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The road to the Sesquicentennial: Family feud leads to gunfire, Part II

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Steve Roush-
Ladies and gentlemen, in the 1880 United States Federal Census, John Brown was listed as farming the land his late father, Joshua Brown (1807-67), founded, and was living with his 66-year-old mother, Jeannette, and his older sister, Mary.

It seems to reason that the arrangement was that 29-year-old bachelor took care of the farm while 30-year-old Mary took care of their mother, and later the daughter of her late sister, Susannah Elizabeth “Betty” Brown Britton, who died shortly after delivering the child in 1886.

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, in 1888, that began to change as Mary Brown broke off her engagement to her late sister’s husband, Marion Britton, Britton married another woman and took custody of the young child and a bitter feud developed between Britton and John Brown that led to gunfire at the Parker House Hotel in uptown Hillsboro on Aug. 4, 1888.

It was around noon that day, and John Brown was sitting in front of the Parker House Hotel in uptown Hillsboro chatting 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.”

According to the 2000 book “Lynchburg, Ohio: A Large Story About a Small Town,” written by Hugh Isma Troth, the great-grandson of Marion and Betty Britton, Marion Britton walked out toward the curbing opposite where John Brown was sitting. Wheeling around and drawing his pistol, Britton took a step or two toward Brown and fired.

In the Hatfield account, the “ball made a flesh wound and Brown ran into the office of the hotel in a stooping position, holding his head, the entrance door being four or five feet west of where he had been sitting.”

Britton followed him, and as Brown was trying to get behind the door, Britton fired another shot, which “entered the neck, severing the spinal cord, resulting in speedy death.”

However, if you walk through the Hillsboro Cemetery and see a tall monument with a “weeping woman” perched atop the tombstone, it will say, John C. Brown: Born Dec. 29, 1851; Died Aug. 21, 1888.

Speedy death? Aug. 4, 1888, by all accounts, was the day of the shooting, but according to John Brown’s tombstone, he died on Aug. 21 – which was 17 days later. According to Troth’s book, “The second shot by Britton was the fatal shot. It struck Brown in the neck and severed his spinal cord. He lived about a week with his mind alert until the very end.”

Doesn’t sound speedy, in fact, it sounds like an awful way to die.

In an Aug. 23, 1888 newspaper edition, a Page 5 headline simply read, “John Brown Dead.”

The story began, “After a heroic struggle of nearly three weeks against the hand of death, John Brown breathed his last on Tuesday morning about two o’clock. It had become known to all that his death was merely a question of time. From the first, the physicians knew that there was no chance for his recovery. An examination of the wounds produced by the pistol shots was made by Drs. Brown, B.F. Holmes and Sigel Roush.”

Dr. Sigel Roush, who was 26 years old at the time, is the younger brother of Wesley T. Roush, who married Sarah Brown, a sister of John Brown. Wesley T. Roush and Sarah Brown Roush are my great-great-grandparents, and Dr. Sigel Roush is my great-great-great-uncle.

The story on the death of John Brown continued, “The wound in the side proved to be a slight one and would not have caused Mr. Brown much inconvenience, but the wound in the neck was the cause of his death. The bullet passed through the vertebra, entirely severing the spinal cord. The most remarkable thing is that Brown lived so long after receiving such a wound and that he was rational up to the last moments of his life. His bereaved mother, brothers and sisters have the sympathy of the whole community in this sad calamity, the untimely death of a son and brother. The funeral of the deceased will take place on Thursday, Aug. 23, at 10 o’clock from the residence of his mother near Fairview. The remains will be interred in the Hillsboro Cemetery.”

The funeral of John Brown was held in the house where he grew up – and the house where I grew up. 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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