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Joseph Brevitt Townsend papers

Identifier: MSS 0525

Scope and Content Note

The Joseph Brevitt Townsend papers, spanning the dates 1810-1917 (bulk dates 1840-1896), document the professional career, and to a lesser extent the personal life, of the Philadelphia lawyer, Joseph Brevitt Townsend.

A gift of the Moyerman family in 1970, the collection comprises approximately 2,000 items (4 linear feet) of legal and personal correspondence, printed and manuscript wills and estate records, personal and legal account books, printed and manuscript legal proceedings, and court decisions and drafts of agreements. Eli K. Price appears frequently in Townsend's early career, as Price was Townsend's mentor and later business partner. Also represented in the papers are Townsend's four sons: James Price, Joseph Brevitt Jr., John Barton and Charles Cooper.

Soon after receipt at the University of Delaware Library, the collection was arranged into four series, largely by document type with chronological subdivisions. These series include: I. Legal documents and professional correspondence (F1-F47), II. Miscellaneous documents and correspondence (F48-F51), III. Printed court proceedings and legal documents (F52-F55), and IV. Financial records (F56-F64).

Series I. contains legal documents and the professional correspondence of Townsend's Philadelphia practice. The largest series, this material has been arranged chronologically. There are several divisions by decade, with subdivisions by document type (legal documents or correspondence). Drafts of court proceedings from the Orphan's Court of Philadelphia, the Court of Common Pleas, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, and various Circuit Courts frequently appear in this series. There are also many records of land transactions, some maps of land holdings, and indentures and mortgages. A series of land transactions pertaining to the formation of Fairmount Park, a project Eli K. Price was heavily involved in, appears in the collection beginning in 1867 (F11). J.B. Townsend served as the trustee or executor of many wills and estates of Philadelphia families. Discussion of estate dispersals, land disputes and land sales are the main topics discussed in the professional correspondence in this series. The correspondence, with Philadelphia names such as Lea, Biddle, Barton, and Price, also conveys a sense of Townsend's extensive social and professional network. J.B. Townsend practiced law with his mentor, Eli K. Price, early in his career and therefore Eli Price appears in many documents and pieces of correspondence early in this series. Beginning circa 1850, J.B. Townsend was joined in his law practice by the first of his four sons, who all appear in the collection. James P. Townsend, Charles C. Townsend, and J.B. Townsend, Jr. appear most frequently in the documents and professional correspondence, and John Barton appears through his affiliation with the Provident Life and Trust Company of Philadelphia. Upon J.B. Townsend's death in 1896 his sons continued his law practice under the name Townsend, Elliott & Townsend, a firm name that appears in this series beginning in F40.

Series II. Miscellaneous documents and correspondence, contains items related to the estate of the Picot family, John B. Chrisman and his business Chrisman, Brothers & Company, correspondence related to the Pennsylvania Hospital, and miscellaneous papers related to the legal careers of the Townsend men. These items were separated arbitrarily from the first series in the early processing of the collection. The Picot papers (F49) include correspondence and other documents dealing with the settlement of the estate of Charles Picot, of which Eli K. Price and J.B. Townsend were executors. The John B. Chrisman papers (F50) include receipts, accounts and correspondence related to Chrisman, Brothers & Company, a firm affiliated with the Rolling Iron Mill in Bergen County, New Jersey. John B. Chrisman lived in Wallace Township, Chester County, Pennsylvania, with his wife Isabella. The Pennsylvania Hospital correspondence (F51) includes letters concerning J.B. Townsend's management of the hospital, as well as many recommendation letters in reference to a vacant position on the hospital staff. The final folder in this series contains legal certifications awarded to J.B. Townsend, Jr. and Charles C. Townsend, making them eligible to practice law in certain types of courts in Philadelphia. This folder also contains J.B. Townsend, Jr.'s diploma from the University of Pennsylvania School of Law.

Series III. Printed court proceedings (F53 - F56), separated by document type, contains the printed court proceedings of various Philadelphia cases represented in the first series. This series also contains the printed wills and estate audits of many of the Townsend clients.

Series IV. Financial records and pocket diaries includes the personal financial records of various Townsend family members, as well as the financial accounts of Townsend, Elliott & Townsend. Other financial records relate to two of J.B. Townsend's clients, the William Chamberlain Estate and the Woodlands Cemetery.

The Joseph Brevitt Townsend papers highlight Townsend's legal practice, including his collaboration with his four sons, and his mentor and associate Eli K. Price. This collection would be of interest to legal historians, particularly of those interested in nineteenth-century Philadelphia. As documented in this collection, Townsend's work with real estate and estate settlements provides insight into various land transactions that shaped Philadelphia's growth and development in the mid-to-late nineteenth century.


  • Creation: 1810-1917
  • Creation: 1840-1896


Language of Materials

Materials entirely in English.

