From the profile Mary Eleanor Orr
My father was descended from a race of seafaring men. The Orr family came from that part of Scotland through which flows the river of that name, but Father's ancestors were living as early as 1688 near "Derry," as he always called it (not "Londonderry," which he said was the name given it by the English) in the northern part of Ireland. Father's great grandfather James Orr, for whom he was named, and the first of the family to settle in Ireland, was a Captain in the British Navy. His son Hugh Orr followed his father's footsteps.
When his only son John Orr was born, the father planned that he too should serve in the British Navy. With this end in view, when John Orr was a boy of fourteen years, his father took him on a long cruise. The boy was charmed with the life on board ship, and wanted to enter the Navy as soon as possible. But Captain Orr said no, that his son must go back to school. In three or four years he would be ready to enter the service, and then Captain Hugh Orr would be glad to have his son join the Navy. The boy obeyed.
But in the next two or three years, events in Ireland took a turn for the worse. Captain Hugh Orr returned from another long cruise and learned from the teachers that his boy had done well at school and was well prepared to take his examinations for the Navy. To his father's great surprise and regret, young John Orr told his father that, though he loved the sea as much as ever, he had given up all thought of entering the Navy. The thinking young men had written and talked to some effect. Though of a Scotch and Protestant family, John Orr told his father that he still wanted to go to sea, that he loved a ship better than he would love a castle, and the sea better than the land, but if he joined the British Navy, he might be called upon "to fight against Ireland."
Captain Hugh Orr was much grieved at what he considered a foolish notion of his son's, but perhaps he felt that his son knew what would come. At all events, John Orr was continued at school, and it was not long after this that Captain Hugh Orr died. Left to his own action and feeling that he must follow the sea, John Orr became, at first, Mate and then Captain of a small vessel trading between Belfast and Liverpool. But this did not content him, and he also made visits to London. He shipped with a Liverpool Captain who was going to Calcutta. He returned in safety, made another voyage to India, and after some years became Mate then Captain in the British East India Service.
Meanwhile, Captain John Orr had married and had three daughters. His wife complained bitterly of his long periods of absence from home, but could not convince him that he should give up the life at sea. They had three children, all girls: Eliza (Mrs. Collins), Alice (Mrs. Hill) and Mary. Finally a son James Orr was born. Captain Orr was delighted that the new baby was a son. He was just about to take another trip to the Far East, but promised his wife that it was to be his last voyage. Capt. Orr said that, as he had agreed to make the voyage to Calcutta, he could not well break the engagement, but that after that trip, he would "stay at home with his son."
Just after reaching Calcutta he sent (by a ship leaving for England) a letter to his wife, saying that the trip had been an unusually quick and pleasant one. The merchandise brought out and in which he had a share had been sold to great advantage, he was busy getting a return cargo, and hoped soon to start on his homeward voyage. He wrote that he was anxious now to be at home and to stay there, "with his son!"
But he did not come home, and no other letter ever came to the wife in Ireland. Inquiries sent by the family to Calcutta and to the Liverpool owners showed that a return cargo had been secured, and that on a certain date the ship had left India, but the ship was never heard from afterwards. Just after the ship had left Calcutta, there had been very severe storms in the Indian Ocean, and the belief was that all on board must have perished.
Aunt Hill used to say that she believed that her father was "lost in a storm in the Irish Sea as his ship was nearing Liverpool." Aunt Hill's idea might have evolved from the date of her mother's letter from India; it would be a long time before they could possibly expect him to reach England, and when they thought he was near Liverpool, he most probably had been lost months before. Our father was then a young baby. He grew to boyhood cared for by mother and sisters, but never knowing a father's love.
Voyage to America
One of Father's mother's sisters (Mary) had married in Ireland, but had lost her husband, and married again. The second marriage was to Mr. Robert Ritchie, a very excellent young Scotchman. Very early in the eighteen hundreds, Father's Uncle and Aunt Mary Ritchie came to Virginia. They were delighted with the place, the people and the climate, and wanted relatives on both sides to come over. Mrs. Ritchie wrote especially wanting her mother (who was then about sixty) to come. Alice Orr, Father's sister, was the first of Aunt Mary Ritchie's relatives to accept the invitation. She was about sixteen when she arrived in Petersburg, and had left school. But Aunt Richie said that she was too young for that, and promptly sent her off to Farmington to a noted boarding school in Connecticut (Miss Porter's). There a young Mr. Hill fell very much in love with her, followed her to Virginia when school was over, courted and married her. He died young, leaving her a widow with two sons and two daughters.
