Historical Figure: Col. John R. Rouzer

John Rouzer was born the last of ten children to Peter Rouzer and Rachel Hope Martin. His grandfather was Daniel Rouzer, who established a tannery in 1793 and became one of the town’s most successful businessmen and landowners in that era, and John’s uncle, Henry, also operated a successful tannery on East Main Street for forty years. Peter was a school teacher and headmaster as well as a farmer. John’s mother died when he was only one year old. The challenge for his father – who had six kids in the house aged 13 or younger – was too much, so John went to live with his oldest sister, Mary, who had recently married Joseph Freeze. Mary and her husband raised her infant brother like a child of their own.

After attending school, John intended to become a saddler, like his brother-in-law, Freeze. But, in August 1862 he enlisted in the Union Army after President Lincoln’s second call for volunteers. Men from Frederick County were collected into Company D of the 6th Maryland Regiment, which was led by Captain Martin Rouzer and his cousin, Lieutenant John Rouzer. Also among the 80 or so other local men was William Freeze, Mary’s oldest son and thus John’s nephew, who grew up with him in the same house and was two years younger.

John Rouzer served with distinction, earning a promotion to captain within eight months, suffering a gunshot wound at the Battle of the Wilderness, then enduring a few months as a prisoner of war before a prisoner exchange ahead of the Confederate Army’s surrender. In the summer of 1867, the United States Army awarded John successive breveted (honorary) promotions to Major and then Lieutenant Colonel for his meritorious and gallant service during the war. Neighbors, colleagues, and the local newspaper referred to him as Col. Rouzer for the remainder of his life.

He returned home to pursue the saddlery career again and quickly bought a house at 11 North Church Street. The following spring John married Harriet Wilhide. His fellow townspeople elected him into the state’s General Assembly in 1867. Sadly, Harriet died from complications of childbirth the next year (the child died four months later), and he suddenly was starting over.

Over the next 45 years, John Rouzer served six years as a state delegate for his community, ten terms as a town commissioner, four years as town postmaster, and six years as Register of Wills for Frederick County. He served on the local school board for 45 years, was among the founders of the town’s water company, including service as its president, was an officer of the Thurmont Bank, including its president, and – in 1900 – was appointed by President McKinley as deputy Register of Wills for Washington, DC, where he served for four years.

In 1871, John Rouzer married his widowed sister-in-law, Julia, whose husband was killed at Gettysburg. He raised her surviving sons as his own and together he and Julia had three surviving children as well. A fourth child died only a few days old in 1880, and a fifth died of scarlet fever in 1884 two months shy of his fifth birthday. Rouzer lived in his Church Street house until his death in 1914; Julia preceded him in death.

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