The Life and Religious Experience of T. Townsend

Thomas Townsend

(This paper is copied from a manuscript written in the year 1849.)

I am now in my sixty-ninth year. It has been on my mind this some time past to leave upon record some account of the marvelous dealings of the Almighty with my soul.

I shall write from memory. Those things that I propose writing are stamped deeply upon my mind. As I expect shortly to appear before the Judge of all the earth, I shall be very careful that I state nothing but what is strictly true.

The most marvelous things happened about the time of the Hicksite separation; but for the satisfaction of my children I shall begin back as far as I have any knowledge.

I have been informed that My Grandfather Townsend and two of his brothers came from England about the time that William Penn settled Pennsylvania. One of them settled in Philadelphia, one went to the eastern shore of Maryland, and my father settled in Bucks county near the Delaware river where he lived till I was about thirteen years of age. He then sold and moved to Chester county.

He had two wives. I was the youngest of his last wife's children. There were seven altogether -- three of the first set and four of the last. I alone am left.

My mother was of Irish descent, I think. Left an orphan when young, she was brought up by a couple of goodly old Friends, as I have heard her relate. She became religiously inclined when a young woman and at that time became a member of the society of Friends. She had to have the care of the two when they became old and helpless. One circumstance I have heard her relate I think worthy of note. They required particular attention at certain times through the night. Once in particular, she did not know what to do, as she had lost so much sleep and no one to help her. She thought they must suffer since she was so overcome with drowsiness she could not stay awake. She lay down and fell asleep. When the time came for them to be attended to she was awakened by what seemed to be a hand laid upon her, so that she jumped up and waited upon them and returned to sleep again; and so it was throughout the night, whenever it was necessary for her to get up she was awakened in the same manner.

After the old people died, she was married to my father, being about 33 years of age. The old man before he died had given her a large Bible. When I left her to come to the state of Ohio, she gave it to me and I intend to leave it to my daughter Elizabeth, who was named for her.

My parents were both religious people, and took a great deal of pains to bring up their children in the fear of the Lord. Almost as long ago as I can remember anything I felt something working on my mind, causing me to be sober, and often to shed tears. This caused my parents to take notice of me. I suppose I was about 4 or 5 years old when the thought that I had to die sometime seemed to terrify me. But as I grew in years and took part with other boys in their play and diversions, these sober and serious reflections were drowned. And as I grew into my teens I was rather a lively boy; however, I had times of serious reflections.

At one of these times, as I was meditating, I heard a voice distinctly say in the inmost recess of my soul "Covenant with Me." I think I was about 14 at that time. I was ignorant of the meaning of the word covenant. I got the dictionary and found out what it was. I believed it was the voice of the Lord, and I gave my assent to it. However, I went on several years sinning and repenting, sinning and repenting, until I was about 19, when I entered more closely into covenant with my God. I then began to take delight in reading the Holy Scriptures, and other religious books.

When I was between 16 and 17, I went from home to learn the shoe-maker's trade. One object in going was to get away from home. I thought my parents rather strict. They kept me to meeting rather closer than I liked -- especially on week-days. But before I was 20 I found I could not feel easy without attending closely to meetings as they came in course.

When I was 20 my time was out that I was bound out for, and I went home to live with my father. He found me in clothes while I was prentice, and had the profits of the last year.

We lived about six miles from meeting. My brother William who was the main farmer, would frequently have all the horses away on meeting days except the one my father kept for himself to ride.

One Fourth day, which is a very memorable one to me, I thought I should be excused from going to meeting that day as I had no way of riding, and it was too far to walk. So I took my fork and went to the field to spread manure, and tried all I could to banish from my mind thoughts of going to meeting. When the time came to start, there was a voice spoke very tangibly to my understanding, and asked the reason 'why I did not go to meeting. I had the use of my limbs; I was able to walk; I had no lease on my life; I did not know that I should live to another meeting day.' I could not stand that. I stuck down my fork and started to the house and began to make some preparations. My mother asked me if I was going to meeting, and I told her Yes. "Well," says she, "I am glad." For my part I tried all I could to keep my face from being seen.