Then Aunt Ritchie wrote begging her mother to come and visit her. Our father was the special pet of his maternal grandmother (who had been a Miss Allen). When Father was about fourteen, his grandmother said that she would come, "if her little grandson could come with her." Boy-like (with his inherited love for the sea), he was very anxious to take the trip, and his mother consented. Aunt Ritchie wrote that they must come in the spring, that the spring voyages were pleasantest, and they must stay at least until the next spring.
The captain of the ship in which Father and his grandmother came to America was Captain Samuel Hunter. They had been in Virginia for about six months only when the grandmother was taken ill and died. Just about that time the trouble with England (which led to the War of 1812) began. Father was about 16. Aunt Ritchie, who had no children and who was devoted to her young nephew, could not bear the idea of his returning in such troublous times, especially as England had commenced to impress men and even boys on any ship which her naval men chose to search, and would then force them to serve on British Men of War. So Father's departure from Virginia was for a time delayed.
At this time the War of 1812 was in progress. The British landed at Norfolk on Chesapeake Bay and were reported as being on the march for Petersburg and Richmond. All British subjects in Petersburg were taken westward under guard and carried as far as Farmville. Father protested vehemently that his sympathies were not with the British, but entirely with America, that he did not consider himself a British subject, that his father before him would not join the Navy, because he felt more love for Ireland than for Great Britain, etc. They carried him to Farmville all the same, with other British subjects.
After reaching Farmville, he was given a calmer and less hurried interview, when the authorities decided that he was "all right" and let him return to Petersburg. Though not of military age, he at once joined a company for home defense. He was in camp on "The heights" (about where Shore Street now is). Then, as the enemy had been forced to retreat, his company was marched out of service.
The first news received from Father's mother, soon after that war ended, was that after waiting fifteen years, she and her friends all believed Captain Orr to have perished at sea, and that she had married again! Father was horrified and indignant. He had never given up the hope that his father might have been saved and might some day return. H seemed to have the idea that his father might have been captured by pirates (the "Algerians" were extremely troublesome at that time) or that he might have been cast on a desert island, and might possibly be rescued. Father then said that he never would go back to Ireland, a decision which greatly delighted Aunt Richie.
Young James Orr
Father was only sixteen, or very little over. He always wrote a very clear, good hand, and he soon made himself an excellent bookkeeper. So successful was he that, before he was eighteen years of age, a "dashing" young man of considerable fortune from Brunswick County, who desired to establish himself in the wholesale grocery and commission business in Petersburg, asked Father to go into partnership with him. It was considered a great chance for so young a man, as Mr. Wilson was rich and had rich friends whose business he could command. So the partnership of Wilson and Orr was formed.
The business seemed to prosper; but after about a year or so, Father found that his partner was an inveterate card player, that he played for high stakes, and had lost much money in the past year. Feeling that under such conditions no business undertaking could succeed, Father proposed to withdraw from the concern. Not wishing to wound the feelings of Mr. Wilson, Father put it as well as he could on his own youth and inexperience. He said that he felt that he ought to have been a clerk longer before undertaking the responsibilities of so large a concern, and that he thought it would be better to dissolve the partnership.
Mr. Wilson, always a gentleman in manners and courtesy, listened patiently. He tried to persuade Father to remain, but finding him firm in his purpose to withdraw, expressed his regret. Seemingly generous and considerate, Mr. Wilson said that he would take a trip to New York to pay debts owed by the firm there, and that as soon as he returned, the partnership would be dissolved. He begged Father to wait until his return from New York before formally dissolving the partnership. To this Father consented. Mr. Wilson left, taking with him five thousand dollars of the firm's money to pay debts owed by the firm and considerably more for the purchase of new supplies. He had also enough money of his own to pay all expenses of the trip, which in those days was made by boat from Norfolk.
