ROBERT ORR was one of the most distinguished of those men of character and unalterable purpose by whose strength the foundations of this Commonwealth were laid. He had the courage backed by physical fitness, and the intellectual qualities supported by moral stamina, necessary to success in the face of the obstacles with which the early founders of communities in western Pennsylvania had to contend. When he came to this region Armstrong county was on the outer border of civilization, and he was one of the patriot officers who defended the frontier of Pennsylvania during the Revolutionary War. Later, upon the organization of the county for judicial purposes, in 1805, he became associate judge, and continued to serve as such for over a quarter of a century, until his death. In every position he rendered superior service to his fellow men, and his name will live as one of the early builders whose work has proved to be of permanent value.
Born in County Derry, Ireland, Robert Orr came to this country in 1766, and thereafter lived in Pennsylvania. He first settled east of the mountains in what is now Mifflin (then Cumberland) county, where he continued to reside until the year of his marriage, 1774, to Frances Culbertson, member of a celebrated pioneer family of this State, she being the daughter of Squire Samuel Culbertson, a distinguished man of his day, for whom Captain Orr worked as farmer several years before he married the daughter. Then Mr. Orr removed to Hannastown, in Westmoreland county, where she died. He married secondly Rachel Hunter, who died one year later at Hannastown. His third wife was Rachel Chambers, whom he married about 1799. They settled some years later in Sugar Creek township, Armstrong county. When the Revolutionary War broke out he was an earnest supporter of the Colonial cause from the very beginning, giving his personal services and enlisting others to its aid. At that time no regular troops could be spared to protect the residents in the outlying settlements from the Indians, and volunteers had to be depended upon in emergencies. Early in the summer of 1781 Gen. George Rogers Clark, of Virginia, having determined to enter upon a campaign against Indians down the Ohio river, communicated his intention to Archibald Lochry, the lieutenant of Westmoreland county, and requested him to raise one hundred volunteers and a company of cavalry in this county. Lochry acquainted Orr, one of the most reliable friends, with the situation, the latter being captain of a company of militia. As he did not have the authority to order these from home Orr promptly raised a company of volunteer riflemen, chiefly at his own expense, furnishing the necessary equipment to such of its members as could not afford same. Early in July he marched with his command to Carnahan�s block-house, about eleven miles northwest of Hannastown, where Lochry�s whole force rendezvoused the 24th of the month, consisting of two companies of rangers commanded by Captains Shannon and Stokeley and a calvary company under Captain Campbell besides Captain Orr�s command. They numbered about 125 men in all, and General Clark had instructed Colonel Lochry that he would await his arrival at Fort Henry (Now Wheeling). On July 25th they started by way of Pittsburgh. On reaching Fort Henry, however, it was found that the General had advanced with his men twelve miles down the river, and although he had left some provisions and a boat for them there was not enough to afford subsistence for the men or forage for the horses. Though their supply of ammunition was also inadequate they proceeded down the river, expecting to overtake the main body or meet them at the mouth of the Kanawha. Again they were disappointed, Clark having been obliged to move his force in order to prevent desertions. The situation was desperate. They had no other source from which to replenish their supplies than this main body ahead of them, and the water in the river was so low that ordinary progress was impossible, but their provisions and forage were so nearly exhausted something had to be done. Lochry accordingly sent Captain Shannon ahead with four men in a small boat, hoping they might catch up with Clark and arrange the supplies. The little party was captured by the Indians, to whom the letter intended for Clark revealed the destitute condition of Lochry�s forces and the fact they had not been able to join Clark. There were nineteen deserters from Clark�s army whom Lochry had arrested but afterward released, and they joined the Indians and gave them information. Taking advantage of these circumstances, the savages collected in force below the mouth of the Great Miami, placed their prisoners in a conspicuous position on the right bank, and promised to spare their lives if they would hail their comrades passing down the river and induce them to surrender. Before the little force reached that point, however, worn out and despairing of meeting Clark, they disembarked about ten o�clock on the morning of August 25th at the mouth of an inlet since called Lochry�s creek, landing their horses to feed on the grass. While preparing a meal from the meat of a buffalo they had killed they were surprised with a volley of rifle balls from an overhanging bluff where a large number of Indians had gathered. Though taken at a disadvantage they defended themselves until their ammunition was exhausted and then attempted