Sunday, May 31, 2009

Deserters: James Norrige, 17th Regiment

Occasionally we are able to trace a British deserter after his elopement from service, at least for a short time. A soldier of the 17th Regiment received more newspaper ink than most, but in spite of this his story nebulous, right down to uncertainty about his name. We will call him James Orridge, because this variant of his name appears in two of the references to him.
Thanks to the research efforts of Will Tatum, we first encounter ‘James Morrage’ on the muster rolls of the 17th Regiment of Foot, which show that he was ‘Entertained’ on 13 August 1776. The term ‘Entertained’ and the date are deceptive, corresponding not to when the man enlisted into the army, but to the date on which his subsistence was assumed by his new company in the regiment. In this case, it is the approximate date that he boarded a transport in Great Britain. Orridge was one of the 180 new men required to complete the augmentation of each British regiment in America that was ordered in 1775. By the summer of 1776 these men had been recruited by the newly-established Additional Companies of their regiments, and were boarding ships for America. The majority of them arrived in New York harbor in late October 1776.
A surviving orderly book for the 17th Regiment contains an entries showing how newly arrived recruits were to be distributed into the regiment’s eight battalion companies. On 16 November the regiment was encamped at Delancey’s Mill north of New York city when several men including James Orridge joined it. Orridge was put into Captain Tew’s company. The orderly book noted that “They are Subsisted up to 12th August Inclusive” meaning that it would be the responsibility of Tew’s company to pay for Orridge from that date.
Orridge’s service with the 17th was not long. The rolls show that he deserted on 15 April 1777, when the regiment was operating in New Jersey. He was not advertised in the newspaper until two months later, when the regiment had returned to New York city:

Deserted from his Majesty’s 17th regiment of infantry, James Orridge, 6 feet two inches high, straight and well-made, dark complexion, dark brown hair, grey eyes, hook’d long nose, which he frequently had the custom of twisting and drawing up, born in England, in the county of Lancaster, and parish of Bolton. He may endeavour to pass for a sailor. Any one apprehending said deserter, will receive 40s. reward. Henry Hamilton, Adjutant 17th Infantry. [New York Gazette, 23 June 1777]
The officers of the 17th Regiment clearly did not know that James Orridge was long gone by this time. He had headed south. Like many British deserters, he took advantage of an opportunity to enlist in the Continental Army, not to support the rebel cause but apparently to take advantage of the bounty and subsistence that the military might offer. In early June, this ad appeared in a Virginia newspaper:

I will give 5l. Reward, besides resolvable travelling expenses, for apprehending and bringing to Williamsburg James Orange, who deserted from my company last week. He is an Englishman, about 6 feet and an inch high, and was lately a grenadier of the 17th British regiment, from which he deserted 6 or 8 weeks ago. He has a pass signed by several gentlemen on his way from Philadelphia here. Thomas Meriwether, capt. [Purdie’s Virginia Gazette, 6 June 1777]

Meriwether was an officer in the 1st Virginia Regiment. We do not know when or where he enlisted Orridge, precisely when Orridge deserted, nor why Orridge was called a grenadier. Perhaps the pass was given to him to allow him to distance himself from the British army.
The son of plantation owner Landon Carter encountered Orridge on 24 May, apparently engaging Orridge to conduct some business for him. After seeing the 6 June deserter advertisement, Carter realized that the man who called himself ‘Orangeman’ engaged by his son was in fact the James Orange who had deserted from the 1st Virginia Regiment. Carter placed the following ad in another publisher’s Virginia Gazette; while acknowledging the encounter with a deserter, Carter also questioned how such a man could have been enlisted in the first place, then went on to discuss two sides of Orridge’s character:

JUNE 10, 1777… Note, my Son on or about Saturday May 24, did, as he imagined, agree with a certain Orangeman, as he then stiled himself, a professed Manchester Weaver, at Hobb's Hole, in his Way to Williamsburg, to see a Half Brother by the Name of Atwell, living in or near the City.
But it is now to be concluded he was the same James Orange, who isadvertised as a Deserter in Purdie's Paper of June 6; for he owned himself to have been a Serjeant who came over with the 35th picket Guard from the British army, to General Washington's Camp about 5 Weeks before; and he had Letters of Passport from Gentlemen to the Northward. But it wants some explanation, how such a Deserter could be enlisted, consistent with what is deemed our General's Instructions, which seem to be issued with a View to remove a strong Impression prevailing among the Soldiers in our Enemy's Army, that, all the Deserters from thence would be made to take up Arms against their Country Britain. However, Mr. Orangeman, or Mr. Orange, seems to pay as little Regard to his private Engagements as he is advertised to have done for his public contract under Captain Thomas Meriwether.
Nevertheless the unhappy Creature deserves to have his rare Virtue recorded; for he absolutely refused to receive Money from my Son to bear his Expences to and from Williamsburg for 5 or 6 Days, in which Time he was to come to Sabine Hall. LANDON CARTER. [Virginia Gazette (Dixon & Hunter), Williamsburg, June 27, 1777]

There is no ready explanation for the phrase ‘35th picket Guard’; when the ad was repeated in Purdie’s Virginia Gazette, it said ‘34th picket guard’.
On the same day that Landon Carter’s ad appeared in Dixon & Hunter’s paper, Purdie’s paper presented another ad for James Orange:

Deserted from my recruits, James Orange and Larking Rogers, both of which enlisted with me in Caroline. Orange is 6 feet 2 inches high, very lusty, well made, and has dark eyes and hair; had on when he went away a light cloth coat and breeches with pewter buttons numbered 17. Rogers, I understand, has enlisted with capt. Samuel Scott of the Georgia Battalion; he is about 5 feet 10 inches high, and has a down look. Whoever apprehends the said deserters, and delivers them to the commanding officer at Williamsburg, shall have 20 dollars reward for each. Cha. Yarborough, lieut. [Purdie’s Virginia Gazette, 27 June 1777]

Charles Yarborough was also in the 1st Virginia Regiment, making it unclear whether Orridge had been apprehended and deserted a second time, or if this was simply a follow-on to the 6 June ad. While Orridge’s desertion from the British army is no longer mentioned, he still wore his breeches from the 17th Regiment which were distinctive enough to warrant description in the ad. The Georgia Battalion was created specifically for the reception of British deserters, suggesting that Larking Rogers had also absconded from the British army.
This is the last mention that we find of James Orridge, or Morrage, or Orange, or Orangeman. Perhaps we will encounter him again under yet another variation of his name, and learn more of his enigmatic story.

Learn more about British soldiers in America