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The road to the Sesquicentennial: Another 1880s tragedy

Lead Summary
Steve Roush-
Ladies and gentlemen, when we paused last time in 1889 on the long and winding road to the Brown-Roush Ohio Sesquicentennial Farm owned by my parents, Ken and Judy Roush of Highland County, the matriarch of the Brown family, Jeanette Brown, died tragically in the house my parents call home.

For the Brown family, the 1880s saw plenty of tragedy and sadness. Joshua and Jeannette Brown had nine children – four of which died in the 1880s. As we discussed earlier, the eldest son, Joel, a farmer and Civil War veteran, died on Christmas Eve 1880 at the age of 40 in the Athens asylum.

Both of the daughters who married Brittons, also died in the 1880s. Rachel Ellen Brown Britton, the oldest Brown child, died in November of 1885 at the age of 48. The following year, Susannah Elizabeth Brown Britton died in November of 1886 at the age of 42 shortly after delivering her eighth child.

We’ve also chatted at length about how Susannah’s husband, Marion DeCalb Britton, was convicted of fatally shooting the youngest Brown child, John Brown, at the Parker House in uptown Hillsboro in the summer of 1888. Of course, last time we detailed how Jeanette Brown perished after her clothing caught on fire in November of 1889 at the age of 74.

There was another tragedy in the 1880s that is eerily similar to the one that befell Jeanette Brown.

In the same newspaper edition that contained the obituary of Mrs. Brown, a letter to the editor read: “We would … sincerely thank the many friends and neighbors who so kindly and constantly assisted us during the severe affliction and the death of our mother.”

It was signed Sarah B. Roush and Mary M. Brown. As discussed earlier, Mary Brown had been engaged to Marion Britton and took care of Britton’s youngest daughter after Britton’s wife and Mary’s sister passed.

Sarah Brown Roush is my great-great-grandmother and the wife of Wesley T. Roush. Wesley T. and Sarah Roush (coincidentally, my grandparents’ names were also Wesley T. and Sarah Roush) had four children – all boys.

Guy Roush was born in 1880. Ted Roush, my great-granddad, was born in 1882. On Sept. 21, 1886, twin boys were born. One died Oct. 6, 1886. The other son, Wesley Kenneth Roush (which, coincidentally, is my Dad’s name), died tragically on his first birthday – Sept. 21, 1887.

From a Sept. 29, 1887 newspaper article most likely written by little Wesley Kenneth’s uncle, George Washington Barrere, who owned and operated the publication: “One of the saddest and most distressing events that it has been our duty to chronicle is the death of the baby boy of Mr. and Mrs. Wesley Roush, living near Russells.

“On Friday afternoon last near the hour of two, Mrs. Roush was called from the house for a few minutes and she left the baby on the floor of a room in which there was a fire.

“During her short absence, the child crawled to the fire, and upon her return she beheld her darling a charred corpse. The infant was one year old on the day of its death. The remains were interred in the Dunn’s Chapel cemetery on Saturday afternoon at one o’clock. The parents have the sympathy of all in their terrible affliction.”

A familiar family story goes that when my dad was born and my great-grandmother, Lavina Gossett Roush, found out that her son had named his son Wesley Kenneth, she openly feared my dad wouldn’t live past his first birthday.

Thankfully, she was wrong.

Let’s pause for now, and we’ll continue next time.

Steve Roush is vice chairman of the Highland County Historical Society Board of Trustees, a vice president of an international media company and a columnist and contributing writer for The Highland County Press. He can be reached by email at

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