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The road to the Sesquicentennial: The Britton trial begins

Lead Summary
Steve Roush-
Ladies and gentlemen, when we paused last time along the road to the Brown-Roush Ohio Sesquicentennial Farm owned by my parents, Ken and Judy Roush of Highland County, it was the summer of 1888, and John Brown had been shot twice at the Parker House in uptown Hillsboro on Aug. 4.

Despite being mortally wounded, the 36-year-old farmer and my third great-uncle hung on for nearly three weeks, dying on Aug. 21 at the Brown homestead.

His brother-in-law, Marion Britton, was arrested shortly after the shooting. After firing the second shot at the Parker House, Britton reportedly put away his revolver, went back up the street and was arrested and placed in jail.

According to a newspaper report that appeared on Sept. 1, 1888, “The preliminary trial of Marion Britton, who shot his brother-in-law, John Brown, on the 4th of last month, the wounds proving fatal on the 21st, occurred before ’Squire Henry H. Maddox.

“Physicians testified as to the position of Brown when they reached the office of the Parker House, where he was shot, the character of the wounds, etc.

“Robert Johnson, an eyewitness, saw Britton come down the street. Brown was sitting in a chair in front of the Parker House.”

Johnson testified that “Britton walked close to the buildings until nearly opposite of Brown, when he took a revolver and fired one shot, which took effect in his victim’s side. Brown arose from his chair and staggered into the Parker House office. Britton followed and fired again, when Brown fell.”

The Sept. 1, 1888 report said that, “F.C. Frye and Cyrus Nordyke, also eyewitnesses, testified substantially to the same facts. ’Squire Maddox immediately committed the prisoner to jail without bail.”

This was printed in the Springfield Daily Republic newspaper. “Word was spreading on the case. Britton remained in the Hillsboro jail until his trial got under way the following June – more than nine months later.

“Jury selection began Thursday, June 13, 1889 and lasted until Saturday.”

According to a June 20, 1889 report, “The names of the men who will sit in judgment on the evidence and the facts of the case are John Siminson, Thomas Polk, John Satterfield, Henry Plummer, Charles VanPelt, John Duncan, Charles Hire, Samuel Wolf, George Hulitt, Wesley Gall, Thomas Dick and Henry Trout.”

Attorney Ulric Sloane gave the opening statement for the state, charging Marion Britton with willful, deliberate and malicious murder.

Alphonso Hart, who was mentioned earlier in this series, had served as 11th lieutenant governor of Ohio from 1874-76 and later served as a U.S. representative, presented the case for the defense in his opening statement, going into details of the origination of the family troubles which resulted in the killing of John Brown. He spoke of the death of Britton’s first wife, Susannah E. “Betty” Brown Britton, along with the feud with John Brown which had ended Britton’s engagement to Mary Brown.

The newspaper reported that at the beginning of the trial, “The courtroom … was packed with an interesting crowd. It is highly probable that the interest in the peculiar case will not diminish until the jury is discharged.”

According to the 2000 book “Lynchburg, Ohio: A Large Story About a Small Town,” written by Hugh Isma Troth, the great-grandson of Marion Britton and Susannah “Betty” Britton, “The courtroom was packed for every session, mostly with females.”

On that note, 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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