I took a short cut across the fields and woods. I did not want to be seen by any person, for the tears ran freely, and I could not help it. But it proved to be glorious meeting to me, its equal I believe I never saw before nor since. I did not let the distance hinder me from going after that, altho I often had to go in foot until I got a horse of my own. To go off and leave my brother alone in the harvest and other times was a great cross to me; but the heavenly meetings I had made it up.

When I was about 24 years of age, I went to Maryland to live at Ellicot's Mills. Lived there about 2 years. From there I moved to the state of Ohio, and settled at Owl Creek. There I married a young woman by the name of Elizabeth Speakman. She lived till we had 4 children, the youngest of whom died when he was only 4 months old. One year after the death of the child, my wife died also, with consumption.

I was left in a very trying situation. I didn't know how to break up housekeeping as there seemed no suitable place to put out the children; and it was very hard to get any woman to come to the house and take care of them. One day as I was sitting musing about my forlorn condition, -- no one to give me a word of comfort -- , it came into my mind to go and get the Bible and open it and read where my eyes first struck. I did so, and read the words of the 54th chapter of Isaiah (from the 11th verse.) It gave me strange feelings, for I verily believed it was the Lord's doings: for I did not know there was such a passage in the Bible. I believe I did not get so low in my mind afterward, still I could not think I was worthy of such honors being bestowed on me.

My youngest child was a girl. Her grandmother took her and raised her. The other two boys I made out to keep with me for about two years, and then I married Ruth Mosher, daughter of Asa Mosher. When I turned my attention towards getting a companion I prayed much to my Lord and Master to be with me in such an important affair, as it appeared to me to be -- to get one that would be a help-meet to me and also a mother to my children.

The first time I saw Ruth was at Monthly meeting, soon after they came to the state of Ohio. The first sight made considerable impression on my mind -- whether or no she was the one. It wasn't long before it turned out that I was a little in her company, and I found that she was a cripple and quite a weakly person. I tried with all my might to banish the thoughts of her from my mind and to look for another. I took a journey to Mt. Pleasant to look around to see if I could not find one that I could love well enough to marry, who was not a cripple. But it all proved to no purpose; so I came home as I went.

I gave myself up to prayer to my Lord and Master, to have an assurance that Ruth Mosher was the one for me to take. I tried the "fleece both wet and dry"; and it would turn out that she was the one. The language of my heart was then, "If it is Thy will, oh Lord, that I should take her if she had not a leg to walk on; but I am afraid that if we should ever have any offspring that they would be a poor cripple set."

The Lord satisfied me that that should not be the case, and so I concluded to go and see her. I found her mind had been similarly engaged from the first sight. After sufficient time to consider the subject well, we concluded to get married. We had nine children, all of whom are living yet, and not a cripple among them.

(Underline -- Grandmother was Widow Speakman)

Not long after we were married, there became a great stir in society in regard to Elias Hicks. It was said by some that he was preaching heretical doctrine; other said that his doctrine was sound and edifying. His sermons were taken down in shorthand and published to the world, that all might judge for themselves. Here the society split: one side was called Hicksite and the other Orthodox. The Hicksite held out that the Orthodox had got into a persecuting spirit.

My wife's father and mother and all her brothers and sisters, and nearly all the meeting at Owl Creek, inclined to take part with the Hicksites. It seemed much easier for me to go with them, than to take a stand against them. I thought that if Elias Hicks did hold some unsound doctrines, I was not obliged to adopt them. I read his sermons and liked the most of his doctrine well, with some exception.

Awhile before the separation, Amos Peasley had visited our meeting and preached such good doctrine that we all concluded that no man could find fault with it. So I became active on the Hicksite side. At this time separation had taken place at Ohio yearly meeting, which made a great deal of confusion. Our Hicksite friends, belonging to Indiana Y. meeting, concluded to avoid that by not meeting their Orthodox friends in a Yearly meeting capacity. They concluded to meet at Old Mill, which I thought was a wise move. A request was handed down to the inferior meetings that were favored by them, to send up the state of society to that meeting. It was laid on me to draft something stating the situation of our meeting. I drafted something that was accepted and several of our friends attended the Yearly Meeting with our reports. I did not go myself. I could not feel like going. Some of my friends who were on a stand about going, asked my advice. I encouraged them to go, if they felt anything like it; so off they went.

