shipment back to Anderson, but there were several stops on the way. First, Governor Orr’s body was received in New York by members of the Masonic Lodge. His body lay in state in the New York City Hall before being sent by rail to South Carolina. At major stops along the way, the train was met by other groups of Masons before arriving in Anderson in June 1873 and being taken to Hiram Lodge. Such was the condition of the body that dozens of sprays of flowers were needed to fill the rooms of the lodge.

After laying in state again in the Hiram Lodge, and receiving a funeral full of honors, the body of James Lawrence Orr, the seventy-third governor of South Carolina, was finally laid to rest on the June 19, in the First Presbyterian churchyard. His grave is marked with a tall column with an engraved base, and iron cross denoting his Confederate service.

To honor Governor Orr, the city of Anderson named Orr Street in his honor. This was one of the original streets laid out in the town and had previously been called First Street on the original Christopher Orr Map.

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One thought on “The Orrs of Anderson Pt 1: From an Inn to the Governor’s Mansion

  1. Thanks, Mary!
    Henry and I have done a number of presentations on the history of First Pres, and have, of course, included Governor Orr. The material you have included has “fleshed” him out!
    The confirmation class loved our remark about how ” every gardenia in Anderson County” … This came from a talk Arthur Holman gave!

    Like

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