Consanguinity: (kŏn'săng-gwĭn'ĭtē) , relationship by blood, whether linear or collateral.

Primarily concentrating on my Browning family from Harrison County, Ohio (and their subsequent move to Crawford County, Illinois) but I've got Plymell, Crago, Eagleton, Garrard, McConnell, Nichols, Swan, Nevitt, Huls, Markee, Depperman, Papstein/Popstein and Hamilton in there too. And that's just the beginning......

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Browning v. State of Ohio: Meet William!

Long time readers of my blog are familiar with a court case my ancestor Samuel Browning and his daughter Julia were both involved with in 1837. The links to the case (Browning v. Beck) are on my sidebar so I won’t go into the case here. What I intend to explore today is another court case, one involving a man named William Browning that I located at the same time as the one involving Samuel. Both cases were found in the files of the Harrison County (OH) Genealogical Society.

The recent morsel of information I received from another researcher about Hannah Barr’s father (Patrick Barr from Ireland) and the location of a consent slip for her marriage to William stirred up memories about this other court case. I’d intended to further explore this case just after the Browning v. Beck one but you know what they say about intentions! Who knows, perhaps I wasn’t meant to explore it until after I received this tidbit. You’ll see why soon.

Before we begin, let me say I’m certain the case file I have isn’t a complete one. As I’ve said before, many of the cases that the Harrison County Genealogical Society have in their files were rescued from the dumpsters behind the Harrison County courthouse some years ago. There are at least two documents missing from this particular case that I know of – a witness subpoena and interviews with the victim and the accused. Unless these documents are filed under the name of the plaintiff in the case, they’re likely gone. Although I’m sad because an interview with the defendant in this case would have been lovely, I’m thrilled to have what I have.

I’m afraid I don’t know much about William Browning, the major player in this case. If I did, perhaps my Samuel wouldn’t be as much of a mystery!

William first shows up in Harrison County, OH on 28 February 1818, the day he marries Hannah Barr, the daughter of Patrick Barr of Ireland. The permission slip I mentioned in my last post states that William was the son of John Browning. John signed the slip giving his consent for William to marry Hannah on 6 November 1817.

William next shows up in the 1820 census within two households of Samuel and two households of John. His age in this census is in a range between 16-26 and he has a son below the age of 10. Strangely, he has another male between 16-26 living with him and a female aged 26-45. I am given to understand that the age of consent was 21, so even if both William and his bride were 21 at the time of their marriage that still puts them a little younger than the 26 listed here. I’m not sure if the census is in error, or I am. I’m open to either possibility. At any rate, this range would place William’s birth from 1794-1804. I’m inclined to lean more towards a tighter range of 1798-1801.

He appears again in Dohrman Township in neighboring Tuscarawas Co., OH on the 1830 census – at least I “think” it’s him. Here he is age 20-29, as is his wife, and the couple have three children, two boys (one 5-9, one 0-4) and a girl 0-4. This census would place his birth more in the 1800-1801 range, which I find more likely given his consent to marry form in late 1817. This William is 15 houses down from James and Rhoda (Johnston) Markee. James Markee is Samuel Browning’s brother-in-law. James’ wife Rhoda is almost certainly the daughter of Disberry Johnston, a man who lived in Harrison County and will become important as we explore the upcoming case.

I don’t find a William Browning on the 1840 census and on the 1850, the only William I find was William M. Browning, b. 1810 in Montgomery Co., MD and who married Eliza Johnson (b. 1810 Ireland, the daughter of Irish immigrants) in neighboring Jefferson Co., OH in 1832. This family later moved to Henry Co., IA. I can’t say for sure that this William is not the William of the case (after all, in 1819-1821 a young boy of 9-11 can sure steal things and his age is never given) but other clues in the case itself make me rule him out with almost a certainty.

So where did William and Hannah go? I don’t know. I have one small clue that this case provided, but other than that I’ve never been able to find out what happened to them.

Now on to the case itself.

The case began on 12 December 1820. On this day, William Browning and Samuel Browning made an appearance before the Harrison Co., OH Court of Common Pleas. The boys came to answer a charge of larceny levied against William and agreed to a bail of $200 to ensure that William would not skip town and appear before the next term of court to stand trial. You can see the document to the upper left and a transcription below:

State of Ohio

Harrison County

On the 12th day of December A.D. 1820 personally appeared before me the Subscriber one of the Associate Judges of the Court of Common Pleas for said County William Browning and Samuel Browning and Severally Acknowledged themselves indebted to the State of Ohio in the Sum of two hundred Dollars to be levied on their Goods & Chattels lands and Teniments if Default be made in the Condition following,

The Condition of this Recognizance is such that if the above bound William Browning shall appear at the next term of the Court of Common Pleas of said County to be holden at Cadiz on the 19th day of March next on the first day of the Term and then & there answer to what at that time shall be objected against him on a Charge of Larceny and abide the order of the Court thereon and not depart without leave then this Recognizance to be void & of none effect otherwise to remain in full force and virtue in law --

Taken and acknowledged before me at Cadiz the day and year above writen.