After they were gone, a heavy, disagreeable feeling came over my mind; so much so that I was hard beset to attend to my business. However, I concluded that I must go out to plow. I had a hard, stony piece to plow that I wanted to sow to wheat. I put three horses to the plow -- two of them young, awkward colts. I had a hard time to keep the horses to their places, and all the time with that distressed feeling in my mind. In this way I worked on to well toward noon. When I was turning at the end, I all at once felt in the spirit of prayer. I stood still and prayed in this manner: "Lord God, almighty, as I have no other in Heaven, nor in all the earth, but thee alone, be pleased to show me wherein thou woulds't have me to go." This came from the very bottom of my heart. I then started my horses; but I think I had not gone more than 2 or 3 rods before there came a strong feeling over my mind, and I stopped the horses to pay attention to it.

My eyesight was directly turned inward, and I had a clear view of my own fleshly heart, with a huge serpent twined several times around it, so as to have it in complete possession. Its head (with great fiery looking eyes, with a mouth half-open, showing its teeth) stuck up some distance above all the rest of it. I took a view of it without being terrified. It then gradually unwound itself and banished from my sight. My eyesight then became natural, and I drove on, feeling as light, seemingly, as a feather, greatly rejoicing to think that I had got shut of such a disagreeable companion.

(I believe that I had let in some doubts at times of their being any evil Spirit separate from man's natural propensities; but it being so contrary to Scriptures that I had never fully adopted it. I am not so sure but it was on this account that such a view of the ugly serpent was given me. I have not for a moment doubted it since.)

When I came to the turning place again, I made a little halt. I was all at once illuminated with a light shining around me. There came a voice out of that Light which spoke very clear to my understanding and told me that Elias Hicks was an agent of the Devil, who was striving with all his might to undermine the Christian religion; and all those that were on his side were lending a hand to support it. And there was only one step between me and destruction, if I pursued it any further.

I knew it to be the voice of my Lord. I have not words to express my feelings at that time, therefore I shall not undertake it. I then had the freedom to stand and talk to Him as though I were His equal. I asked Him if I might not go alone, and have nothing to do with the other side. He gave me to understand there would be no peace for me there.

The thought of going to the Orthodox was a wonderful cross for me; but there appeared no other way for me. Finally I decided I would not let my big heart destroy my soul; I would do it. As soon as I gave up, the cross was removed. I felt that I could go to the Monthly meeting and condemn what I had done, with the greatest of pleasure. But the thought struck me that my wife and I would be separated. The language of my heart was then, "Lord, Thou knows that thee had a hand in joining of us together; now must we be separated?" He bid me be still, and leave that to Him. Here the interview ended, and the Light withdrew.

It was by this time about 11 o'clock. I decided to turn out. I did not feel like plowing any more that day. I went to the house and told my wife that I could go no more with the Hicksites. It seemed to strike her dumb for awhile; then she wanted to know what I had met with. I told her then that I had met with that that had told me that there was but one step between me and destruction, if I pursued it any further.

"Well," said she; "I hope thee won't act the fool, like all the rest of them," (meaning the Orthodox) -- a speech I had reason to believe she was ashamed of afterwards.

I told her I had to go around and let our friends that had not gone to the Yearly meeting know that I could go no further that way, for I had become convinced beyond all doubt that we were wrong. I was satisfied that the others would come home stronger Hicksites than they were when they went. I accordingly went around amongst my friends, and used all the influence I was capable of to get them to go no further that way. I believe that my visit round was not altogether lost. There were several of us that gave up Hickism, and went on to Monthly meeting and condemned what we had done, so that when our meeting separated we were nearly equally divided.

