Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Remembering a Baltimore Printer and His Family: John Jerome Roach (ca. 1767-1830)

The Enterprising Roach Family of Baltimore, 1819-1830

A saga of marketing Books, Stationery, Musical instruments, Umbrellas, Printing, and Sign Painting, mixed with Millerites and fisticuffs with the Constabulary

©Edward C. Papenfuse

Maryland State Archivist, retired

The Country Bookshop

Benjamin Koenig

35 Mill Street

(off US Rt. 2 at blinker, shop next to church)

Plainfield, Vermont 05667

One of the perks of being the father of a Rare Books dealer is accompanying him on book buying adventures. While on our first family vacation in over a year we visited Ben Koenig’s Country Bookshop in Plainfield, Vermont where I purchased Original Poems, by A Citizen of Baltimore, published in 1809 by Samuel Jefferis, 212 Market Street, and printed by Joseph Robinson, famous for his imprints and circulating library.

Who composed the poems is still a mystery even though it has been mistakenly attributed to Richard Hallett Townsend, the nearly blind son of the Baltimore Quaker insurance broker, Joseph Townsend (1756-1841).[1] But that quest is for another day. Our son acquired an even more intriguing imprint from Benjamin Koenig that captured my attention.


courtesy of Midtown Scholar, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

Tracking down the known copies of this work was relatively easy and are located through many online catalogues including Worldcat.org, which directs the user in what member libraries copies are to be found. A number are available on line including a copy of Roach’s 4th edition of the Young Artist’s Companion owned by the American Antiquarian Society, and copies of the original English editions which are available from the British Library and the Bodleian Library, via Google Books.[2]

The original owner of the Midtown Scholar copy of the Young Artist’s Companion is unknown, but someone clearly read the book and used the inside of the back cover to sketch what appear to be miners. Perhaps the budding artist traveled to California during the gold rush?

Very little is known about Joseph Barnes, the author of The Young Artist’s Companion. He probably lived and worked in or near Coventry where his book was published.[3] From the front matter of the earliest surviving edition (the 3rd) it appears that it was first printed in Coventry about 1811, possibly by a J. Aston who printed the third edition about 1815. A completely reset fourth edition was also published in Coventry by J. Turner ca. 1820 and was the edition from which John Roach derived his copy which he announced as forthcoming in December of that year.

American and Commercial Daily Advertiser,

December 30, 1820 and January 2, 1821

For whatever reason, even though Fielding Lucas helped promote it, it would be four more years before it actually appeared for sale at Roach’s store.[4]

American and Commercial Daily Advertiser

Tuesday, May 17, 1825[5]

Who was John Roach (ca. 1767-1830)? He was a failed stationer and printer from Devonport, Plymouth, Devonshire England who arrived in Baltimore in 1819 one step ahead of the bailiff and debtors' prison. He left behind his lawyer to answer to the courts as best he could and brought with him his son John Jr. (1804-fate unknown) soon followed by wife Jane (1776-1849) and two daughters, Matilda Mary (1802-1862), and Louisa Jane (1806-1869).[6]

Baltimore, 1822, published by Fielding Lucas, Library of Congress

derived from Thomas Poppleton’s survey of Baltimore, 1821/22

On his arrival John Roach leased a building on the northwest corner of Frederick and Market (later Baltimore) Streets where he and his family would live and work for the next 11 years.

34/38 Baltimore Street in 1900, renumbered and by then a men’s furnishing store.

It was torn down and replaced by 1914 with a new three story building[7]


The Roaches came to settle in Baltimore at an opportune time. Over the decade from 1820 to 1830 the total population of potential customers would increase by 18,000 to 80,620 of whom 14,790 were Free Blacks.

from Varlé A Complete View of Baltimore, 1833

In the decade that followed John Roach’s arrival, the city would be carefully and scientifically maped for development. The boundaries of the significant enlargement of Baltimore by the General Assembly in 1818 to over 14 square miles were defined and laid out through an accurate survey of the streets, alleys, and the city blocks, most of which lay vacant, lying in wait for the city’s expansion of housing and industry.[8]

John Roach’s store and printing office circled in red on an excerpt

from Thomas Poppleon’s 1822 map of Baltimore[9]

Tetlow’s patented ruling machine, 1770[10]

John Jerome Roach at the age of 54, and his son John, jr. 15, arrived in Baltimore in October 1819 with a printing press, a ruling machine for printing ruled music paper, and a considerable stock of books and goods for the new stationery store which he rented at 38 Market Street. The following June his wife Jane, 44, and their two daughters, Louisa Jane, 13, and Matilda Mary, 18, arrived on the Henry Clay to join them.[11]

American & Commercial Daily Advertiser - Nov 18, 1819

Roach’s first advertisement in Baltimore appeared in the American & Commercial Daily Advertiser in November, 1819. In addition to selling musical instruments, fine books, and patent medicines, he even offered to teach “a few gentlemen the theory and practice of Fencing” in his spare time.

