John Britton

Submitted to the West Virginia Biographies Project by:
Valerie & Tommy Crook
July 9, 2000

The History of West Virginia, Old and New
Published 1923, The American Historical Society, Inc.,
Chicago and New York, Volume III,
pg. 473-474

JOHN BRITTON, chief of the Charleston Police Depart-
ment, is a marked proof of the value and necessity of
long practical training for the higher officials of the city
government. He has won advancement to the head of his
department because of his courage as an officer and his ex-
ecutive talents, and his courteous and pleasing personality.
Chief Britton was born at Warren, Pennsylvania, in 1883,
and is a son of Alfred and Sarah E. (Freeman) Britton.

Alfred Britton was born in Quebec, Canada, and as a
youth learned the painting trade, which he followed prin-
cipally in furniture factories as foreman of inside paint-
ing. For some years he was employed in furniture fac-
tories at Grand Rapids, Michigan, but in 1895 came to
Charleston to assume the management of the Ohio Valley
Furniture Company’s factory, owned by George Fullerton,
of Gallipolis, Ohio, at that time the leading industry of the
city, with from 300 to 400 employes. After managing this
enterprise for seventeen years Mr. Britton retired and lived
quietly until his death in May, 1918, when he was seventy-
one years of age. His first wife, Sarah Freeman, died when
her son John was but three years of age, and Mr. Britton
later married Mary E. Edwards, of Pennsylvania, who sur-
vives him, as a resident of Charleston.

John Britton secured a public school education and as a
young man learned the trade of inside painting with his
father, under whom he worked in various factories. Event-
ually he purchased the Great Southern Hotel, on Kanawha
Street, in 1912, and conducted it for two years, when he be-
came president of the Kanawha Taxicab Company, operating
a line of ten taxis. He remained in this capacity, and
then, under Mayor Breece, because assistant street commis-
sioner. Later he was a plain clothes man on the police force,
subsequently became a patrolman under Chief A. I. Mc-
Cown, and was later promoted captain of police, a capa-
city in which he served during the remainder of the ad-
ministration. When he left the force temporarily he be-
came chief for the Rollins Chemical Company of South
Charleston, with twenty-four men under his supervision, dur-
ing the war period. Leaving this concern, he went to Nitro,
about ten miles from Charleston, on the Kanawha River,
where the United States Government was operating an am-
munition plant, and under Major Baer, in charge of the
organization of the police department at that place, was
made a lieutenant on the force, which consisted of about
400 men. He was later transferred to Cabin Creek, where
he acted as captain until the signing of the armistice, and
then went back to the Rollins Chemical Company as chief.
In May, 1919, when Grant P. Hall became mayor of Charles-
ton, he was called back to this city as captain of police, and
continued in that capacity until February, 1920, when he
became chief of the Nitro Police Department, with a force
of eighty-men. On August 27, 1921, he was recalled to
Charleston to become chief of the police department, which
has sixty officers and thirty patrolmen. Chief Britton has
placed the department on a well-trained, efficient basis, and
has been tireless in his efforts to preserve law and order.
He has continually strengthened his reputation as a fine
disciplinarian, and upon the occasion of unusual disturbance
of the public peace and in the unraveling of several noto-
rious crime problems his coolness and bravery and his skill
as a detective have stood him in good stead. A man of
splendid physique, he possesses also a pleasing personality
that commands respect and holds warm friendships.

Chief Britton married Lillie B. Canterbury, and they have
two sons: Basil and Giles Polly.