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Townsend family papers

Identifier: MSS 0445

Scope and Content Note

The Townsend family (of Delaware) papers consist of letters, accounts, and other business records, spanning the years 1809-1920, with the majority of the material falling between 1834 and 1894. The collection mainly consists of business letters sent to Samuel and John Townsend, political and personal letters sent to Samuel Townsend, and family correspondence, including twenty letters written by Edmund Townsend during the Civil War. With the exception of some family correspondence and a few letter drafts, John and Samuel Townsend do not figure prominently as authors in this collection.

The Townsend family papers were given to the University of Delaware Library in 1956. The letter to Samuel Townsend from J. M. Barr, dated 6 November 1963 (see Folder 22), was purchased separately in 1979. Unfortunately, all of the papers were then arranged chronologically, taped to loose sheets, and bound into two volumes. In 2002, the papers were removed from the volumes and divided into five series: Business Papers, Personal and Political Correspondence, Family Correspondence, Civil War Letters, and Miscellaneous Legal and Personal Papers. Additional papers from the same family, received as a gift in 1987, were also integrated into this collection.

The Townsend family papers offer researchers a window into the business practices of an ambitious, nineteenth-century Delaware entrepreneur. Samuel Townsend, at times in partnership with his brother John, built a sizable fortune in the timber and fruit industries. Incoming correspondence, accounts, and real estate documents reveal the inner-workings of both of these businesses. Business papers from 1833 to 1864 focus on John and Samuel's partnership as timber merchants. In this period they collaborated with their brother, Israel, who worked with Delaware businessman Martin W. Bates. Letters received from Israel Townsend and Bates provide thorough descriptions of the Townsend's timber business, including details on accounts, orders, and manual labor. After 1864, the business papers focus on Samuel's involvement in the fruit industry, particularly his peach and berry orchards in Kingston, Maryland. Papers include letters from New York fruit merchants, an account book from 1864, and numerous letters from G.H. Dennis, manager of the Kingston orchard, describing daily operations there.

Personal letters received by Samuel Townsend make up another significant aspect of the collection. Of particular interest are the many letters he received from colleagues involved in Delaware and national politics. An active member of the Democratic Party, Samuel was a dynamic presence in Delaware politics throughout the mid-nineteenth century. His correspondents include many Delaware politicians, such as Gove Saulsbury, who was a state Senator before serving as Governor from 1865-1871; James A. Bayard, United States Senator from 1851-1864 and 1867-1869; and Benjamin T. Biggs, who served in the United States House of Representatives from 1869-1873 and was Governor from 1887-1891. The letters pertain to subjects such as state elections and appointments, Democratic conventions and other party activities, the local press, national politics, railroads, Reconstruction, and the White Man's Party.

A final noteworthy segment of the Townsend family papers is the Civil War letters of Edmund Townsend, who served as a quartermaster in the third Delaware infantry. The Civil War series also contains several letters to Samuel Townsend from other people serving in the army. In twenty letters home, Edmund vividly describes his duties as a quartermaster, his experiences in battle, his concern about affairs at home, and his thoughts on the war. Edmund, along with Delaware soldier Mordica Hendrex who also writes to Samuel, expresses significant resentment that by 1863 the Civil War had become a fight for slave emancipation. There are also colorful descriptions of his conflicts with superior officers who had him arrested on several occasions. In a final letter to Samuel, Edmund describes leaving the army, settling his affairs, and returning to his family to establish a new farm and iron ore mine in Maryland.


  • Creation: 1809-1920
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1833-1894


Materials entirely in English.

Access Information

The collection is open for research.

Terms Governing Use and Reproduction

Use of materials from this collection beyond the exceptions provided for in the Fair Use and Educational Use clauses of the U.S. Copyright Law may violate federal law. Permission to publish or reproduce is required from the copyright holder. Please contact Special Collections Department, University of Delaware Library,

Biographical Note

Samuel Townsend, businessman and prominent Delaware Democrat, was born on 31 October 1812 in St. George's Hundred, Delaware. He was the fifth child born to Samuel Townsend (1781?-1849) and Hannah Humphries Townsend (1782-1829), and his nine siblings included brothers John Townsend, Israel Townsend, and Edmund Townsend.

