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The road to the Sesquicentennial: Family feud leads to gunfire

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 spring of 1888 and John Brown and his brother-in-law Marion Britton had just had a heated argument after Brown’s sister, Mary, had broken off her engagement to Britton at the behest of her brother.

Britton, who would have been 43 at the time, issued threats as he left the Brown homestead that day, telling John Brown, a 36-year-old bachelor, “Be careful or one of us will be to bury,” then said to Mary, who was 38, “Tell that young man when we meet to be careful, or one of us will be to bury.”

Immediately after that, Britton went to Hillsboro, bought a revolver and began to carry it regularly. With the engagement over and the feud between John Brown and Marion Britton escalating, Britton requested that the Browns return the young child, Betty Bea Britton, that Mary had been caring for since the death of Susannah “Betty” Brown Britton, Marion’s wife and Mary’s sister.

Reportedly, the Browns didn’t want to give the child up, and according to more than one account, Britton finally ended up getting the child after paying the Browns $350. That equates to approximately $8,500 today.

Then on June 10, 1888, less than three months after the heated argument, Britton married another woman. In a June 14, 1888 newspaper, it was written that, “Last Sunday evening at Mt. Olive, promptly at five o’clock, by Rev. Crawford, of Martinsville, Mr. Marion D. Britton and Miss Resa Ruble were united in the holy bonds of matrimony. The bride is a beautiful girl of 23 summers; the groom is well-known and is one of Highland County’s most prosperous farmers.”

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 Susan E. “Betty” Brown Britton, the marriage caused John Brown to rant “on and on.”

Less than two months later, the feud between John Brown and Marion Britton reached a crescendo on West Main Street in Hillsboro.

It was around noon on Saturday, Aug. 4, 1888, and John Brown was sitting in front of the Parker House Hotel in uptown Hillsboro talking with a friend.

Marion Britton was in the hotel barbershop getting a shave. After receiving his shave, Britton walked out of the Parker House front door and passed where Brown was sitting, but according to reports, it was not certain that the two saw each other.

In an 1899 account by S.J. Hatfield, Britton “went up the street about half a square.”

At that point, he was reminded by his son of something that was needed by the family at the west end grocery, so Britton turned and started back toward the Parker House. When Britton was within 20 or 25 feet of where Brown sat, he “walked to the outer edge of the sidewalk, and when nearly opposite, drew his pistol and fired at Brown, who was sitting in a chair.”

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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