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Pennsylvania Man Leaves Wife and Children, Runs Off with Another Woman

We tend to think of our ancestors and their contemporaries as very strait-laced. Sometimes nothing can be farther from the truth. That’s what is so fascinating about using original documents as historical sources. Those letters, diaries, and newspapers they left behind sometime fairly sizzle with crime, intrigue, and scandal.
For example, take a look at the following advertisements from the April 1777 Pennsylvania Gazette.

Coventry Township, April 4, 1777.
WHEREAS BARBARA ARNSDORFF doth still continue in her wicked ways, and has of late acted very dirty actions; I think it proper to forewarn the public, a second time, from lending or trusting the said Barbara any thing on my account, as I am determined never to pay any debts of her contracting. JOHN ARNSDORFF”
John had published a nearly identical ad in the Gazette a few weeks before. But then, Barbara came up with her side of the story in another ad:
“Coventry township, Chester county, April 16, 1777
RUN away from his wife and family of small children, in the night of the 9th inst. JOHN ORNDUFF, a country-born Dutchman, talks good English, wore his uniform brown coat, faced with blue, a knot on his shoulder, white jacket and breeches, about 5 feet 7 or 8 inches high, fresh complexion, light brown curled hair, took a girl with him named HANNAH MUCKLEWAR; it is thought they will try to pass for man and wife; they were seen in Lancaster the day after they ran off, on their way over Susquehanna; they took a half silk gown from his wife, and a new chintz ditto, a lawn apron and handkerchief, a white silk bonnet; he rode a young black mare, and the girl a grey mare, with a new hunting saddle with silver gilt round the edge. Whoever takes up and confines them in any goal, so that they may be brought to justice, shall have the above reward, and reasonable charges, and if the man only, Twenty-seven Pounds, and charges, paid by BARBARA ORNDUFF.”
Note the difference in the reward for the one or two of the pair. Barbara probably wanted her horse and clothing back, but not Hannah.
According to several genealogical sources, John Peter Orndorff arrived in Frederick County, Virginia in 1777. He may have already had some brothers living there. He and his second wife, Hannah McIlwee had 11 or 12 children. The first one, Samuel, may have been born as early as late 1777. There is some question as to whether the second “marriage” was a legal one. The six or seven children he already had with Barbara may have ended up living with John and Hannah in Virginia.
John must have served for a time in the Revolutionary War because Barbara describes him as wearing at least part of his uniform. There was a lot of desertion from the army at that time, but I didn’t see John listed in any of the ads seeking deserters.
Click here to read a previous post about a York County deserter.
With a total of 17 or 18 children, there are likely thousands of descendents of John Orndorff scattered across the country. Stories like this remind us that our forebears were real people, with real strengths and real weaknesses. How about your family?
Click here to read about Virginia still welcoming Pennsylvanians 100 years later.