Samuel attended school until he was thirteen and left home at the age of seventeen to work on the Union Canal. After a brief career as a ship captain in the early 1830s, he returned to St. George's Hundred and began mining ore. He soon found more success in the timber industry and, with his brother John, began acquiring property in northern and central Delaware to further this business. Samuel married Ann Maria Hart (1816-1894) of Maryland in July of 1835, and the couple began raising a family. Between 1836 and 1854 they had six children, including twins Samuel Townsend (1836-1904) and James Townsend (1836-1836), Henrietta Townsend (1838-1858), Richard Townsend (b. 1839), Mary Ann Townsend Carter (1843-1928), and John Townsend (b. 1854). In the 1860s, Samuel refocused his business enterprises on the fruit industry and became a successful peach grower. He maintained orchards in Delaware and Kingston, Maryland, and exported canned peaches to New York.

Throughout his adult life, Samuel was a vibrant force in Delaware politics. In this respect historians have portrayed him as aggressive and public spirited, as well as a "cross for some Democrats to bear" (Hancock, p. 13). Samuel was outspoken and opinionated, submitting frequent editorials to Delaware newspapers and publishing political broadsides. He attended numerous state Democratic conventions and was a delegate to the national conventions in 1848 and 1852. In 1860, he was a key player in the controversy surrounding Delaware's delegation to the national convention in Charleston and Baltimore (see Hancock, p. 13-17). Throughout the Civil War he was an avid supporter of the Union cause, but did not advocate for the emancipation of slaves. During Reconstruction, Samuel helped found Delaware's White Man's Party, which fought to have the fourteenth and fifteenth amendments repealed. Samuel Townsend remained active in politics and business until shortly before his death on 5 December 1881. He was buried in the Friends Cemetery in Odessa, several miles north of Townsend, Delaware, which bears his name.

Much less is known about Samuel's three brothers, John, Israel, and Edmund Townsend. John and Samuel were business partners in the timber industry beginning in the 1830s and worked together for many years. They also did business with their brother Israel, an associate of Dover businessman Martin W. Bates. Israel also served briefly as a paymaster in the army in the early 1860s, but lost that job by January of 1863. After the Civil War he resettled in Capeville, Virginia. Edmund Townsend also served in the army as a quartermaster of the 3rd regiment of the Delaware infantry. He fought in several battles in Virginia in 1864. After his discharge, Edmund, his wife, and their children, including two daughters and a son named James, settled on a farm in Prince George's County, Maryland.

Hancock, Harold. Delaware During the Civil War, A Political History. Wilmington, DE: Historical Society of Delaware, 1961. Hiller, Amy M. "The Disenfranchisement of Delaware Negroes in the Late Nineteenth Century." Delaware History 13 (1968): 124-153. Historical and Biographical Encyclopedia of Delaware. Wilmington, DE: Aldine Publishing and Engraving Company, 1882. Old Bible Records with Charts and Genealogical Sketches, Volume 9. Compiled by Cooch's Bridge Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution, Newark, Delaware. University of Delaware Library, Special Collections. Richards, Mary Fallon, ed. Delaware Genealogical Abstracts from Newspapers, Volumes 1-3. Wilmington, DE: Delaware Genealogical Society, 1995-1997. Additional biographical material was derived from the collection.


.6 linear foot (2 boxes)

1 oversize removal


The Townsend family (of Delaware) papers consists of letters, accounts, and other business records, spanning the years 1809-1920, with the majority of the material falling between 1834 and 1894. The collection mainly consists of business letters sent to Samuel and John Townsend, political and personal letters sent to Samuel Townsend, and family correspondence, including twenty letters written by Edmund Townsend during the Civil War.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift, 1956; gift of Mrs. Joseph Carson, 1987; and purchase, 1979

Materials Available in Alternative Format

A digital copy of material in this collection is available at the University of Delaware Digital Institutional Repository.

Related Materials in this Repository

MSS 0402, Waples family papers (contains two letters and a broadside by Samuel Townsend)

Materials Cataloged Separately

The University of Delaware Library has several individually cataloged broadsides by Samuel Townsend, which can be located by searching DELCAT.

Shelving Summary

  1. Boxes 1-2: Shelved in SPEC MSS manuscript boxes
  2. Removals: Shelved in SPEC MSS oversize boxes (24 inches)


Processed by Carrie L. Foley, November 2002. Encoded by Lora J. Davis, October 2010. Additional encoding by John Caldwell, September 2019.

Finding aid for Townsend family papers
University of Delaware Library, Special Collections
2010 October 08
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the University of Delaware Library Special Collections Repository

181 South College Avenue
Newark DE 19717-5267 USA