Alexr. Henderson, Assoc. Judge

The next documentation we find on the case is at the March 1821 term of court. William appeared before the court as he was requested to do. I have not included a picture of the list of witnesses (I've covered that here in the transcription) but the document itself is here. Following is a transcription of the proceedings:

State of Ohio vs. Wm. Browning

Indictment for Larceny


James Tarbot

Patrick Barr

Disberry Johnston

A True Bill

(?) McMillan

Plea Not Guilty


State of Ohio

Harrison County

At A Court of Common Pleas begun & held at Cadiz in & for said Harrison County on the nineteenth day of March in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred & twenty one The grand Jurors of the State of Ohio summoned to enquire for the body of law Harrison County upon their respective oaths & affirmations do precent & find that William Browning late of the township of Cadiz in said Harrison County on the twenty day of September in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred & nineteen at the township aforesaid in the county aforesaid with force & arms one bag made of cloth with two Bushels of corn meal therein contained of the value of two dollars of the goods & chattles of one James Tarbott then & there being found claimant did steal take & carry away contrary to the statute in such case made & provided & against the peace & dignity of the state of Ohio.

Walter B Beebe atty for State in Harrison County

So it’s pretty black and white. William was accused of larceny by James Tarbott/Tarbet. A very cursory search on Ancestry says that James was born c1784 in York Co., PA, and married Margaret ‘Peggy’ McCullough in 1807 in Belmont Co., OH. James was living as late as 1850.

According to the accusation above, on 20 September 1819 William had filled a cloth bag with two bushels (about 16 pounds) of James Tarbet’s cornmeal. While it might seem like a silly thing to get all bent out of shape about nowadays – after all, we can head to the local supermarket and pick up a few pounds of cornmeal for a few dollars – it wasn’t at all funny or silly back then. Think for a minute about how many hours of labor went into that cornmeal. Planting it, tending it, harvesting it, and taking it to the mill to be ground? Months and months of labor in total. It’s not a wonder these things weren’t taken lightly.

It also makes me wonder about the circumstances of the theft. Did William even do it? He said he didn't, but if he did, why? Was he lazy, was he drunk, was it on a dare, did he dislike the man he stole from? Or was he simply hungry? It's not something that ever gets explained from the documents I have. If I had William's testimony, perhaps I'd have some idea.

But aren’t the witnesses interesting? Patrick Barr! Disberry Johnston! So let’s get to the witnesses, shall we?

I don’t have all the witnesses that were subpoenaed for this case. I don’t have the subpoena for Patrick Barr or for James Tarbet, but I do have Disberry’s. I’m sure even more witnesses were called but unless there is a file for James Tarbet in the Harrison County Genealogical Society and the files happen to be filed there instead, we’ll likely never find them. I know that more witnesses were called even without the other case files because I have another one, one that wasn’t listed on this witness bill. Elizabeth Barr!

Now it’s been recently proven that Patrick Barr is Hannah (Barr) Browning’s father. The man who sent us the consent slip had been looking for Patrick Barr for 14 years and was equally desirious of learning the name of Hannah’s mother. Well…..I believe I’ve just found it for him. I believe that this Elizabeth Barr is Patrick’s wife and Hannah’s mother. Seeing them both listed as witnesses in this trial -- and at least in Elizabeth's case, "on part of William Browning" helps further cement my belief that they are Hannah’s parents and that this William Browning, is, indeed, the William that married Hannah Barr.

(Update (3/30/2012): I have learned that Elizabeth Barr was likely Hannah's sister, not her mother. See more here. Ah well...the search continues.)

Disberry Johnston, if you'll recall, was mentioned before as the almost certain father of Rhoda (Johnston) Nevitt Markee. Rhoda was not only the wife of James Markee (the brother of Margaret, wife of Samuel Browning) but she was also the mother of Jane Nevitt, the wife of Margaret and Samuel's son, James Browning. That Disberry was a witness in the trial is yet another connection between the families of my Samuel Browning and the William in this case.

One other thing, though. I hope you all noticed that the man who stepped up with William to provide bail was Samuel Browning? Tell me true, now, genealogist to genealogist….would you all be inclined to a presumption that if Samuel Browning stood up for William, and William is John Browning’s son, that these two boys, close in age (Samuel would've been about 24, William likely 20-22) and having no other male Browning in the immediate area that could be their father, would you also come to a hesitant conclusion that Samuel could also be John’s son?

My gut says yes, and I see it as another small bit of circumstantial evidence. Believe me, I’ve been doing the happy dance around here lately.

More about the trial to come!


  1. Hooray for rescued court records and the people found within.

  2. Good job sleuthing, Patti! I hope you can find more documentation to help your case. There were a lot of players in this case and I could almost envision it as a movie.

  3. You know what is funny. James Tarbott (Tarbert) of Harrison County, Ohio is my ancestor!

  4. Elizabeth (--?--) Barr was Hannah (Barr) Browning's mother, I made a transcribing error on 1820 Census, better explanation and apology on the March 2012 blog.