MANY IMPORTANT POSTS HELD BY JUDGE JAMES L. ORR DURING HIS LONG AND USEFUL CAREER
Died While Serving His Country as Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary to the Court of St. Petersburg. Was Governor of South Carolina and a Member of Congress From That State -- Organized Regiment for Service in War Between the States.
BY WALTER S. BEWLEY
The celebration this year of Anderson's centennial recalls the names and deeds of some of the county's distinguished sons. And among the number appears the name of the late Judge James L. Orr, who was probably the most distinguished of all Anderson's sons. Probably the most important post he held during his long career in public office was that which he occupied at the time of his death in St. Petersburg, Russia, where he was serving his country as envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary.
In addition to this important post, Judge Orr held others, including a seat in the congress of the United States. He was also at one time governor of his state, and had previously served his county in the state legislature. He was organizer of the famous Confederate outfit known as Orr's Rifles, the first to enlist for service with the outbreak of the War Between the States. It was one of the most famous of the state's fighting outfits, and the record of the regiment is the pride of those who had relatives in the organization, as well as the counties which furnished the men to compose the unit.
Judge Orr was a descendant of a North Carolina family, his great-grandfather, Robert Orr, who had come over from Ireland in 1730 having first settled in Pennsylvania and later moved to Wake county, North Carolina. Robert Orr and his six sons, while living in North Carolina, were said to have fought during the Revolutionary war and to have rendered invaluable service to the cause. Jehu, the youngest of the six sons, came to old Pendleton district, South Carolina, and was married to Jane B. Clinkscales, and their son, Christopher, who married Martha McCann, was the father of James Lawrence Orr, who was born in May, 1822, at Craytonville, in this county, which at that time was Pendleton district, the district having been divided into Anderson and Pickens counties during the year 1928 [sic].
Christopher Orr moved to Anderson in 1830 and operated a mercantile establishment. His son, James Lawrence, aided his father at the store while he was not busy with his studies at the Anderson academy.
STUDIED IN VIRGINIA
James L. Orr attended the University of Virginia, which he entered at the age of 17. He first took a literary course and them studied law, upon the completion of which in 1943 [sic], he was admitted to the bar and began the practice of his profession soon afterward in Anderson.
His long career in public office had its beginning in 1844 when he was sent to the state legislature from this county. He was re-elected in 1848. He exerted a powerful influence among the delegates and took the lead in numerous reforms. He was an opponent of nullification and expressed that opposition frequently. He was an advocate of the election of presidential electors by the people instead of by the legislature, as was the custom at that time. Improvement of the school system in South Carolina he also strongly urged.
In recognition of his service to county and state in the legislature and as a tribute to his wisdom and foresight as a legislature and as a tribute to his wisdom and foresight as a lawmaker, his constituents sent him to congress in 1849. He defeated B. F. Perry in a rather exciting contest. At the time of his election to congress, Judge Orr was but 26 years of age. He served his state in congress until 1858, having been reelected without opposition. During his last two years, he was speaker of the house, the youngest man ever to hold that important post. At the conclusion of his term in 1858, he declined to offer again.
Upon his return from congress in 1858, he expected to retire, but this was impossible. He had been an enemy of secession for over 15 years, believing that such a course for South Carolina could bring only ruin to the state. When the state seceded, however, he regarded it as better that the people should be united in the struggle, rather than that the state should be a victim of internal discord.
ORGANIZED A REGIMENT
It was 1861 when he organized Orr's regiment of rifles, one of the most famous regiments South Carolina sent to war. Men were recruited from four counties, Anderson, Pickens, Marion and Abbeville. This organization was said to have been the first to enlist for the war. They were trained for several months at the Sandy Springs camp grounds, only a few miles north of this city. The regiment later was ordered to Charleston, and Colonel Orr was in command of the harbor for some time.
Colonel Orr's election as Confederate state senator took place in the latter part of 1861, and early in the following year he went to Richmond, where he spent most of his time until the end of the struggle.
James L. Orr was South Carolina's first governor elevated by direct vote of the people. The constitution of the state was amended in 1865 to provide for this manner of electing a chief executive. When he went into office, Governor Orr found a deplorable state of affairs existing over the state. No courts having been held for many months, there was disorder and lawlessness but under his able direction conditions were improved in a short time.
Governor Orr was a man of vision: he was thinking ahead and many of his own friends failed to understand some of his stands on important questions. In 1867 he learned that if the south would grant qualified suffrage to the negro, it would not be forced to accept universal suffrage. He urged amendment to the constitution so as to give all negroes who could read and write and who possessed at least $500 worth of real estate, the right of ballot.
It is pointed out that there were probably not half a hundred negroes all over the state, who under this law, would have become electors. When Governor Orr advised this course, however, it was met with strong opposition and soon afterward the office of Governor Orr ceased to exist, when reconstruction measures were put into effect and the state placed under military rule.
South Carolina gave to Governor Orr other honors, and after he had served as chief executive of his state, he was later elected circuit judge. This took place while he was visiting in the west. He sat on the bench until 1872, when he resigned to become minister to Russia.
It was not long after this appointment and his acceptance of office that his death occurred. He contracted pneumonia soon after his arrival in St. Petersburg, Russia, in 1873. Exposure during the journey and the severe weather which prevailed there upon his arrival resulted in the illness which caused his death on May 5, 1873.
The body was taken to New York, where Masonic funeral services were held. The body was then brought to Anderson and laid to final rest here in June, 1873.
Harry A. Orr, manager of the Charlotte branch of the Southern Public Utilities company, is a grandson of the late Judge Orr. Another grandson, Marshall P. Orr, is president of the Orr Cotton Mills of Anderson.
The above article appeared in The Charlotte Observer on Monday, June 18, 1928.