I must now relate how my wife and I got along: She had no notion of turning about. To turn against father and mother and all her brothers and sisters was rather too hard a case for her. I gave myself no kind of uneasiness about it. I think it was the next night -- or the night after, I am not sure which -- as I was lying awake the latter part of the night there came a most horrible feeling over my mind. My heart felt as tho it was going to jump out. I felt as tho I was cast down to the bottomless pit. I could scarcely refrain from springing out of bed and screaming out at the pitch of my voice, "Oh hell, Oh hell, I am gone forever." Just as I was going to spring there was something checked me and told me to lie still, it would scare my wife too bad; and so I endeavored to lie still and bear it as well as I could. My wife, hearing my heart beating, lay her arm over me and wanted to know what was the matter. I found it was very difficult for me to speak so as to be understood at all; but I tried to mutter something to make her understand that I did not know what was the matter, but I felt as tho I was gone forever. I don't know how long I lay in that condition. One thing I know -- a short time would seem a great while to be in that predicament. As I was lying there still trying to compose my mind, all at once I was lifted up out of that dreadful condition and placed right on the reverse. I was filled with light and life.

By this time daylight began to make its appearance. I jumped up, laid on a fire, and went to my work -- laying up fence. All nature looked sweet and pleasant as the sun rose, and shined over the earth. I worked on with my heart filled with wonder, love and praise, until I began to think it was time to go to the house. I went and found my wife sitting with her elbows on her knees, and her head in the palms of her hands. I went to her and asked her if there was anything the matter. She at last raised herself up and gave a heavy sigh, and said, "I have found that I have got to go with thee."

I said but little more to her at that time; but wondered to myself how this was brought about. When she got a little over it, she told me how she came to turn such a corner. She said as she was lying in bed that night awake, she all at once heard my heart begin to beat violently. She laid her hand on me and found I was as cold as a lump of clay. It scared her very much, and she was brought to ask the Lord what she must do. The answer was that she must go with her husband. She said that she gave up at once, that she would; and as soon as she gave up, my heart stopped its heavy beating and my flesh became warm.

While I am writing these lines, I have to stop to wipe the tears from my face. To think of the wonderful works of the Lord to the children of men!

I now began to feel very concerned for one of my friends that was gone to the Y. meeting. He was at a great stand before he went about going, and asked my advice; and I told him he must attend to his own feeling about that; I had no other guide to go by. He said that he had thought it was right for him to go; but there were some who were trying to discourage him. I rather encouraged him to go, if he felt anything like it. I was fully satisfied that he would come home much more of a Hicksite than when he went. One night after I had gone to bed a great concern came over my mind how I should get him home again. While I was musing over it I fell asleep and dreamed that I went to Yearly meeting, and I was traveling over a narrow lane. I came to the northwest corner of a square lot which I should suppose contained about one and a half acres of land. Close in the corner where I first entered stood a meeting house. I knew it to be the Hick's meeting house. I went and stood in the door, and looked in. I saw a few individuals. It being a low story, and but one small window in the north, the house looked dark so that I could not discern one from another. I looked down toward the east side of the lot, and saw four men standing and talking together. I concluded that I would go and see who they were, and what they were talking about. When I got there three of them were black and one a white man. One of the black men I knew by his picture and voice, and he had his arm around my friend who I had encouraged to go to Y. Mtg. He had his natural color; but the other two men were so black and their faces so marred and disfigured I could not recognize them. The man I knew was a man who belonged to a neighboring meeting. I had had some conversation with him sometime previous to that. He told me that he never expected to receive any benefit by the death and suffering of that outward body; if ever his sins were forgiven, it would be by true repentance. I didn't like his discourse, although at that time I was leaning toward that side.

But I must return to my dream: I left him and when I turned around I saw a large white house -- the Orthodox -- standing in the southwest corner of the lot. I walked up to the house and went in. It was a well finished two-story house, white outside and in. I walked up the youth's gallery and sat down by myself -- and there was nobody in the house. As soon as I had sat down I woke up and behold it was a dream.

Soon after this they came home from Y. Mtg. I took opportunities with them and wanted to know how they liked the meetings. They all spoke well of it. They had seen Elias Hicks and heard him preach, and they thought he preached the doctrine of our ancient Friends -- "the Light within." I told them it was altogether a deception. An old Friend who had sat at the head of our meeting for some years, said it was no such thing. Well, I told him I could not go any further with them. "Well," says he, "every one must take their own way for it."

I did not intend to tell my friend of my dream, if I could help it. I put it off for two or three weeks. He still seemed inclined towards the Hicksites. But it became impressed upon my mind that the dream was given to me to help him to get back. So I took an opportunity with him and related my dream, and he had no more to do with them. I now felt clear of the blood of all men, and I began to think I had got pretty well through with my difficulties.