There was a regular line of packets sailing from Norfolk to New York, but their sailing dates were dependent upon cargoes and weather. There was a few days delay, and then the dreadful tidings came that the firm's senior partner had, in a night or two of gambling, lost all of his own money, all of the firm's money, and had then gone to his room in the hotel in Norfolk and shot himself! This was a very serious matter for the young and innocent partner, but in all his life afterward, I do not believe that he had an unkind feeling toward Mr. Wilson. He only regretted his partner's inordinate love of cards, which cost Father years of labor and self-denial to recover from.
Father wrote at once to the New York creditors, telling them the condition of affairs, and called a meeting of the creditors in Petersburg and its vicinity. To them all, he stated his inability to pay their claims but that, if given time, he would do his best to pay every just debt of the firm. The creditors were glad to agree to this proposition and the business was closed up. Father then accepted a clerkship, lived economically, and soon began to pay off the liabilities of Wilson and Orr.
Father worked first for Mr. Robert Leslie (the uncle of Mr. Robert L. Watson and of Mr. McGill) then for the firm of Dunlop and Orgain, which firm had a factory on Washington Street near Adams Street, in the rear of the residence now owned by Mr. Seward. The wing on the north side of that house was Father's office downstairs, and his bedroom was over it. That part of the house is very much as it was when I was a child, all improvements having been made on the southern and eastern sides. When Mr. Dunlop died, the debts due to the creditors of Wilson and Orr were nearly all paid. The small sums unpaid were due to a few Petersburg people who gladly gave Father consent to agree with Mr. Orgain's wishes and go into business with him. The partnership of Orgain and Orr was then formed, and prospered, so that after a few years, every penny of the debts of Wilson and Orr had been paid in full.
Hannons & Peters
Mother said once that Great Grandmother had told her that the Friends (as she always called the Quakers) were more particular in regard to the ancestry on the maternal side. This great grandmother was Hannah Flower, and she lived to be eighty-six years old, passing from earth in December, 1850. I was then ten years old. I knew the maiden name of every grandmother once, back to the wife of William Clayton, but have forgotten it now. I remember only my mother, Eleonore Dorothea Peters, her mother, Anna Edwards Hannon, and her mother Hannah Flower.
Hannah Flower's ancestors were the Claytons and the Flowers. William Clayton, who was a member of the "Council of Five" selected by William Penn to govern the colony, was the second son of the Clayton Family. In Burke's Peerage his name is given, followed by the words, in parenthesis, "No Record," thus confirming what Great Grandmother said, that he was disinherited by his father on account of his "religious opinions" when he joined his friend William Penn's Colony of Quakers, and came to Philadelphia. William Clayton settled near Marcus Hook, and Morton has now an old Deed of Land near Marcus Hook.
The Flowers, like the Claytons, came from England with the Colony planted in Delaware County, Pennsylvania, and in the northern county of Delaware, by William Penn. Great Grandmother Hannah Flower was the daughter of Thomas Flower. In Great Grandmother's time, her brother took ship for England to get a large amount of money belonging to the Flower Family in the Bank of England. The ship went down and Mr. Flower and a sailor managed to pick up a small row boat as they were washed off. They drifted so long that they had given up all hope and each said afterwards that if one had died the other would have eaten the deceased one. Finally they were picked up, the only ones saved, but Great Grandmother's brother never got over the terrible experience, and said that all the money in the Bank of England could not tempt him to go to sea again!
Great Grandmother was married in or about 1779, in Philadelphia, at the time of the Revolutionary War and came to live in Petersburg. I am even uncertain about the first name of my great grandfather Hannon, though it may be still legible on his tombstone near the old Blandford Church. Great Grandmother's husband was from Cecil County, Maryland, and was a partner of a Mr. Ellicott, whose mills were at Ellicott City, Maryland.
Great Grandmother's eldest daughter, Mrs. Sarah Flowers Gwynne Simmons, nee Hannon, had two children, a little boy and a little girl who died when she was quite young. I remember having several very beautiful pieces of pearl jewelry, which were given me by her Mother, our Great Aunt Mrs. Simmons. But I lost them all! Aunt Simmons' only son died in Mississippi and his mother soon followed him, between 1842 and 1844.
