Before his brief seven-month tenure on Supreme Court of Ohio in 1830, Henry Brush was involved in several high profile legal cases.
Brush, the youngest son of Lemuel and Mary Lee or Amy Holmes Brush (sources differ on the name), was born in Dutchess County, N.Y. on Feb. 12, 1777. He was educated in the town of Poughkeepsie, where he subsequently read and studied law in the offices of DeWitt Clinton. Brush was admitted to the bar on Aug. 11, 1803. And hoping to improve his opportunities, he left New York for Ohio and first settled in Zanesville, where, in 1805, he was admitted to the Ohio bar.
Brush moved to Chillicothe to begin the practice of law and engage in land speculation by buying and selling Virginia Military District warrants. During his early legal career, Brush participated in several high profile cases. He was among those who testified at the December 1805 impeachment trial by the Ohio General Assembly of Justice William Irwin of Fairfield County, reporting that Irwin missed a number of court dates on his judicial circuit. The General Assembly removed Irwin from office, although Fairfield County voters later elected him to the Ohio Senate.
In 1808, Brush was one of the men who represented Nathaniel Massie before the Ohio General Assembly when Massie contested the Ohio gubernatorial election of Return Jonathan Meigs Jr. Massie claimed that Meigs was ineligible to serve because he spent the previous four years outside Ohio, first as a commander of U.S. and militia troops, secondly as territorial judge in Louisiana and thirdly as a judge in the Michigan Territory. Massie’s arguments prevailed and Meigs was denied election.
In January 1809, Brush was among the attorneys who represented Justice George Tod during his impeachment trial. The Ohio General Assembly brought impeachment charges against Supreme Court Justices George Tod and Samuel Huntington because of their 1807 ruling in the case Rutherford v. McFadden declaring an act passed by the Ohio General Assembly to be unconstitutional. The Court disagreed with the Ohio General Assembly that the assembly was the governmental body deciding the constitutionality of laws that it enacted. The General Assembly could not carry the two-thirds majority needed to remove Tod and Huntington from office and the charges were dismissed.
In his first foray into public office, Brush was elected in 1810 to represent Ross County in the Ohio House of Representatives and, in December 1814, following the resignation of state Sen. William Creighton Sr., Brush was appointed to fill the vacancy.
During the War of 1812, Brush was appointed colonel of a regiment ordered by Gov. Meigs to supply Gen. William Hull for his march on Detroit. Brush commanded a regiment of 280 men that made its way north from Urbana with 100 beef cattle and other provisions and reached the River Raisin in Lower Michigan on Aug. 3, 1812, but were forced to halt their march after encountering British soldiers and a band of Shawnee Indians. Brush sent word to Gen. Hull asking for a detachment of riflemen to lead the Ohio unit safely to Detroit. Hull first sent a force of 200 men to Col. Brush’s aid, but they were routed by British and Indian forces. A second detachment of 600 men was sent to Brush’s aid under the command of Col. James Miller, and, on Aug. 9, 1812, at the Battle of Maguaga, Miller’s troops repelled the British and their Shawnee allies. Col. Miller failed to act on his military advantage, however, and Col. Brush’s regiment, with their supplies, remained encamped at the River Raisin, not knowing if it was safe to proceed. Col. Miller’s men were recalled by Gen. Hull and became part of Hull’s surrender on Aug. 16. When notified by the British Army on Aug. 17 that his forces also were ordered to surrender by Gen. Hull, Col. Brush refused and led his men on an orderly, but swift retreat to safety, taking with them most of the provisions.
In November 1818, voters of Ohio’s 3rd Congressional District elected Brush to a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. During his term, he served as chairman on the House Committee on Expenditures of the Department of War. Brush campaigned unsuccessfully for re-election in November 1820 and was defeated by Levi Barber, whom Brush defeated two years earlier. Brush returned to Chillicothe to resume his private law practice.
Gov. Allen Trimble appointed Brush to the Supreme Court of Ohio on May 28, 1830 to replace Justice John M. Goodenow, who resigned on May 7, 1830. Brush held the Court seat until a new General Assembly convened following the October 1830 statewide elections. On Dec. 29, 1830, the Ohio General Assembly chose John Crafts Wright by joint ballot to replace Henry Brush. Brush’s published opinions appear in volume 4 of Ohio Reports.
In the 1830 case John Bigelow and Maria, his wife v. William Barr and Others, Justice Brush found for the complainants, John Bigelow and his wife, Maria, that William Barr devised a will that deprived her of the property of her late husband, John M. Barr. Brush found that John M. Barr established a trust for his wife and their child of 160 acres of property should his death precede theirs. Upon the death of the child of John and Maria, William Barr claimed that the will he devised for Maria meant she was entitled to $200 a year in rental income from the property or $1,000 after its sale to William Barr and the two executors of the John Barr estate. Brush agreed with Charles Hammond’s arguments that Maria was entitled to the ownership of the 160 acres, even though she suffered the death of her only child and had remarried.
After leaving the Supreme Court, Brush returned to private practice in Chillicothe and continued to maintain an active interest in politics. He served as a presidential elector to the Electoral College in 1836 and 1840, casting his electoral vote for William Henry Harrison, first in Harrison’s unsuccessful national campaign in 1836, then for Harrison again in the successful l 1840 campaign. Brush also played a role in that 1840 “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too” presidential campaign by hosting a three-day campaign event at his Ross County farm. County histories report that upward of 2,500 people were entertained and fed while having the opportunity to meet “Old Tippecanoe,” William Henry Harrison, during one of his Ohio campaign appearances.
In 1844, Brush retired from the practice of law and moved to a farm in Madison County, where he died on Jan. 19, 1855. The funeral services were conducted by the Chandler Lodge, #138 of the Masonic Order. Brush was initiated into the Masonic Order on Dec. 21, 1807, by Scioto Lodge #6 in Chillicothe. In 1809, Brush was one of the three Scioto Lodge delegates to the Grand Lodge of Ohio meeting, where Brush, Lewis Cass and C.A. Stewart formed a committee to draft the first code of laws for the governance of the Grand Lodge of Ohio. Brush joined the Episcopal Church in Chillicothe in 1830 and remained a church member until his death. At the time of his death, Brush, who it appears never married, left an estate of more than $10,000.
b. Feb. 12, 1777
d. Jan. 19, 1855
19th Justice of the Supreme Court of Ohio