But that old serpent wasn't going to let me off that way. He seemed to be let loose to try to see what he could do. He came upon me like a roaring lion, in a very terrifying manner, for about two or three weeks. I was in a kind of distressed situation. Whenever my mind was a little off my divine Master, he would flounce upon me and fill me full of his poison. I began to despair of ever taking any more comfort in this world. I lay my case before my Lord and Master, and wanted to know if that was the kind of life I had got to live the rest of my days. He told me the next time he came, to stand my ground, and ask him what he meant by pursuing me so close. When I was serving of him he let me alone pretty peaceably. He soon made his appearance again, and I acted as near as I could as I was directed. He looked as though he was ashamed of his conduct and turned away and left me from that day to this. I now felt like a free man.

I must now stop to relate a dream I had when I was a school boy. I was much tormented for a long time when I was asleep, with an evil spirit -- sometimes in the shape of a cross bull and sometimes by a dog, sometimes one thing and sometimes another -- so that I was most afraid to go to sleep. At last it came in the shape of a human being, and followed me around the house, pulling and jerking me about. At last I pulled up courage and clinched him; I gave him the clotch hist [sic]. I thought his feet flew as high as the joist, and his head came down on a large hearth stone in my father's kitchen. I jumped on his head with both heels, and his brains flew in every direction over the house, and there was an end to that spirit that troubled me. I told my dream to my mother the next morning, and she said it was a good dream. When I got rid of the roaring lion, I thought of that dream.

I must now proceed with my narrative: My mind felt now pretty clear. When evening came I told my wife that I felt like reading (I had not felt like reading this long time before.) I went to the shelf and took hold of the first book my hand came to. It was Gough's history. I opened and began reading -- It happened to be where James Naylor was giving kind of a poetical description of what he had passed through with the roaring lion. I soon had to shut up the book and go out doors to give vent to my feelings. It was os nearly what I had passed through that it fairly overcame me. I then left reading alone until I had gained more strength.

The enemy left me in the appearance of a roaring lion; now he transformed himself into an angel of light. He worked on my mind that it was right for me to declare unto others what the Lord had done for my soul. I let my mind run so much upon it, that I took it for a revelation and was brought to believe that I would have to preach -- which I gave up to, providing the Lord put words in my mouth -- which I believed he would.

Next meeting day as I sat watching the motions of the Spirit, expecting to receive something to say, there came a dark heavy cloud over my mind, which grew heavier and heavier on me, until I began to think it would crush me to death. It appeared to me that the sweat started out of every pore in the skin until I was wet with sweat. I thought for awhile of leaving the house, but I was afraid I would not be able to get to the door. After striving some time to compose my mind, the weight was gradually taken off and I had a pretty good meeting after that. It effectually cured me of my preaching. I found it was not in man that walketh to direct his own steps.

One night as I lay awake in bed, there came a dark cloud over my mind, and in that dark state it was presented to the recess of my mind in a pretty clear manner that there was no chance for me - I might as well give up. I felt dreadful for awhile; but it came to my mind that is was the voice of the Devil who is a liar from the beginning, and I would put no confidence in what he said. I then tried to compose my mind on the Lord, and the cloud was soon taken off and I was left in a comfortable frame of mind.

Some time after this I was sitting in meeting and the query arose in my mind: What was I made for? The Lord had done a great deal for me, and what was I doing in return? I was afraid I would be like the one who had hidden his talent in a napkin, and that it would stand against me in the day of judgment. I prayed to the Lord that if He had anything for me to do, to make it known to me and I would try to do it. The answer I got was to love mercy, and walk humbly; and give myself no uneasiness any further. Not at all times living up to that as I ought, but the Lord knows the intent of my heart, and He deals gently with me so that I have had a tolerably smooth path to walk in these many years - at least as much so as I could expect while here in this mortal body. The life I now live is by faith in my Lord and Master, firmly believing that He will never forsake me, unless I forsake Him first.

I have lived to nearly what is considered the age of man and of course my race is nearly run. Now if I should have a thousand lives to live, I would wish them all to begin with a covenant with God.