Mother's Uncle Richard Hannon, who was a very good man in many ways, and an honest-minded and courteous gentleman, was however careless in business matters. His mother, my great grandmother, who lived until I was ten years old, and whom I well remember, was an heiress, and I have heard older members of the family say it was a frequent question in the family: "Where is Richard?" "Gone to Philadelphia." "What! To sell another brick house?" Well, before all the brick houses were sold, the handsome young man had married into one of the very old families of Virginia, an heiress with considerable property, and in course of time, that was gone, too.
As I love romance, I must tell about some of the visits to Philadelphia. There was a Mrs. Burn, a widow with a very lovely daughter Henrietta. Henrietta was young, an only child, and her mother a widow. There was no objection to the engagement, but Mrs. Burn said, "Of course, Richard, you will come on to Philadelphia to live." But Uncle Hannon would not agree. Mrs. Burn carried her point and nothing that the young man could say would cause the mother to relent. The girl obeyed.
Uncle Hannon came home and became engaged to Miss Eliza Wilkinson, a very good woman and an heiress, but by no means a beauty. Soon afterwards, Uncle Hannon went again to Philadelphia and went to see the Burns Family. He told Henrietta of his engagement, and just before he said good-bye, asked her to sing some of the old songs he used to love to hear. She played well and had a lovely voice. She agreed, and a little later her mother came in, and (as Uncle Hannon told Mother) "found us both in tears." The mother then relented! She said, "I was wrong, Richard. I wanted to keep my daughter, but I would have broken two hearts. I will oppose the marriage no more!" A terrible moment, was it not! In January 1810, Uncle Hannon married Miss Wilkinson.
In the eighteen fifties, Uncle Hannon (who had been for some years a widower) went to see "the kinfolks" in Philadelphia. He knew that Henrietta had married but, as he told Mother after his return, "I visited a good many of the relatives, then decided to see Henrietta but did not know if she was a wife or a widow. I found her Mrs. Odenheimer, with two grown-up sons, and Mr. O. very much alive."
My Grandfather Frederick David Philip Peters was an educated man, a graduate of Heidelburg University, and a man of means when the two Peters family brothers came to Baltimore (where they had relatives). Henry Frederick Diedrich Peters was Mother's "Uncle Henry." They may have come on a visit only, but the brothers came down to Richmond on a visit, and my grandfather met the beautiful Miss Anna Edwards Hannon of Petersburg.
My Great Uncle Henry met some North Carolinians in Richmond, who persuaded him to go to Halifax County, North Carolina, which he did and opened a large store. His business prospered wonderfully, and he bought cotton lands, so that about the early 1820s he was called a very wealthy man. As far back as 1830, or even earlier, he had a large sugar plantation on the Swannee River in Florida. It was thought that that portion of the state was too far from the peninsula and the everglades to be subject to Indian raids, so in what was then called Levy County large sugar houses were built and (as I well remember hearing) machinery costing $40,000 was installed.
Mr. Peters' partner, a young Scotchman who had been Mr. Peters' clerk in North Carolina, after some years reported the death of Mother's Uncle Henry. Mr. Peters (a bachelor) had no heirs except the children of his (by then deceased) brother, Mr. Frederick D.P. Peters of Petersburg, Virginia. Uncle Hannon, who had taken charge of the children of his brother-in-law, wrote asking for a settlement of their uncle's estate. Mr. Watson's answer was that, "By the laws of Florida, he was not required" to do anything towards settling the estate until the youngest heir was twenty-one.
My uncle, on arriving at that age about 1845 or 1846, came to Florida and saw this partner at his winter home at Picolata, on the St. John's. He was received very cordially, and handsomely entertained, but told that his host was a bankrupt (and living on the bounty of his wife!), but that there was a large claim against the government, as the plantation was destroyed in a raid by the Seminole Indians. The clerk said that Mr. Peters' heirs would get a large share of the claim, and also that with such claims, "the older the better."
When Mr. Orgain took Father as a partner in the firm of Orgain and Orr, this business had their factory back of the lot where Mrs. Seward now lives, at the corner of Washington and Adams Streets. Mr. Orgain was the father of William Allen Orgain, afterwards known as Wm. Allen of Claremont on the James. When Mrs. Orgain's uncle, Mr. William Allen of Claremont on the James, died, his will gave almost the whole of his immense estate to Mrs. Orgain's son, William Allen Orgain, on condition that when he attained his twenty-first year he should be legally named William Allen. But he also said that if Mrs. Orgain ever had another son (whose name should be John Allen) he should share in the estate. But there was no other Orgain son.
