John Britton

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Life Sketch of John Henderson Britton

by Eliza Anna Britton, his Daughter, 1929

John Henderson Britton, a well-known colored civil war veteran, was born in Nashville, Tennessee August 1, 1849 and came to the Town of Washington, with other soldiers after the war in 1865. John happened to be one of the many soldiers that had the pleasure of shaking hands with Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglas.

John Britton was found in Tennessee by several northern soldiers in an old barn half starved. He had been placed there with his brothers, who had already perished from starvation. Many of the southern parents in those days hid their children, as they feared the northern soldiers.

After nourishing food was fed the lad, he became well again and was kept by the general and captains to polish boots, harness etc. It was at this time John Britton met Dr. Stephen Cooke, General John H. Ketcham and many other important men, whom he labored for without pay. When John became old enough he was placed in the northern army to fight. Many of his friends enjoyed his interesting talks concerning the marches and battles fought and won during the war. Such as the "Long March up the Crumbling Mountain," "Surrender of Memphis by Sherman," "The Great Battle between General McDowell and Stonewall Jackson" and other serious battles which he witnessed.

John Henderson Britton

He also loved to tell of his first entering the army, and going on the long march called " The Great Campaign.” For three long days and nights he and other soldiers marched through rain and mud while bullets whizzed through the air like lightening.

Leaves from the trees were shattered, horses were snorting and prancing, soldiers were falling like mowed grass, and many generals were shot off their horses, while the horses marched on in line.

The third night the rain ceased and those which were left, when [they] were sure of safety got down on their bellies and drank water which was caught in the cups the horse hoofs formed in the mud. On reaching the nearest village the soldiers munched hard tack.

Mr. Britton's early life was not an easy or pleasant one. His boyhood days were spent in hardship, fear and that of a slave. At the age of twelve he was captured by the northern soldiers. On 1861. He entered the war. In ’62 fought for his country until ’64. At the age of 16 years John was brought to Millbrook by Dr. Cooke and placed with a Quaker family named Congdon. Jarvis Congdon was the owner of the “Old Quaker Boarding House" at Mechanic. His home is now [1929] the home of the late Miss Laura J. Edwards.

Mr. Britton lived for many years with the Jarvis Congdon family and was a member of the "Old Brick Meeting House" at Mechanic. It was at this boarding house John Britton rode and taught Mr. J. Morgan Wing, Mr. L. Stuart Wing, the late Howard Platt of Poughkeepsie and Mr. Edmund P. Platt of Washington DC, to ride horseback and break colts and many other boyish tricks such as riding a small donkey through Aunt Lydia Congdon's dining room.

For many years John was known as one of Dutchess County' s best vegetable growers and he won many Blue Ribbons at the Dutchess County Fair. He also kept strict attendance at the Civil War veteran's reunions which were often held at the Nelson House, Poughkeepsie.

At the death of Mr. and Mrs. Congdon, John Britton was united in marriage to Bertha Elizabeth Duncan, daughter of the late Joseph H. and Sarah F. Duncan, on March 31, 1894 by the Reverend J. E. Lyall at South Millbrook. Mr. Britton moved from the Congdon estate and became a gardener [and manager] for General De Pister, Brother Louis and Brother Gilbert at Prairie Farm, an Episcopal home for boys, which is now known as Hope Farm [1929].

In 1895, John Britton came back to Mechanic, Millbrook with his wife and infant daughter and purchased a home, where he still was surrounded by his boyhood fancy - the large Wing estate, the Quaker Boarding House and the Old Brick Meeting House.

John's home was the estate of the late Samson and Janet Haff, an aged colored couple. Mr. Britton purchased it from the late Henry H. Swift of Millbrook, [Executor,] on March 11, 1897.

In 1898 John signed up to serve in the Spanish American war as a substitute for the late L. Stuart Wing. Terms of peace were soon announced which was a great disappointment to him and he remained at home.

After laboring for over 35 years in this vicinity for different members of the younger Wing generation, Mr. Britton became well known and loved by many. He was one of Millbrook's oldest colored citizens, a member of the Dutch Reform Church, South Millbrook mission and a strict member of the Republican party. He died at his home in Mechanic on June 16, 1920 after a short illness at the age of 71 years leaving his wife, seven daughters and a host of friends to mourn his departure.

Greenhouses at the Wing estate "Sanandonan"
Grapevines at the Wing estate "Sanandonan"
Man on horse is John Britton