to escape by the river. But the boats were unwieldy, the water low, and the 106 men too weak to resist successfully the band of 300 Indians who made the attack. Not one escaped. The Indians hastily massacred Lochry and several others, though this was done without the approval of their leader, the celebrated Captain Brant. Forty-two, including all those wounded so that they were unable to travel, were tomahawked on the ground, and the other sixty-four were taken captive, among them being Captain Orr, whose left arm had been broken by a shot early in the engagement; the bullet pierced the rim of his hat and then broke his arm. The prisoners, regardless of wounds and fatigue, were taken through the woods to lower Sandusky. After several months there Captain Orr was taken to the military hospital at Detroit, and thence during the late winter or spring to Montreal. His wound not having been properly treated, he was becoming such a care that the Indians were going to dispatch him on the road to Montreal as an encumbrance, when a Frenchman saved his life by buying him from the savages, for a gallon of whiskey and two fox skins. Years afterward this Frenchman visited him at Kittanning, and the Captain gave him $100 in gold--a large sum in those days--as a substantial mark for his appreciation. The man at first refused to take the money, but the Captain insisted on him accepting it, feeling that he owed his life to him. In his later years, the Captain�s grandchildren used to joke him about not being "worth more than a gallon of whiskey and two fox skins." He was an earnest Christian, and his faith sustained him bravely in those trying days. His fellow prisoners were exchanged early in the spring of 1783 and returned to their homes, and he was one of the few of Lochry�s men who managed to get back. He arrived at Hannastown, where he had long been mourned as dead, in the summer of 1783, having come on foot from Montreal. On July 13, 1782, the town had been attacked and burned by the Indians, and his house and property were destroyed. Soon after reaching home he raised another company to serve in the defense of the frontier, and they advanced to the mouth of Bull creek, on the right bank of the Allegheny, where Tarentum is now situated, building a blockhouse there under his direction. In the fall of 1783 Captain Orr was honored with election of Sheriff of Westmoreland county, in which office he gave great satisfaction. He took part in the subsequent Indian wars of the region. By act of Assembly, March 20, 1821, the State treasurer of Pennsylvania was authorized to pay Captain Orr or his order, immediately thereafter, $750, in consideration of his services and losses during the Revolutionary War, which was to be full compensation for such services and losses, including all his claims for military service.
From the time of his settlement prior to 1800 in Sugar Creek township, Armstrong county, until about 1812 Captain Orr resided at what was known as the McDonald-Monteith-Dinsmore-Wilson tract, thence removing to the place in Sugar Creek afterward owned by his sons Robert and Chambers Orr, half brothers. In the history of Armstrong county published in 1883 was found the following account of property: "Next south of the Moore-Adams tract is a square one, 300 acres, on which Robert Orr, Sr., settled, and with 197 acres, one horse and five cattle, he was assessed in 1805 and 1806 at $146.80. The patent for the entire tract was granted him Feb. 16, 1815; 140 or more acres in the northern part he conveyed to John Conly, July 4, 1816. Robert Orr, Sr. continued in the occupancy of the southern half of this tract until he leased it to Solomon Rumbaugh about 1825, about which time he moved to Kittanning. He conveyed this parcel to his sons, Chambers and Robert Orr on May 7, 1831." In 1818 or 1819 Captain Orr laid out north of his residence on this tract, and west of the present Kittanning and Brady�s Bend road, the town of Orrsville, the plan of which is not on record. Its first separate assessment was listed in 1819. The names of Robert Orr, Sr., and of his sons, John, Robert and Chambers Orr, appear in the record of various real estate transactions in the vicinity.
When Armstrong county was organized for judicial purposes, in 1805, Captain Orr was one of three associate judges appointed to preside over its several courts, and he served as such continuously until his death, which occurred Sept. 4, 1833, at Kittanning when he was in his eighty-ninth year. He was buried in the old graveyard between Jefferson and High streets with military honors, the Armstrong Guards, under the command of Captain John Reynolds (son of William Reynolds, a tanner, brother of David Reynolds), having obtained permission to pay this last mark of respect to one whose life and deeds had brought honor to his community. The medical profession, the local clergy, the officers of the courts and members of the bar also took part in the funeral procession, and a large number of citizens attended the burial of this venerable patriot.
At a meeting of the members of the bar and the officers of the court of Armstrong county, convened at the prothonotary�s office in Kittanning on Wednesday evening, Sept. 4, 1833: On motion the Hon. Samuel S. Harrison was appointed chairman, Frederick Rohrer, Esq., secretary. On motion of Thomas Blair, Esq., the following resolutions were offered and unanimously adopted.