American & Commercial Daily Advertiser - Dec 21, 1819

As the years passed, he would print and publish a song pamphlet with the lyrics to Home Sweet Home by an American, which was first sung in an opera at London's Covent Garden in 1823.[12] He would also publish his own Universal Almanac such as the one for 1828 which featured a wood cut of Lafayette who had returned in triumph to Baltimore on tour four years previous.

The Melodist, 1825 and Universal Almanac, 1828,

images from the originals courtesy of the Maryland Center for History and Culture[13]

One of his greater achievements was the creation of a circulating library that by the time of his death had grown to 6,000 volumes. It was not as successful as Joseph Robinson’s nor as large, but it did provide a steady income as witnessed by those who owed payment of their annual subscriptions to his estate.[14]

American & Commercial Daily Advertiser - Apr 27, 1821

ca. 1826 catalogue of John Roach’s Circulating Library,

courtesy of the Maryland Center for History and Culture[15]

With the addition of the Circulating Library in 1821, Roach also began specializing in Musical Instruments and music. John Roach, Jr., even organized a band to play the instruments in parades and to serenade for a price.

American and Commercial Daily Advertiser

Wednesday, Oct 31, 1821, Mar 20, 1823, and Sept 9, 1823


In 1821, John Roach Jr. also brought umbrellas to Baltimore, manufacturing and selling them at the family store, 34/38 Market Street.[16]

American Commercial and Daily Advertiser, June 11, 1821, May 10, 1825,

and Baltimore Republican, June 6, 1829

In addition to his store, John Roach Sr. was an ardent Odd Fellow, serving as a PG Past Grand (which means he presided over an Odd Fellows Lodge) and as General Secretary of the Order. In 1825 he proposed to print an American edition of the Odd Fellows Magazine published in Manchester, England. As General Secretary of the order, following the national meeting in Baltimore in 1828 he was required to place a notice in the newspapers that the “Strangers Refuge Lodge, No. 4” in New York was expelled. The reasons were not given. [17] Roach worked side by side with Thomas Wildey who organized the American order of Odd Fellows in 1824.

American and Commercial Daily Advertiser

Saturday, May 31, 1828

image of monument, New York Public Library

While a monument was erected to Wildey on Broadway near Johns Hopkins Hospital, there is no known memorial to John Roach Sr., who died on Saturday, March 13, 1830. He was buried in St. Paul’s burying ground, as was his wife Jane in 1849,with a simple gravestone.[18]

Baltimore Gazette and Daily Advertiser

Monday, Mar 15, 1830.

Note: should read Plymouth Dock, not Plymouth

John Roach left a will in which he gave two thirds of his estate to his wife, one third to his as yet unmarried daughter Louisa, and five dollars each to his son John Jr. and his married daughter, Matilda Denison.[19] His inventory and accounts reveal a substantial fortune.

A collection of chap and toy books sold by PBA Galleries

The inventory to his personal estate amounted to $2518.31, the equivalent of $75,086.70 in 2021.[20] It included the stock of the store, one lot of umbrella frames worth $2, 3100 volumes of books presumably in the circulating library, 600 chap books and 432 “toy” books. His Ruling Machine and Printing press “with type faces and all the apparatus appertaining to the printing establishment” were valued at $330. Shares in the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad (2) and the Circus (1) were appraised at $51 and there was nearly $400 in cash in the house at the time of his death.[21]

According to his accounts, he was owed $1672.44, the equivalent of $49,852.86 in 2021 . His debtors included local printers, Fielding Lucas, William Pechin, and the firm of Toy & Lucas. The notorious slave dealer, Austin Woolfolk owed him $38.38, while the founder of the Odd Fellows and his friend Thomas Wildey owed him $18.70. Several of the subscribers to the Circulating Library had yet to pay the annual fee of $4, while others were substantially in arrears.[22]

Baltimore Sun, April 25, 1840

The store building on Market/Baltimore street was rented and does not appear in the inventory or the accounting of John Roach’s estate. His widow Jane and son John carried on the business for a few more years, but she let the lease run out and retired to the home of her daughter Matilda and son-in-law Marcus Denison, a wealthy grocer and private director of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. There she died in comfort on March 8, 1849 while John struggled to make a living on his own.[23]

Baltimore Patriot, September 27, 1830 and

Baltimore Gazette and Daily Advertiser, February 2, 1831

The younger daughter, Louisa, who helped her brother repair umbrellas, married the owner of a circus, shortly after her father died. In October 1830 she married George Blanchard, the manager of the Baltimore Theater and Circus on Front Street who would find himself deep in debt and pursued by creditors the following year. +

Louisa Jane Roach Blanchard (1806-1869)

They moved to Kentucky to start anew. She died in 1869 in Louisville leaving behind the only known portrait of a member of John Roach’s immediate family.

