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GORRELL, JAMES, army officer; b. c. 1735, probably in Maryland; d. c. 1769 in the West Indies.

James Gorrell apparently lived on the western frontier in Frederick County, Maryland. By October 1757 he was an ensign in Joshua Beall’s company of the Maryland militia. On 29 June 1758 he joined John Dagworthy’s company and was promoted second lieutenant on 9 Nov. 1758. His militia unit was active on the Pennsylvania frontier and was with the forces under John Forbes that took Fort Duquesne (Pittsburgh, Pa.) from the French on 25 Nov. 1758. Gorrell became an ensign in the 1st battalion of the Royal American Regiment on 30 May 1759 and was transferred to the New York frontier. By 1761 he had been sent to Detroit, where he earned the respect of his superiors for his work in conducting bateaux with supplies from Niagara to that post.

In September of that year he accompanied Captain Henry Balfour’s expedition, which established the British presence at the various posts on the Upper Lakes. On 12 October they reached La Baye (Green Bay, Wis.), where Gorrell was placed in command of 17 soldiers as a garrison for the rotting fort, renamed Edward Augustus. While stationed there Gorrell purchased a lieutenant’s commission, dated 2 March 1762. Besides protecting the British traders and maintaining a semblance of law and order at this frail outpost of empire, Gorrell’s main function was to try to secure good relations with the Menominees, Foxes, Sauks, Winnebagos, and Sioux in the region. Despite a lack of funds to disperse adequate presents to the 39,100 warriors for whom he estimated he had responsibility Gorrell won the Indians’ respect. When in 1763 the western tribes, inspired by Pontiac, attacked the English garrisons, those around Green Bay did not join the uprising.

On 15 June 1763 Gorrell was shocked to receive a letter from Captain George Etherington, commanding officer of Michilimackinac, informing him that the fort had been captured by the Ojibwas and that the remnant of the garrison was under the protection of the Ottawas at L’Arbre Croche (Cross Village, Mich.). Gorrell was ordered to join Etherington at once. He immediately called together the neighbouring Indians and gave them lavish presents, which he borrowed from the local English traders. Accompanied by an escort of 90 Menominee, Fox, Sauk, and Winnebago warriors, Gorrell, his garrison, and a few English traders crossed Lake Michigan and joined Etherington. The Indians from La Baye then negotiated with Minweweh and the Ojibwas for safe passage to Montreal for all the British troops. After more than two weeks, permission was secured. On 18 July the troops, escorted by some Ottawa warriors, set out, arriving at Montreal nearly a month later.

Almost immediately Gorrell left Montreal for Albany, New York, to get his expenses approved. He was ordered, however, to join Major John Wilkins’ expedition to relieve Detroit, which was being besieged by Pontiac’s forces. After the disaster of 7 November, which wrecked the expedition on the north shore of Lake Erie, Gorrell returned to Albany. There he discussed with Sir William Johnson* the payment of his expenditures for Indian presents. From 1764 to 1767 Gorrell was on half pay and spent considerable time in New York seeking payment for these presents. The debts were finally cleared during the summer of 1765, over three years after some of them had been contracted.

Eager for active duty, Gorrell received a lieutenancy in the 70th regiment on 18 March 1767, and was assigned to the West Indies. He is mentioned in the army list of 1769 but is absent from the 1770 list and presumably died of disease.

David A. Armour

PRO, WO 34/49, MacDonald, Journal of the siege of Detroit; returns of soldiers, 18 Sept., 8 Nov. 1761; Balfour to Amherst, 24 Nov. 1761; returns of soldiers, 10 Jan., 18 Feb., 20 April 1762; Campbell to Amherst, 8 June 1762; returns of soldiers, 22 June, 5 Sept. 1762; returns of troops, 23 Nov. 1762; returns of soldiers, 7 Jan. 1763; list of Indian nations; Moran to [Gladwin?], 18 May 1763; Etherington to Gladwin, 18 July 1763; Amherst to Gladwin, 28 Aug. 1763. Clements Library, Thomas Gage papers, American series, Gorrell to Gage, 24 Dec. 1763, Gage to Gorrell, 1 Jan. 1764; British series, petition of Gorrell enclosed in Barrington to Gage, 14 June 1767; Supplementary accounts, Accounts relating to expenses at Green Bay, 1761–63, James Gorrell’s journal. This journal has been published in: Johnson papers (Sullivan et al.), X, 697–714, and in Wis. State Hist. Soc. Coll., I, 24–48.

Army list, 1759, 111; 1760, 115; 1761, 117; 1763, 117; 1765, 6; 1766, 193; 1767, 125; 1769, 125. “Bouquet papers,” Michigan Pioneer Coll., XIX (1891), 67, 70, 72–73, 77, 130, 136, 142. “The British regime in Wisconsin – 1760–1800,” ed. R. G. Thwaites, Wis. State Hist. Soc. Coll., XVIII (1908), 245–46, 255, 264. Calendar of the Sir William Johnson manuscripts in the New York State Library, comp. R. E. Day (Albany, 1909), 170, 176, 208, 214, 254, 263, 266, 278, 302, 308, 322. [James Gorrell], “Lieut. James Gorrell’s journall from Montreal on the expedition commanded by Major Wilkins with some account of that expedition &c.,” Maryland Hist. Mag. (Baltimore), IV (1909), 183–87. “Green Bay and the frontiers, 1763–65,” Wis. State Hist. Soc. Coll., VIII (1879), 232–38. Augustin Grignon, “Seventy-two years’ recollections of Wisconsin,” Wis. State Hist. Soc. Coll., III (1857), 226–27. Johnson papers (Sullivan et al.), III, 525, 756; IV, 123, 192, 383, 643, 851; V, 139–40, 344; X, 450, 546, 559; XI, 274, 930; XII, 1072; XIII, 258. “Langlade papers, 1737–1800,” Wis. State Hist. Soc. Coll., VIII (1879), 218. T. J. C. Williams and Folger McKinsey, History of Frederick county, Maryland . . . (2v., [Frederick, Md.], 1910; repr., Baltimore, 1967), I, 661, 664.

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Cite This Article

David A. Armour, “GORRELL, JAMES,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 3, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed December 2, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/gorrell_james_3E.html.

The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/gorrell_james_3E.html
Author of Article:   David A. Armour
Title of Article:   GORRELL, JAMES
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 3
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1974
Year of revision:   1974
Access Date:   December 2, 2023