The Brittain Family of Burke County

By Benjamin O. Williams

The Morganton Store Journal lists transactions with three Brittain’s:  Aron [Aaron], Philip, and William.  All three are considered to be sons of Joseph born in Virginia ca. 1723 and died in Rowan County, NC in 1774.  DNA studies currently (2010) demonstrate 23 separate genetic families using the name Brittain, Britton, Britten, etc.  At least one of the groups has been in Old Virginia since the early-1600s.  Our group is part of Group 5 that might descend from James and Mary Brittain who arrived in America in the 1700s. 1

We do not have proof of the parents of Joseph Brittian, yet several family histories state he was a son of the James Brittain "from Wales to VA., to NC."  Joseph named his first children James and Mary that fits a custom of naming the initial children for paternal grandparents. 2  One historian states Joseph had nine brothers and sisters, some of whom may have moved to NC.  

Several Brittain’s moved to northern VA and lived in the Winchester, VA area with Joseph selling land in Hampshire Co., VA (now WV, just west of Winchester, VA) in 1764 when he was living in Orange Co, NC. 3   Several other families that were in Frederick Co., VA and then moved to Orange and Rowan Cos., NC were connected to the Brittains on deeds, juries, road work, court minutes, etc. 

Some genealogists think Joseph was married first to Mary and then Jemima (family names unknown).  Their children were:  Philip (b. 1750-55), Mary (ca. 1754, Orange Co., NC), James, (b. ca. 1755), Phoebe (b. 1756, Orange Co., NC, alternatively, b. 1771), Joseph (b. 1756, Wilmington, NC), Benjamin (b. ~1759), William (b. 1762, Orange Co, NC), Aaron (b. in 1760’s), and Samuel (b. before 1774). 4   Joseph is thought to be the progenitor of all Brittain’s in western NC. 5  Some consider that several of the children actually descended from one of Joseph’s brothers.

Joseph’s will was written in 1773 and probated in 1774 in Rowan Co. (an area that included all of northwestern NC). 6  His wife Jemima was referred to as “widow” Brittain and based upon Orange Co., NC road work records, lived in modern Durham Co., probably along Old Oxford Rd. (Hwy) just NE of Durham and just west of Little River and the Granville Co. line. 7 By 1790, Jemima and her sons were living in Burke Co. but lived in scattered areas.  Aaron lived in modern McDowell Co. before moving to the Morganton area while William was in what is now Buncombe Co.  Philip and Jemima lived south of Morganton, toward the South Mountains. 8

Aaron (b. 1760’s; d. ca. 1849) is found in the Burke Co. census from 1790 (in McDowell Co. area in 1790) through 1840.  He participated in land transactions in Buncombe and Haywood Cos. in 1795 9 and was on Burke juries and had road duties several times. 10  In 1804 and 1805, he served as a judge in Burke and oversaw the settlement of the Peter Mull, Sr. estate in 1808. 11  He was on a roadwork team with his brothers Samuel and Benjamin and relative Mark Brittain and Peter Mull Sr. and Jr. in 1801 in an area that likely corresponds to Hwy 70 east of Morganton for several miles. 10  Aaron speculated in Haywood Co. land between 1803 and 1834. 12  1849 appears to be the approximate date of death for Aaron.  Neither the names of his wife or children is known due to the loss of Burke Co. records.  Mark Brittain of Burke is a possible son of Aaron’s.

Phillip (b. 1750’s; d. after 1830 Bedford Co., TN) was a Revolutionary War Soldier for four years.  He served under Gen. George Washington, was at Valley Forge, and was in the battle of Monmouth and a number of skirmishes. 13   He had land transactions in Surry Co., NC between 1786 and 1796, when he sold out. 14   Burke jury duty occurred in 1792 and he experienced road duty in 1793 with brothers Samuel and Aaron, suggesting they lived near one another.  By 1794, Phillip was a Burke Co. constable and had several official mentions until 1816. 15  He is listed in Bedford Co., TN for the 1820 and 1830 censuses. 13  One family historian lists his children as: Gemina, Mark, five unknown named children, Nancy, Mary, Samuel and Phillip.16  

William (b. 1762 in Orange Co., NC; d. 1846 Buncombe Co., NC) served as a Sgt. in the Revolutionary War, serving two tours of three months each.  In the first tour, he guarded Tories in Hillsborough.  The second tour in November 1780 began under Col. Joseph McDowell who sent him to the upper Fort on the Catawba headwaters.  Here two soldiers were killed by Indians.  He married Rachael Brank of Rowan Co. in 1780 and they had six boys and 3 girls.  Present in the Burke Co. census of 1790 (but living in modern Buncombe Co.), he and brother James were both were instrumental in the founding of Asheville and Buncombe Co.  Numerous land transactions were enacted by him. William was the first representative from Buncombe to the NC House, serving from 1792-1797. 17 He died 12 Mar 1846; a tribute in the Asheville Citizen 7 Aug 1960 relates that his parents were Joseph and Jemima Brittain.