That we as officers and members of the court, over which the deceased has been a judge for upwards of twenty-seven years, as a tribute of respect to the deceased, do unanimously resolve that we will wear crepe on the left arm for thirty days and that we will attend the funeral of the deceased.
Resolved that Thomas Blair, William M. Watson and John Croll, Esqs., be a committee for the purposes of communicating the proceedings to the relatives of the deceased, and making the necessary arrangements.
S.S. Harrison, Chairman
Fred�k Rohrer, Secretary
By his first marriage to Frances (Fannie) Culbertson, Captain Orr was the father of the following children: John, the first sheriff of Armstrong county, married Jane Maffit; Samuel Culbertson married Margaret Sloan; Robert is mentioned below; Mary Ann first married a Mr. McCartney, who was drowned in Spruce creek, near Mifflin, and later became the wife of a Mr. Jones and moved to Philadelphia (by her first marriage she had two daughters, Elizabeth and Mary Ann, and by her second union one son, Robert).
Capt. Robert Orr married for his second wife Rachel Hunter, sister of Col. Robert Hunter of Westmoreland county, Pa. She died about a year later, at Hannastown, about the time of the birth of her son William. The latter, who settled in Clarion county, Pa., married Catherine Tarr. Returning to his old home in the Cumberland valley, in what is now Franklin county, Pa. on a visit, Captain Orr married (third) Rachel Chambers, of Chambersburg, who had brothers George, William, James and Benjamin, the owners and settlers of Chambersburg, Pa., they afterward visited Captain Orr in Kittanning. By this union there was one son, Chambers Orr, born March 6, 1800, who died April 8, 1873. He married Hannah Dorney (sometimes written Turney), daughter of Peter and Susan (Hine) Dorney, and granddaughter of Anna Margaretha Dorney. Mrs. Ephraim Buffington has the baptismal certificate (1759) of her great-grandmother, Anna Margaretha; she was the daughter of John, who came from Holland to Germantown (near Philadelphia), Pa. Chambers Orr and his wife had ten children among whom was Margaret Chambers Orr, who married Ephraim Buffington. They had six children: (1.) Catherine is the widow of D.W. Martin, late of Allegheny, PA, son of William Martin, formerly of Allegheny City; both were in the iron and steel business. They had two children, Ephraim B., who was drowned at the age of eight years, and Frances, wife of Frank R. Dravo, of Sewickley, Allegheny Co., Pa. The mother, Mrs. Martin resides at Kittanning. (2) Miss Marion Buffington resides in Kittanning. (3) Miss Hannah Buffington also resides in Kittanning. (4) Miss Mary Frances Buffington died April 27, 1908, aged fifty-six years. She was a graduate of Vassar College, taught in Wilson College, at Chambersburg, Pa. for thirteen years, was lady principal of St. Katherine�s School, an Episcopal school for girls at Davenport, Iowa, for four years, and lady principal of St. Catherine�s Hall, an Episcopal preparatory college, at Brooklyn N.Y., for one year. She studied one year abroad, at Leipsic, Germany, and made two other trips to Europe. (5) Judge Joseph Buffington, United States Circuit Judge, resides at Pittsburgh, Pa. (6) Orr Buffington is a leading attorney at Kittanning.
Robert Orr, son of Capt. Robert Orr by his first marriage, was born March 5, 1786, in Westmoreland County, probably at Hannastown. He was quite young when he moved with his parents west of the Allegheny in Armstrong county. He grew up amid pioneer surroundings, and developed the strength and courage which such conditions foster in men of character. He inherited the forceful mental and moral qualities of his father, for whom he was named, and he lived a life that added prestige and glory to the record of an honored family. Though the educational advantages he had in his native county was scarcely any better than those he found in his new home he gained considerable learning for his day, and he was one of those who acquired much through observation and experience. This faculty, coupled with ability and energy beyond the average, accounts for his usefulness and success in life. After living with his parents in Sugar Creek township for a few years he came to Kittanning when the county was organized for judicial administration, in 1805, and became deputy under his brother John, who was the first sheriff of Armstrong county. Subsequently he studied surveying, which he followed so successfully that he was afterward appointed deputy district surveyor. He inherited his father�s military spirit and sense of duty to his country, as was shown by his activity during the war of 1812, in which he rendered valuable service. When the 2nd brigade rendezvoused at Pittsburgh (Oct. 2, 1812) he was elected major, and left that place the same fall under the command of General Crooks, to join the northwestern army under General Harrison, on the Miami river, where Fort Meigs was afterward built. At Upper Sandusky they were joined by a brigade of militia from Virginia. From that place Major Orr, by the direction of the General, took charge of the artillery, munitions, stores, etc., and set off with about 300 men to the headquarters of General Harrison. While on the way he was met by an express from Harrison, bringing information of the defeat of General Winchester on the river Raisin, and requesting him to bring on his force as rapidly as possible. After consolidation with the balance of the army from Upper Sandusky, they proceeded to the rapids of the Miami (Maumee), where they remained until the six months term of duty of the Pennsylvania and Virginia militia had expired. General Harrision then appealed for volunteers to remain fifteen days longer, until he should receive reinforcements from Kentucky. Major Orr and about 200 other Pennsylvanians did volunteer and remain until they were discharged, after the Battle of Fort Meigs, upon April 19, 1813.