The Baltimore Clipper, March 9, 1842

As to John Jr. he went bankrupt as an umbrella maker and band leader.[24] He divorced his wife (by act of the General Assembly) and became a house painter who assaulted the local constabulary and took out newspaper advertisements that are at best bizarre including one that suggests he bought a slave on the run in hopes that she eventually would be caught and he could sell her for a profit to a slave dealer like Austin Woolfolk.[25]

A sample of John Roach Jr.’s advertisements, 1831-1853[26]

In other advertisements seeking customers for his painting business, John Jr. poked fun at the Millerites who predicted the end of the world in 1843 or 1844. In 1849 he was arrested by officer Manly for throwing bricks at watchman Charles Ford and fined two dollars.[27] In 1852 he assaulted police officer Kries.[28] The last the public heard from him was an advertisement noting that he had won prizes at the Maryland Institute in Baltimore and the American Institute in New York for his signs.

American and Commercial Daily Advertiser

Friday, Dec 30, 1853

The end did come at some point for John Jr., of course, but when and where is not known. Perhaps having lost all perspective, he simply dropped from sight.

As to John Roach Sr., he deserves to be remembered better, if not for his fencing, for his printing, his marketing skills, and his books. He pursued the American Dream, if a bit late in life, and was successful. He brought music and books to Baltimore. He created a lending library of “cheap reading”. He supplied schools with paper and textbooks. He sold merchants and musicians ledger books and ruled paper for accounting and composition, and he printed inexpensive books for budding artists such as the Young Artist’s Companion which inspired at least one owner to sketch between its covers.


[1] The attribution of this work to Baltimore’s Richard Hallett Townsend (1804-1879) is doubtful as he would have been five years old when Robinson printed this volume. The mystery is further compounded by the publication in 1836, also printed by Joseph Robinson, of Rhymes, which is attributed to Richard H. Townsend. Perhaps one day I will be able to solve who was indeed the author of Original Poems and of Rhymes. In the meantime, the only known copy of Original Poems signed by its owner, the bilingual printer from Frederick, Matthias Bartgis is in the Huntington Library:

  • Title
  • Original poems
  • Author
  • Townsend, Richard H.
  • Publication Date
  • 1809
  • Imprint
  • [Baltimore] : Samuel Jefferis, 1809 ([Baltimore] : Robinson, Printer).
  • Pages
  • 151
  • Language
  • English
  • Document Type
  • Monograph
  • Sabin Collection Number
  • 96393
  • Physical Description
  • x, 139 p
  • Source Library
  • Huntington Library
  • Gale Document Number
  • GALE|CY0102685955

[2] American, 4th edition, John Roach, American Antiquarian Society. The ascribed date of publication is in error. It should be 1825. The British Library has two copies available online, one dated ca. 1815 and is the third English edition (originally owned by the British Museum, and one dated 1830, which is the 4th English edition. The Bodleian Library copy, also a 3rd English edition, is available on line from Google Books.

[3] The 1841 census for the area in and around Coventry is available from https://www.rootspoint.com. There are several Joseph Barnes, one of whom is 57 and whose occupation is difficult to read, but may be ‘painter’? The Coventry Archives proved to be no help and there is nothing known about Joseph Barnes the author at any art museum or major art reference library.

[4] Foster, James W. Fielding Lucas, Jr., Early 19th Century Publisher of Fine Books and Maps. 1956, pp 196-197. The announcement appeared at the back of his 1820 drawing book. Roach printed and ultimately published the Young Artist’s Companion. He may have even done some printing for Lucas rather than the other way around as Forster suggests.

[5] There is some confusion with regard to the street number. John Roach’s store was always at the north west corner of Market and Frederick Street which at times was numbered 38 Market Street, at other times as 34 Market Street, and finally 38 Baltimore Street.

[6] See the Hampshire Chronicle for Monday October 23, 1820, “BANKRUPTS to surrender in the COUNTRY … John Roach, late of Plymouth Dock, stationer, Oct. 28, 30, Nov. 28, at 11, at the Carlton Coffeehouse, Plymouth Dock. Attorney, Mr. Smith, Fore-street, Plymouth Doc.” By then Roach was well ensconced in Baltimore, safe from his British creditors.