Access Restrictions

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

Joseph Brevitt Townsend (1821-1896), a prominent Philadelphia lawyer, was born in Baltimore County, Maryland, to Joseph and Sarah (Hickman) Townsend. The son of a saddler, Joseph Brevitt was educated mainly at the well-respected Bolmar's Academy in Chester County, Pennsylvania. Upon completion of his schooling, he apprenticed with prominent Philadelphia lawyer Eli Kirk Price. J.B. Townsend passed the bar in 1842 at the age of twenty-one. His private legal practice focused on real estate and wills, but he was also involved in commercial and insurance law and acted as a legal consultant for several commercial, insurance, and trust companies. Townsend practiced law in Philadelphia for the duration of his career. His first office was located at 813 Arch Street, and then moved to 709 Walnut Street. After many years of legal service, the University of Pennsylvania conveyed upon him an honorary degree of Doctor of the Laws in 1895.

In addition to a successful legal career, Joseph Brevitt Townsend was involved in the management of many other institutions in the city. For four and a half years, he was a member of the Board of Guardians for the Poor. From 1869 until his death in 1896, he was the manager of The Contributors to the Pennsylvania Hospital, and acted as director of the Hospital for a period. Beginning in 1879, he was on the Board of Trustees of the Jefferson Medical College, and he was the president of the institution at the time of his death. He was also the chancellor of the Law Association of Philadelphia and one of the managers of the Western Savings Fund Society of Philadelphia. The only social club he ever belonged to was the Union Club, which evolved into the Union League. He was a founding member of this club, and was among the first elected directors in 1864, and he was vice-president in 1892.

Joseph Brevitt Townsend was married twice. His first marriage, to Mary E. Price, lasted only nine years, ended by Mary's death in 1856. J.B. and Mary Townsend had three children: Edward Shippen Burd (b. 1849 - d. 1851); James Price (b. 1851 - d. 1900); and Eleanor Holliday (b. 1853 - d. 1894). Three years after Mary's death Townsend married Adaline (Ada) E. Barton. J.B. and Ada had three children: Joseph Brevitt, Jr. (b. 1861); John Barton (b. 1865); and Charles Cooper (b. 1867 - d. 1914). Although Joseph Brevitt Townsend worked in Philadelphia, he and his family lived in the suburb of Overbrook.

The four Townsend sons who survived into adulthood entered the law profession, and worked with their father at certain points in their careers. J.B. Townsend, Jr. graduated from the Law School of the University of Pennsylvania in 1884, and was admitted to the bar in that same year. He then went into practice with his father, and they worked together until the death of J.B. Townsend, Sr. in 1896. In addition to his legal practice, Joseph Brevitt, Jr. was the solicitor for the Western Saving Fund Society of Philadelphia, and the director of both the Provident Trust Company, and the Provident Mutual Life Insurance Company, of Philadelphia. After the death of his father, Joseph Brevitt, Jr., was joined in his legal practice by his brothers James Price and Charles Cooper . The three brothers maintained their father's practice under the name Townsend, Elliot & Townsend. A fourth son, John Barton , pursued the study of law in his father's law office after he received a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 1884. In 1885 he became a clerk for the Provident Life and Trust Company. He remained with this company for the duration of his career, eventually becoming vice-president.

Eli Kirk Price (July 20 1797 - November 15, 1884) was a prominent lawyer and law reformer of Philadelphia and handled the most important estates in the city. He specialized in equity and real property law, and mentored J.B. Townsend in such law when he was preparing to enter the bar. In 1828 Eli Price, a Quaker, married fellow Friend Anna Embree and they had three children. He served in the State Senate from 1854 to 1856 and in these years was involved in the passage of legislation that allowed for Philadelphia's growth. He was also instrumental in city improvement projects such as the creation of Fairmount Park in 1867. As a legal reformer, Eli K. Price focused on revising conveyance laws, particularly to protect women's property rights in marriage.

T.L. Montgomery.Encyclopedia of Pennsylvania Biography, Vol. 14. New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Co., 1914.Chronicle of the Union League of Philadelphia, 1862-1902. Philadelphia: Union League, 1902.


4 linear foot (6 boxes)


The Joseph Brevitt Townsend papers, spanning the dates 1810-1917 (bulk dates 1840-1896), document the professional career, and to a lesser extent the personal life, of the Philadelphia lawyer, Joseph Brevitt Townsend.


Gift of the Moyerman family, 1970.

Related Materials in this Repository

MSS 0281 Eli K. Price papers

MSS 0327 Biddle family papers

Shelving Summary

  1. Boxes 1-3: Shelved in SPEC MSS record center cartons
  2. Boxes 4-6: Shelved in SPEC MSS manuscript boxes
  3. Removals: Shelved in SPEC MSS oversize boxes (32 inches)

OCLC Number


Processed by Emily Holloway, March 2006. Encoded by Lora J. Davis, August 2011.

Joseph Brevitt Townsend papers
University of Delaware Library, Special Collections
2011 August 1
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