Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

John Roan
MSA SC 3520-17784

Biography:

John Roan enlisted as a corporal on January 24, 1776 in the Eighth Company of the First Maryland Regiment, led by Captain Samuel Smith.  The Eighth Company was recruited primarily from Baltimore, where it trained with two other Maryland companies that spring and summer. In July, the First Maryland Regiment was ordered to travel to New York in anticipation of a British attack.  During the march, four men deserted from the Eighth Company, the first of many who would desert that summer. [1]

The Marylanders met the British at the Battle of Brooklyn (sometimes called the Battle of Long Island) on August 27, 1776, where the Continental Army, led by General George Washington, fought to defend New York.  After a mild initial attack, the British covertly maneuvered to the rear of the Continental Army, where they attacked and outflanked the unexpecting Americans. About half of the First Maryland Regiment became trapped by the swampy Gowanus Creek.  Unable to escape, they turned back to fight off the British long enough for the rest of the Americans to safely retreat. [2]

Casualties were extreme, but so was the heroism that earned them the honorable name of the “Maryland 400.”  Fortunately, the Eighth Company escaped, losing approximately six out of 70 or so men. Maryland losses totalled 256 men killed or captured, but without the Maryland 400, even more would have been lost.  Despite their courageous actions, the battle was a tragic defeat for the Americans. [3]

Roan survived, and continued to fight with the Eighth Company. The Maryland Regiment helped secure America’s first victory at the Battle of Harlem Heights in September 1776 where they were praised for their “gallant behavior” and “splendid spirit and animation.”  They fought again at the Battle of White Plains in October where, despite the Maryland troops’ immense improvement, there was no clear victory, and the First Maryland suffered greatly.  [4]

As 1776 continued, the Continental Army was pushed out of New York and through New Jersey due to the loss at Fort Washington. The tides changed when later that winter the Marylanders participated in the victorious battles of Trenton and Princeton.

Roan’s enlistment ended in December 1776, but it is unclear if he reenlisted.  Some historians report that he “was wounded by being trampled upon by the British Cavalry at the battle of Brandy Wine, and bore the impress of a horse shoe upon his body to the time of his death.” If Roan was indeed present at the Battle of Brandywine, he would have reenlisted in late 1776 or early 1777, although no official record of this exists today. [5]

Many men named John Roan lived throughout the United States in the years following the war. Although not absolutely certain, it is likely that the John Roan from the Eighth Company went on to marry Elizabeth Howard in Anne Arundel County.  They moved to Randolph County, Virginia (now West Virginia) in 1809. After a few years, they bought 300 acres of land, which they lived on for a decade before losing the land in a lawsuit. They stayed in the area, however, where he worked as a Methodist Episcopal preacher and school teacher, while he and Elizabeth raised their nine children. [6]

John Roan likely died in Randolph County in December 1833, his wife surviving him by ten years.  He is buried in Beverly Cemetery in Randolph County, West Virginia, where a headstone marks his grave as that of a Revolutionary War veteran. [7]

-Natalie Miller, Maryland Society Sons of the American Revolution Research Fellow, 2018

Notes:

[1] Muster Rolls and Other Records of Service of Maryland Troops in the American Revolution, Archives of Maryland Online, vol 18, p. 18; First Regiment Boarding Document 1776, Revolutionary War Rolls, NARA M246, folder 3, p. 1-10, from Fold3.com.

[2] Extract of a letter from New-York: Account of the battle on Long-Island, 1 September  1776, American Archives Online, series 5, vol. 2, p. 107.

[3] Return of the Maryland troops, 27 September 1776, from Fold3.com; Mark Andrew Tacyn, "To the End: The First Maryland Regiment and the American Revolution," (PhD diss., University of Maryland College Park, 1999), 48-73.

[4] "Extract of a letter from Head-Quarters to a gentleman in Annapolis: Shall give the enemy a genteel drubbing in case the Yankees will fight," September 17, 1776, American Archives Online, Series 5, Vol. 2, Pg. 370; Henry P. Johnston, The Campaign of 1776 Around New York and Brooklyn ( New York: Da Capo Press, 1971), 256.

[5] Albert Squire Bosworth, A History of Randolph County, West Virginia, (Elkins, West Virginia: 1916), 371; Hu Maxwell, A History of Randolph County, West Virginia, From its Earliest Exploration and Settlement to the Present Time (Morgantown, West Virginia: The ACME Publishing Company, 1898), 451.

[6] Maxwell, 451.

[7] Maxwell, 451. Find A Grave, database and images, memorial page for Rev John Rowan, Find A Grave Memorial no. 6391193, citing Beverly Cemetery, Beverly, Randolph County, West Virginia, USA. Maintained by Steve Corley (contributor 46535090).

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