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The road to the Sesquicentennial: The family feud heats up

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, we were in the late 1880s and a bitter family feud was brewing.

Joshua Brown, the patriarch of the family farm, had passed away in 1867 at the age of 59. In the 1870 United States Federal Census, it was noted that Joshua’s wife, Jeannette, age 52 at the time, was “keeping house” at the farm, with her oldest son, Joel, age 29, working as farmer and her youngest son, John, 16, working on the farm.

Joel Brown, as detailed in our previous offering, would marry and purchase his own farm – but would be sent to the Athens asylum, where he died Christmas Eve 1880 at the age of 40, so John Brown would have taken over running the farm in his 20s. Also living at the Brown homestead in 1870 were Jeannette’s daughters Arminda, 31, listed in the census as “helping Ma,” and Sarah, 23, and Mary, 21, listed as being “at home.”

We also chatted about two of the Brown daughters marrying Britton brothers and passing away a year apart of each other – Rachel Ellen Brown Britton died Nov. 11, 1885 at the age of 48, and Susannah Elizabeth “Betty” Brown Britton died Nov. 13, 1886 at the age of 42 shortly after delivering her eighth child.

The family feud began to escalate when Betty’s husband, Civil War veteran and farmer Marion DeCalb Britton, began to court Mary Brown and the two became engaged. This did not sit well with John Brown.

According to the book “Lynchburg, Ohio: A Large Story About a Small Town,” written by Hugh Isma Troth, a great grandson of Marion Britton and Betty Brown Britton, John Brown “objected strenuously to the marriage between Britton and his second sister. He made accusations against Britton, to his face and to others, saying Britton had killed his first wife by working her to death.”

According to Troth’s book, John Brown talked long and loudly against his “hated brother-in-law,” and even filed an affidavit of lunacy against Britton. The case was reportedly heard, and Britton was found to be sane.

“This added to the ill-feeling between the two men,” Troth wrote.

Another family history story I had heard is that after Betty had died, with eight children, Marion Britton had reached out to the Brown family to help raise some of them. This bears out as the next-to-youngest daughter, Ruth Elizabeth, born in 1884, went to live with her uncle James Brown and his wife, Anna, according to James’ obituary.

Bettie Bea Britton was the youngest daughter born just days before her mother passed away, and the stories I had heard is that she went to live at the Brown homestead and was being raised by Jeannette and Mary Brown. This is probably true since Marion Britton and Mary Brown became engaged to be married about a year after Betty passed away.

In an 1899 account by S.J. Hatfield, due to John Brown’s opposition, the upcoming marriage between Mary Brown and Marion Britton was postponed for several months, and due to John’s influence, Mary changed her mind and on March 17, 1888, she told Britton that she would never marry him, that she did not love him, and that John had said he would never treat her as a sister nor respect her if she married Britton.

This caused Britton and John Brown to have a heated argument in front of Mary in the farmhouse where I grew up. As Britton left the house, according to reports, he told John Brown, “Be careful or one of us will be to bury,” then said to Mary, “Tell that young man when we meet to be careful, or one of us will be to bury.”

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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