Soon after this, Mr. Orgain left Petersburg, to take charge of his son's large James River properties, giving up to Father his business interests in the city, and Father continued the manufacture of tobacco in his own name. All the Wilson debts had been paid. Soon afterwards Father had a factory on Jefferson Street. Then he built the large factory at the corner of Jefferson and Washington Streets, which was at the time said to be the largest and best equipped tobacco factory in the state.
About this time, Uncle Hannon (who had charge of Mr. Peters' estate, his deceased sister having been Mrs. Peters) moved to the frame house (now three houses) across Adams Street on Washington, and Mother spent part of her time at Mr. Hannon's home. I remember Mother's having said that she paid several visits to Claremont when a girl, going with Mrs. Brydon. On one of these visits, but not the funeral occasion, Mother spoke of a dinner party, which they were very anxious to attend, at one of the Brandons' but it could be reached from Claremont only by a very long drive, or easily by crossing a creek, but a very high wind prevented that and it was too late then for the ride.
I do not remember whether Anna Orgain, the eldest child and a friend of Mother's, or her father died first. I have often heard Mother say that the first time she had ever known Father, except to formally bow to him, was when Mrs. Brydon asked her to go to Clarement with her to a funeral. It was a long ride there and back to Petersburg, and in the carriage were Mr. and Mrs. Brydon, Mr. Orr and Miss Peters. Vary soon after that trip, Father commenced visiting at Mr. Hannon's across the street.
After Mr. Orgain's death, Father moved to a factory on Jefferson St., running from Washington St. to Rose Alley. The business was so prosperous that I heard Cousin Lizzie McCavendish say that the year before Father was married he cleared ten thousand dollars in his factory, a much larger sum than it would seem now! Anna Eleonore Dorothea Peters, born January 17, 1817, married James Orr, of Petersburg, Virginia, on November 25th, 1838.
After Father and Mother were married, and on their return from a trip to Boston and New York, they lived on Market Street and I, the eldest living child, was born in the house which is now the property of the YWCA. There are now four houses on what was the yard and garden when we lived there! While the gate was on Market street, the front door was one the south side of the dwelling. While we lived there it was for sale, and Mother liked the house and neighbors, but it was quite a distance from Father's office.
We moved from there to West Hill, which then extended from a little above Lombard (then called Back) St. to the West Hill Warehouse near Franklin St., and from Adams almost to Sycamore, the western line being just back of the courthouse. For several years we lived in the dear old West Hill House, long before East Tabb Street had been cut through from our red gate to Adams Street. It was an ideal home for little children, being really like a country home in the midst of town. Jim and Clayton were both born while we lived at West Hill.
I wonder if many people in Petersburg now can remember that part of Sycamore Street before East Tabb and (a few years before, I think it was) Tabb from Union to Market Street were cut through. As I remember those days, in the early forties, the Mechanics Hall stood at the northwest corner of Sycamore and Tabb Streets. On Sycamore, about opposite the Hall, Mr. James P. Smith had a very large store (I think there were two stores turned into one) and he sold china and glass. High up over the door was an immense wooden pitcher, but it was painted to look like china and for a long time we thought it was china. He was sometimes called "Pitcher Smith" by his intimates to distinguish him from another James P. Smith, both of them fine gentlemen.
Across Tabb Street at Sycamore, there was a wide, old brick pavement, the buildings setting a few feet back on the street and as I remember, it was almost always (unless when it rained) covered with bales of cotton or bags of coffee and of wheat, with a line of country wagons loading or unloading. It was McIlwaine and Dunn's, then McIlwaine and Brownley's store, afterwards McIlwaine and Martin's. Just above was Powell's, afterwards Friend's Hotel. Some distance above there were two brick houses, occupied as dwellings, with Miller's Confectionary Store with residence above. Then, fronting Franklin Street, was our beautiful St Paul's Church, burned, by catching fire from a store on the southward! Its lovely yard and exquisitely cared for shrubbery have never been equaled by any Petersburg church property.