Brother James Brittain (b. 1750’s; d. 1832 Henderson Co., NC) was a Revolutionary War soldier and was one of the early settlers of Burke Co., living on Hunting Creek in the early 1770’s.  In September 1776, he joined the Continental Line for a three year tour and participated in the Cherokee Expedition.  Released from service before the fall of Charleston in 1780, he missed capture.  James married Delilah Stringfield (daughter of James Stringfield).  In 1786 and 1787, James Brittain was a Justice of the Peace in Burke.  The Brittain’s migrated on several occasions with the Stringfield’s, including ca. 1790 when they moved to what became Buncombe Co. and then Henderson Co.  He served as a magistrate and became a major in the militia serving in the border dispute between NC and GA.  James was a large landholder and represented Buncombe in the NC Senate from 1796-1807.  Children included:  Mary, Joseph, Amelia, Phillip, Keziah, Benjamin Stringfield, Nancy, Comfort, William, Susannah, James, Jr., Lorenzo, Horatio Nelson, and Delilah. 13  Son Benjamin Stringfield Brittain became sheriff of Buncombe Co. before moving to Haywood Co.  He served in the NC House of Commons and NC Senate in the 1820s-30s at the same time as his purported first cousin Mark Brittain of Burke Co.5  

Brother Joseph Brittain (b. 1756, d. 1823 TN) served as a private in the Revolutionary War from the Wilmington District.  Sometime after marrying Dorothy Horner (1769-1844) in Orange Co., N.C. in 1786, they moved to Marshall Co., TN 18 eventually owning 5000 acres of land that he distributed among his children in later life.  He served as a Lt. under General Andrew Jackson in the War of 1812 from Bedford Co., TN.  Joseph was a member of the 10th and 13th Tennessee General Assemblies. 19  Their children were: Elizabeth, Jemima, Sarah, Mary, James, Melia, and Joseph.

The parents of Mark Brittain (1778-1858) of Burke Co. are unknown with either Joseph, Benjamin, James, or Aaron being most likely.  Mark married Barbara Mull (1779-1862) the daughter of Sheriff Peter Mull, Sr. and they had eight children:  Susannah, Gemima, Henry, Barbara, Molly, James, Joseph, and Sarah.  Mark served as Burke Co. Sheriff from 1815 to 1824 and as a manager for the American Bible Society.  In 1828-29 he was a Representative to the NC General Assembly and served in the NC Senate in 1831-32, serving at the same time as his purported first cousin, Benjamin S. Brittain of Haywood Co. 20   Walton recorded that Mark was “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.”  Once he is reported to have said, “’I am the pivot on which the county of Burke revolves.’” 21, 22   Mark’s son Joseph also served as Burke Co. Sheriff. 20

Such were the lives of the Brittain family that exerted much influence on Burke Co. and western North Carolina through decades of the country’s formative period.


1 DNA Testing, Brittain Family,
2  Monograph 66, Shirley B. Cawyer, The Heritage of Old Buncombe Co., NC, Vol. II, The Old Buncombe County Gen. Society, Pub. Hunter Pub. Co., Winston Salem, NC.
Hampshire County, Virginia Records, 1764, N.C. Archives 
Ancestors of Alma Love, Geneology.Com,
The Brittain Family, Joseph Brittain, [formerly a file made available by the Old Buncombe Gen. Soc.-no longer available]
Rowan County, North Carolina Will Book A, page 133, N.C. Archives
Abstracts of the Minutes of the Inferior Court of Pleas & Quarter Sessions of Orange County, N.C. 1777-1788, NC Archives
1790 Burke Co. Census  
Deed Index of Buncombe Co., N.C. 1795; Bk. SI-2: page 82; March 1834: Bk. E. p. 94
Burke Co., NC, Minutes of Pleas and Quarter Sessions, 1799-1803, Daniel Swink, 1988, Private Pub., Burke Co. Public Library
Burke Co., Record of Estates, 1777-1934, N.C. State Archives, Microfilm GSU 1976859, Box 51, Copy at Morganton Public Library
Haywood Co., NC Deeds, Books A and E
13  Revolutionary War Soldiers of Western NC: Burke Co., Vol. 2, Emmett R. White, Southern Historical Press, Inc., Greenville, SC, 1998
Ancestors and Descendents of Jacob (Braun) Brown The Wagonmaker,"
15 Abstracts of the Minute Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions, Burke Co., NC, 1791-1795, Daniel Swink, 1986, Private, Pub., Morganton Public Library
16 Site Since Removed,
17 Revolutionary War Soldiers of Western NC: Burke Co., Vol. 1, Emmett R. White, Southern Historical Press, Inc., Easley, SC, 1984
18 Goodspeed's History of Tennessee, p. 886
19 Revolutionary Patriots of Marshall Co., Tennessee, by Jane Wallace Alford, Robert Lewis Chapter Daughters of the American Revolution, 1976
20 Burke Co. Sheriff's Office, Mark Brittain,
21 Sketches of the Pioneers in Burke County History, Thomas G. Walton, Southern Historical Press, Easley, SC, 1984
The Heritage of Burke Co., Vol. 2, 2001, Mono. 217 "Mark Brittain" by Lane D. Weaver, Burke Co. Historical Soc., Walsworth Pub. Co., Waynesville, NC


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