James Orr was born in Pennsylvania in 1750. He early espoused the cause of freedom, and first entered the service in a company of riflemen, commanded by Captain Robert Mebane; marched to Cross Creek (now Fayetteville), and thence to Wilmington, to the assistance of Generals Ashe and Moore. In 1776, he volunteered under Captain Thomas Polk, in Colonel Charles’ corps of cavalry, General Rutherford commanding, and marched against a body of Tories assembled at Cross Creek, but they were dispersed before the expedition reached that place. Again, in 1776, he volunteered under Captain Mebane, and marched from Charlotte to the Quaker Meadows, at the head of the Catawba River, against the Cherokee Indians, committing murders and depredations on the frontier settlements. In 1777 he served under Captain Elaby, Colonel Hicks’ regiment, in South Carolina.
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In 1780 he served under Captain William Alexander, in Colonel William Davidson’s battalion, General Rutherford commanding, and marched against the Tories assembled at Ramsour’s Mill, in Lincoln county; but the battle had been fought, and the Tories subdued and routed, before the expedition reached that place. This was his last important service.