[7] Baltimore Federation of Labor’s Illustrated History … (1900), p. 69 [ill.; S. J. Adler & Son, ca. 1900.

[9] for the expansion of the city in 1818 by the General Assembly and the creation of Thomas Poppleton’s map, see: http://www.rememberingbaltimore.net/2020/06/thomas-poppleton-map-that-made-baltimore.html

[10] Machine for ruling paper for music and other purposes. British Patent number 963, issued 15 June 1770 to John Tetlow. Patent and drawings published by London, Eyre and Spottiswood, at the Great Seal Patent Office, 1850.

[11] All the arrivals and applications for citizenship for the Roach family are to be found on Ancestry.com including the manifest of the passengers on the Henry Clay.

[12] Home, Sweet Home" is a song from the opera Clari, or the Maid of Milan which was first performed at Covent Garden, London in 1823. The lyrics were written by American actor and playwright John Howard Payne (1791-1852).

https://www.bookbrowse.com/expressions/detail/index.cfm/expression_number/386/home-sweet-home and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Home!_Sweet_Home

[13] Maryland Center for History and Culture, MZ B Roach 1825M, Special Collections Reading Room, and MAY42.R628 1828, main reading room.

[14] For Robinson’s circulating library see: Joseph Lawrence Yeatman, “Literary Culture and the Role of Libraries in Democratic America: Baltimore, 1815-1840,” Journal of Library History, Fall, 1985, Vol. 20,No. 4, p. 352. Yeatman is not always accurate. For example he calls John Roach Joseph and places his circulating library at 2,000 volumes. By Robinson’s standard it was (he peaked at over 17,000 volumes) but Roach had 6,000 volumes to lend by 1830.

[15] Maryland Center for History and Culture, MZ 881.R62, Main Reading Room.

[17] Roach is barely mentioned in the history of the Odd Fellows although he clearly was an important colleague and supporter of Thomas Wildey who is credited with founding the order in America.. See: Ridgely, James L. History of American Odd Fellowship.: The First Decade. Baltimore, Md: Published by James L. Ridgely, by authority of the Grand Lodge of the United States I.O.O.F., 1878.

[23] Death notice, American and Commercial Daily Advertiser, Saturday March 10,1849, “Died on the 8th inst, Jane Roach, aged 76 years, relict of John Roach. ...funeral this (Saturday) afternoon at 3 o’clock from the residence of Marcus Denison, No. 13.S. Gay st.”The docket entry for her will and inventory is to be found in Maryland Register of Wills, Baltimore City, Administrations 1849-1852, vol. 13, image 247. For Marcus Denison as a prosperous grocer, tea merchant, and private director of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, see: David Schley. Steam City. Railroads, Urban Space, and Corporate Capitalism in Nineteenth-Century Baltimore. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2021, p. 229 and Henry Hall. America's Successful Men of Affairs: An Encyclopedia of Contemporaneous Biography. [New York]: New York Tribune, 1895.

[24] The Baltimore Sun, July 31, 1849.

[25] John J. Roach was granted a divorce from Dorcas A. Roach by the legislature of Maryland. Baltimore Sun, March 21, 1839 and http://aomol.msa.maryland.gov/000001/000598/html/am598--186.html. Is it possible that he was suffering from lead poisoning? There is evidence that house painters today are still affected by lead paint. https://www.paintsquare.com/news/?fuseaction=view&id=10654#:~:text=Lead%20is%20not%20dead%20as,a%20new%20federal%20study%20reports.

[26] The story of Milky and those that pursued her is a complex one. The first runaway notice was placed by S. T. Walker in the Baltimore Gazette and Daily Advertiser on March 19, 1830. He first offers $20 for her capture and confinement to Baltimore County jail, but raises it to $100, before transferring the pursuit to John Roach Jr. (American and Commercial Daily Advertiser, June 27, 1831) who offered $50 for her capture. How Roach came by the right to claim ownership of Milky is not known. For John Roach Jr.’s ads see: The Baltimore Sun, August 11, 1842, August 29, 1843, January 25, 1843, March 25, 1845, July 17, 1845, March 2, 1846, December 29, 1853, Baltimore Daily Commercial, January 12, 1846. His painting did merit mention in the Baltimore Sun, September 29, 1849, where he is credited with painting the interior of a new hotel with “lively colors”

[27] The Baltimore Sun, August 2, 1849.

[28] The Baltimore Sun, March 25, 1852.

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