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The road to the Sesquicentennial: A pandemic and the weeping woman

Lead Summary
Steve Roush-
Ladies and gentlemen, when we paused last time at the beginning of the 20th century 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 governor of Ohio and fellow Civil War veteran pardoned Marion DeCalb Britton, who had been sentenced to life in prison for fatally shooting his brother-in-law, John Brown, at the Parker House in uptown Hillsboro back in 1888.

As we detailed last time, Britton, who was now in his mid-50s, returned to the Lynchburg area, resumed his farming operation and never married again.

While the Britton family tried very hard to bury the whole episode, so to speak, some of the Browns absolutely refused to forget.

Mary M. Brown, who was briefly engaged to Marion Britton in the 1880s following her sister’s death, by many accounts literally held on to the history of decades past. She had compiled a chest of evidence, including the bloody suit that her younger brother had worn on Aug. 4, 1888, the day of the shooting.

She had also purchased a “Weeping Woman” monument for John that stands in the Hillsboro Cemetery and also had her name inscribed beside his: Mary M., sister of John C. Brown, Born May 8, 1849. John Brown had a tombstone that has weathered badly over the many years, but Mary bought one for him that stands more than 10 feet tall with an ornate, sad, stone woman seated atop the monument.

Because of the feud between John Brown and Marion Britton, Mary’s engagement to Britton in 1888 fell through. She would eventually marry, but not for many more years.

Psalm 90:10 says: “The days of our years are threescore years and 10; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.”

On Dec. 19, 1917, Mary Brown’s sister, Sarah Brown Roush, died in a flu epidemic at the age of threescore years and 10. At least I was told she died of the flu, and I always figured she was a casualty of the Spanish flu pandemic, but the Spanish flu supposedly didn’t hit until a few months after Sarah Brown Roush’s death. However, the scope of the current COVID-19 pandemic seems to be ever-changing, so who knows.

Sarah’s husband, Wesley T. Roush, my great-great grandfather, married Mary Brown on Sept. 4, 1919. He was 71; she was 70.

W.T. Roush, a farmer, educator and general businessman, died of tuberculosis on Jan. 21, 1926 at the age of 77. Mary Brown Roush moved in with Ted and Lavina Gossett Roush at their home on Anderson Road near Hillsboro. Ted was Mary’s nephew – and stepson – and my great-grandfather.

As it turns out, Marion DeCalb Britton lived longer than any of the other major players in this saga.

In a book written by the late Hugh Isma Troth (1923-2003), according to his aunt, Mary Cade, a granddaughter of Marion Britton, in his later years “Marion Britton had a buggy and a horse named ‘Dick.’ Marion owned a farm near New Vienna, and on occasion he took Aunt Mary and the other grandchildren by buggy up to his farm. Each time he drove by Sharpsville, he would remark that he bought his first pair of boots at the General Store

According to Troth, “My mother said her grandfather quite often visited their home. She did not look forward to his visits because Marion always asked my mother what she had learned in Sunday school. My mother hadn’t learned anything in Sunday school and couldn’t fake it with Grandpa Marion.”

Marion Britton died on March 6, 1935, just three days after turning 90 years old. He was buried beside his wife, Susannah E. “Betty” Brown Britton, in the Mount Olive Cemetery. He outlived her by nearly a half century and had seen nearly 47 years since the August day in 1888 when his life would forever change when he fatally shot John Brown.

Mary Brown Roush passed away a few years earlier on Sept. 27, 1931. She was 82. She is buried to right of her husband. Sarah is buried to the left of her husband.

Shortly after Mary’s death, Lavina Roush, sick and tired of having the “John Brown chest” in her home on Anderson Road, hauled the chest out to the backyard and set it on fire.

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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