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Mark Brittain
(May 25, 1778 - November 23, 1858)

The following excerpts were taken from:
Phifer, Edward W. Jr. Burke: The History of a North Carolina County, Revised Edition. 1982. Hildebrand, Ollie Harrill. "Hildebrand and Allied Families: Abernathy, Abee, Brittain and Mull." Church Printing Company, Asheville, NC. 1962.

Walton, Col. Thomas George. "Sketches of the Pioneer in Burke County History." 1894


Marcus 'Mark' Brittain was born May 25, 1778 and died on November 23, 1858 as one of the more popular sheriffs of Burke County. His ancestral lineage can be traced back to Wales, with his great grandparents, Asa and Achsa Brittain of Wales. Two of Asa and Achsa children, James (Mark Brittain's grandfather) and Samuel Brittain were born in Wales and emigrated to Pennsylvania.


Shortly thereafter, James moved to Virginia and married Mary Witty. The couple then moved to what is now Guilford County, NC., and had ten children: James II, Joseph, Hannah Achsa, Samuel, Robert, Benjamen, John, Nathaniel, Enoch and William. James II (Mark's father), a Revolutionary War soldier who was born around 1740 married Delilah Stringfield. Together they had 11 children, one of them being Sheriff Mark Brittain, they are as follows:

William Brittain - born 1777, married Rachel Clayton
Marcus 'Mark' Brittain - born May 25, 1778
James III
Phillip - born 1787
Amelia - born 4-11-1785, married Ellis Edwards
Benjamin S. - born 1795, married Celia Vance, died 1864
Comfort - married Thomas Bell
Mary - married Thomas Edwards


During the late antebellum and immediate antebellum periods, many of the Sheriff's served very short terms, lasting on average one to two years in length; however, Mark Brittain was one of the exceptions, serving as Burke County Sheriff for nine years from 1815 to 1824. It was said that there was a tradition that no person would run against Brittain for Sheriff (Hildebrand 133). Not only was he involved as Sheriff, he also was a manager for the American Bible Society: Auxiliary Society in Burke County. The society was formed in 1822 and was developed for the distribution of Bibles.


In 1810, the Burke County militia was composed of three regiments, with the First Regiment holding its musters in Morganton, NC. Mark Brittain was a district captain of this regiment alongside, William Duckworth, James Dysart, James Marler, Alfred Perkins, Israel Pickens and James Askew. These militia districts were commonly referred to as captain's districts, and up until the early 1840's the districts were identified by the names of the militia captain. Following his nine year term as Sheriff, Brittain served as Representative and Senator of the NC General Assembly in 1828 and 1831, respectively (Phifer).


Interestingly enough, Mark Brittain married the former Burke Sheriff, Peter Mull's daughter, Barbara Mull (b. January 16, 1779, d. August 4, 1862) around 1797, making him an heir to part of Sheriff Mull's 1,560 acres of land in Burke County. Mark and Barbara Mull Brittain had eight children:

Susannah - born November 27, 1798; married John Poteat; died March 23, 1877
Gemima - born January 28, 1800
Henry - born December 10, 1802
Barbara - born October 5, 1805
Molly - born November 9, 1808
James - born April 25, 1811
Joseph - born August 27, 1814
Sarah 'Sally' - born June 25, 1817

Four of their children married Mull children of Jacob (the youngest brother of Barbara Mull). Another son, Henry Brittain, born in 1802 married Gemima Mull (her father was a brother of Barbara Mull.)


Through the years, a kind of feud existed between the Mull and Brittain families, most likely fueled by the inter-marriages that were common among the families. Both Mark Brittain and Jacob Mull were extensive land owners and according to B. Rondal Mull in his book, "Mull Families of North Carolina," he had been told that Jacob Mull refused to speak to Mark Brittain even on his death bed because of a disputed property line. All these elements contributed to the 'bad blood' that existed between the two families during the 1800's. In the Burke County Court of minutes there is one deed to Mark Brittain from John, who surname is illegible, for 4,479 acres of land on January 27, 1816 (Hildebrand 133).


The following is written by Col. Thomas George Walton in "Sketches of the Pioneers in Burke County History", written in 1894. He begins describing Sheriff Brittain… "A man of respectable character, esteemed by the people and loved by his neighbors, in some respects he was peculiar. His address and manner showed that he had a good measure of self-esteem. I know several anecdotes concerning him, some of them not being proper for 'ear polite' of course I must omit. His manner and conversation attracted attention in the Legislature. There was an occurrence in which he and the celebrated wit, Jack Stanley, took a part, that convulsed the members of the Senate, that comes under the prohibited head aforesaid. Being on another occasion asked what county he represented, he replied, 'I am the pivot on which the county of Burke revolves.' He carried a large hickory cane in honor of 'Old Hickory,' having been his enthusiastic supporter in 1828. The cane was mounted on a silver head on which was engraved his initials 'M.B.' On being asked by some of the member of the Legislature what the initials stood for, he replied 'Mountain Boomer, sir.' In 1834, being a candidate for the Senate, he had changed his politics, and was no ardent friend of Mr. Clay. At a gathering of the people to hear the candidate for Congress and State Legislature speak in an orchard in the rear of the old house of Mr. W. Mull, Uncle Mark denounced the Democratic party. W.I. Tate, son of Mr. Wm. Tate of Hickory Grove, rose to his feet and charged him with being a 'turncoat.' Unabashed, he coolly replied. 'Why, Jefferson, my son. Don't you know: 'While the lamp holds out to burn; The vilest sinner may return.' Uncle Mark was elected, laid aside the hickory stick, and named his fine clay-bank horse 'Henry Clay.' His son, Sheriff Joseph Brittain in may ways - popularity, fidelity, manner and honesty in all his dealing whatever with men or in discharge of the duties of his office as sheriff - was like his ancestor."


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