In 1817 General Orr received his first honor in civil life, being elected to the legislature, in which body he served two terms. Then in 1821, he was sent to the State Senate to represent the large, but comparatively thinly settled, district composed of the counties of Armstrong, Warren, Indiana, Jefferson, Cambria, and Venango, the latter county including much of the territory now in Clarion. After serving one term he was led to enter the contest for election to Congress, and, doing so, defeated Gen. Abner Laycock. He thus became the representative in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Congresses of the district composed of Armstrong, Butler, Beaver, and Allegheny counties. In the Legislature, in the State Senate and in Congress he served satisfactorily to his people and with unwavering integrity of purpose. Calm, judicious and experienced, his presence in the national counsels could not but exert a beneficial influence in the direction and control of the affairs of the country, which at that time witnessed the earlier symptoms of the disturbance that eventually culminated in the tragic events of 1861. Later in life General Orr was appointed by the governor associate judge of Armstrong county and served very acceptably to the people. He retained his interest in military affairs and was active in the militia organizations of western Pennsylvania, in this connection acquiring the rank and title of general.
General Orr became possessed of a large number of land tracts in Armstrong and adjoining counties, which he leased or sold as he had opportunity. During the years he was most extensively engaged in his land business, money was scarce, and it was very frequently the case that purchasers were unable to meet their payments. His true character was shown in his liberality and fair treatment of all. When those to whom he sold were embarrassed and could not meet their obligations, he extended their time and gave them easier terms. With many individuals this was done again and again, until at last they were able to pay. He never dispossessed a man of property on which he was toiling to discharge his indebtedness. Often the sons of the men who contracted with him for lands completed the payment for them. Through his leniency and lack of oppression many families were enabled to gain homes. He was in a very literal sense the steward of his riches, holding them for others� good as well as for his
own. His kindness of heart and practical philanthropy found expression in many other ways, for he was unostentatiously and judiciously charitable throughout his life. He did much to advance the interests of the school and church, and for many years prior to his death was a member of the Presbyterian Church.
For about three years (1848-52) General Orr resided in Allegheny City, and for a short time, about 1845, he lived at Orrsville (mouth of Mahoning), but the greater number of his years were passed in Kittanning. He was interested in and helped to advance almost every local public improvement inaugurated during his time. Laboring zealously for the construction of the Allegheny Valley railroad, he lived to realize his hope in that direction and see the wealth of his country practically increased by its mineral and agricultural resources being made more easily available to the uses of the world.
In politics General Orr was a Democrat, in 1861 a War Democrat. He used his influence and contributed liberally of his means to assist the organization of the military, and the camp where the 78th and the 103d Regiments rendezvoused was appropriately named Camp Orr in his honor. His appearance upon the ground, when the soldiers were encamped there, was always a signal for an ovation, or at least hearty cheers, and all who knew him gathered around him to shake the hand of the old soldier of 1812. He lived to see the war ended and the country he loved so much preserved in union. He lived to witness the nation recover from the worst effects of the war and in the centennial year rejoice in peace and prosperity. He passed away May 22, 1876, at his residence in Kittanning, after a lingering but not severe illness.
In 1836 General Orr was married to Martha Grier, sister of the late Judge Robert C. Grier, of the United States Supreme Court. She died Dec. 7, 1881. Two children were born to this union, Grier C. and Fannie E. The latter died March 14, 1882. Grier C. Orr, Esq., an able lawyer, died Nov. 17, 1895.
Source: Pages 301-324 Armstrong County, Pa., Her People, Past and Present, J.H. Beers, & Co. 1914
Transcribed September 1998 by Donna Sheaffer for the Armstrong County Beers Project
Contributed for use by the Armstrong County Genealogy Project (http://www.pa-roots.com/armstrong/)
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