I was not more than five years old when we left West Hill but I remember distinctly our life there. I remember very well my first real grief. Jim was between two and three years old. I was 20 months older and devoted to my little brother. One of my little playmates told me that the Doctor was coming that day to cut something in Jim's throat. She had heard the nurse tell one of the other servants. Then I remember that I had heard them talking about "tonsils." We were playing out in the yard, when we saw dear old Dr. Robinson on his white horse coming in the "Red Gate." I would always run to meet him, but this time I ran away from him. In the broad hall of the old West Hill house, there was a table with leaves that came down almost to the floor, and it was draped in a blue and white cover. I hid under this table and put my fingers in my ears. No one knew where I was but they thought I was off from the house and knew nothing about what was going on! I learned that day the meaning of the word agony, and its memory has never left me!
Father then bought the Franklin-Jefferson-Washington Streets lot and in 1844, he built the residence at Jefferson, Franklin and Washington Streets, and separated from the next lot by a wide alley. On the next lot near the alley was a very old and abandoned building. The Franklin Street home had been finished, and two or three of the servants had been sent up to wash the windows and scrub the floors, as the carpets had come down from New York and were to be laid the next day. It was a cold winter night, and it was thought that "tramps" (though I hardly think that word was in use then but "beggars") had sought refuge in the old factory and had made too hot a fire. The old, old wooden building caught on fire, disastrously for us. The wind was from the west and our new house was burned.
So instead of leaving West Hill, we remained there for some time, perhaps a year longer. The black Italian marble mantlepiece, the windows, shutters, and some of the grates downstairs were saved and as soon as the bricks were cold, the workmen had begun to duplicate the residence. Fortunately there was insurance, but not enough to cover the loss. Father at once duplicated the building, which stands in excellent condition to this day. The timber in the house had been all selected white pine brought from Albany, New York and a duplicate of the first order was now sent to the same firm. The fine condition of the buildings at this day will show the value of the timber, as well as the care which the present owners have taken of the property.
On the southeast corner of the lot was a lovely old garden, planned and laid out by Mr. Walker and modeled after the layout of some of the old-time James River gardens. I only k now that the brightest and happiest days of my happy childhood were spent in that lovely garden. The garden gate, on the southern side of Washington Street was directly opposite the lawn gate of hour house (which home fronted on Franklin Street.) From the corner of Jefferson Street and Washington, and just inside of the northern boundary fence, there were five big trees, three of them big tall oaks but of different species, then a black walnut and a tulip poplar. Near the northwestern end of the lot, but about ten or twelve feet further south was a big pecan tree. It bore nuts but in my day, not many. I remember how diligently we used to search for them and how few we found.
On the eastern (Jefferson Street) side of the garden, there was a row of the finest fig bushes. Uncle Davey, the gardener, would have considered it almost a crime to throw away a piece of matting, even if it was a small piece and very old. He saved every scrap of old matting to put around the wheat straw in which he encased his fig bushes every winter. When he took the covering off late in the spring, on the bare branches we would find tiny little green figs that was our June crop not a very large one, but very welcome, as fruits were not so plentiful in June as they were later on. The real crop of figs ripened in September, and as we in those days never sold any of our garden produce, well you may imagine that Jim and I were popular with our little neighbors! And I am sure that if patience and kindliness and forebearance are virtues, then dear old Uncle Davey was fit to be a prince. Uncle Davey had been one of the assistant gardeners at Claremont, and when Father bought the lovely old Walker Garden, Uncle Davy felt as if he had "come into his own again."
It was while we were living at Franklin Street that a very charming cousin of Father's came from Londonderry and visited us. He was Cousin John Allen Osborne. His mother was a sister of the Allens. His father, Mr. Osborne, when a young man had come to America, stayed some time, then decided that he liked Scotland better, so returned, went into business, and prospered as a shipping merchant. But when his eldest son (JAO) had graduated at the Glasgow University, his father wanted him to come to America, go leisurely over the country to see what location he liked best, then he hoped he would consent to establish a branch of his father's large business in New York, Baltimore, Charleston, or new Orleans, whichever place he preferred. But Cousin John had found a sweetheart in Glasgow, and he finally studied medicine and settled there.
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