If you spend most of your time with the same group of people, that group of would-be strangers can easily start to feel like a family. This is true whether you’re at summer camp or college, whether you work at an office or construction site, and especially, especially among members of a nation’s armed forces. Occasionally though, by chance or patriotic duty, those soldiers and sailors serving together are more than simply fellow recruits.
One such example is the McCook family of Carrollton, Ohio. Seventeen of the “Fighting McCooks” served in the Civil War (Daniel and eight of his sons, John and five of his sons, George Sr., and George Jr.), and of those seventeen, Daniel and four of his sons gave their lives for the Union cause, with Daniel himself falling just north of here at Buffington Island at the age of 65.
Though, as the McCooks were from three different branches of the family, it is believed that the Van Coutrens of Missouri hold the record for the most members of one single family to serve in the same war. All twelve of Emma Van Coutrens’ sons and daughters served in World War II: six sons were in the Navy, one in the Army, one in the Marines, one in the Merchant Marines, and three daughters in the Women’s Army Corps. Miraculously, none were killed, and only one was wounded.
Now, we can’t quite beat twelve here in Mason County, but going quite a ways back, we do have a family that sent ten sons off to war. I’m writing, of course, about the original Roush Brothers who fought in the American Revolution: Philip, John Jr., Balser, Jacob, Daniel, Henry, George, Jonas, and brother-in-laws Alexander Waddell and Henry Nease.
Less than a month after the “shot heard ‘round the world” at Lexington & Concord, even before the Second Continental Congress commissioned Washington as Commander-in-Chief and united the Thirteen Colonies in war, Virginia was busy raising its militia and preparing its defense. The western counties, having just come home from their war against the Shawnee, were especially quick on the uptake and wasted no time in forming companies and regiments.
One such company was Captain Jacob Holman’s Company of Dunmore County Militia, organized on May 25th, 1775 with Philip, John Jr., Jacob, and Henry as members. This company, like most militia companies during the Revolution, served four to six months though the details of their service aren’t known. They may have seen guard duty along the frontier, or they may have been a part of the “Fighting Preacher” Peter Muhlenberg’s efforts to raise a regiment in the Shenandoah Valley.
In either case, they did their service, and at least one brother reenlisted. Henry is shown next on the rolls of Captain John Tipton’s Company. Tipton was at this time a captain in the local militia organized by the Dunmore County Committee of Safety & Correspondence, but he was later elected to the Virginia Legislature and served as a recruiting officer for the Continental Army. (This will matter in just a moment.)
Tipton’s Company was disbanded after Lord Dunmore fled Norfolk in January 1776, after which Virginia settled into a relative peace. With British Generals Howe and Clinton in New York and Pennsylvania, and Cornwallis in South Carolina, there were few threats left to Virginia proper.
Though of course, they still sent men and supplies to the other theaters of war, which may have been where Balser, Daniel, and brother-in-law Henry served. Little is known of their service aside from the fact that they served, and family tradition says some brothers may have fought in Pennsylvania and New York.
Then, in 1779, war came back to Virginia when British troops landed at Hampton Roads. John Jr. was appointed captain of his own militia company, in which younger brother George served, though nothing came of this campaign after the British failed to receive reinforcements and retreated.
And finally, in 1780, the war started coming to its final conclusion. When Benedict Arnold launched his raid on Richmond, George joined Captain Pugh’s militia company and went to the Legislature’s defense. Meanwhile, brother-in-law Alexander was serving with a Virginia regiment in the Carolinas and saw action at Guilford Courthouse as they harried British General Cornwallis’ retreat north.
Alexander was with that regiment all the way to the final battle at Yorktown, where three other Roush brothers served as well. Jacob was there as part of Mordecai Barbour’s Culpepper Regiment, and George and baby brother Jonas were there with Captain Awl’s (or All’s) company of Virginia militia. Family tradition says that George and Jonas were close enough to see Cornwallis’ surrender to Washington.
200 years later, all of the brothers except Balser and brother-in-law Henry (who settled in Tennessee) are buried in Mason, Meigs, and Gallia Counties, and their descendants number in the tens of thousands.
Information primarily from the compiled “History of the Roush Family in America” by Rev. Lester Le Roy Roush.
Chris Rizer is the president of the Mason County Historical & Preservation Society and director of Main Street Point Pleasant, reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.