Sketches of the Life of William Townsend

Written by his son Charles Townsend


William Townsend was born Aug. 14th 1809; was married to Elizabeth Watson, daughter of Granger and Elizabeth Watson July 27th 1837.

He started in business as a potter, making earthenware, jugs, etc. and often did I watch him shape the mass of clay on his swift running wheel, into shapely crocks and jugs. He followed this occupation in a little shop in the country about two miles north of Fredericktown, Ohio, until he became imbued with the idea of going west and seeking out a new home. And here began the events in my father's life that are most indelibly fixed in my mind.

In 1851 father went from Ohio to Iowa to look for this new home. I was about six years old at this time, and I remember his injunction to me was, "Be a good boy while I am gone and carry wood for mother," but whether I obeyed this injunction or not my memory is not quite so clear.

I have often regretted in these later years, since my father has passed away, that we, his children did not get a record of this trip written in his own words. I am not at all sure how this journey was made; but I think he must have gone down the Ohio River to the Mississippi and then up that river to Davenport, and from there by stage to West Liberty (as there were no railroads west of the Mississippi at the time), here he had some former acquaintances living; from West Liberty he went by private conveyance to Cedar Co. to Isaiah Morris' home who lived on the farm afterward owned by uncle James and where father purchased a piece of unimproved land joining.

The next great event was the breaking up of the old home and starting on the long journey by team to the new home. The scene of parting with dear relatives and friends on that morning is yet very vividly impressed on my mind. If I am correct on dates this was the latter part of Aug. or early in Sept. of 1852. I was then seven years old, yet I well remember the farewells and tears, although too young to comprehend the magnitude of all this parting; and as I look back in my mind to that time, I think it must have taken a brave man to have undertaken such a journey as this by team, six hundred miles with a young family to a new country.

We had to accompany us on this journey a man by the name of Ruben Elliott and his family, consisting of his wife and four or five children all young. I think we were just a month on the road.

Ruben Elliott's cheerful disposition and optimistic view of things were a great help to father; for although we had many pleasures on the journey, there were also many trying circumstances to pass through; what seems to me now, as one of the most trying was, one night as we drove into a little town and pulled up to the hotel to stay all night one of the horses dropped down and in very short time it was dead. This difficulty was overcome by Ruben Elliott taking a horse he had in his company drawing a buggy singly, and putting it in place of father's dead horse, and trailing the buggy after one of the other vehicles. W never camped out at night during this trip.

I think this was the only serious trouble we had, excepting getting stuck in the mud, as we came through the prairie land of Ill. where there were few bridges over the sloughs.

But in due course of time our caravan reached the Mississippi and we were ferried across the river to Muscatine where we entered the promised land of Iowa. I think we went on that same day to West Liberty arriving there late in the evening, and stopping with an old acquaintance of father's.

The next day, or very soon after, father and mother and some of us children drove over to Cedar Co. to see the new home; father had made arrangements with Isaiah Morris to have a house built and some land broke up. Arriving at the place, there was the house, about 16 by 24, a story and a half stuck up on blocks, on a high hill. About ten and a half acres broken and the neighbors (which consisted principally of Isaiah Morris) had cut some grass on the near by prairie and made some hay and put up a small stack of it. So this small house and little stack of hay was the beginning at West Branch, Iowa.

Our house was not ready for occupancy so we were hospitably cared for by friends at West Liberty.

Our first winter in Iowa was one that would surely try the stoutest heart; yet I do not remember ever to have heard my father repine or utter a word of regret for having left the old home.

One morning after we were located in our new home, there was a cold rain on, and our poor horses that had so faithfully brought us through had no shelter, only a little stack of hay to hide behind from the wind and rain. I think that hurt father as bad as anything that happened that winter; I am not sure he did not cry; He finally turned them loose that they might have a chance to exercise and perhaps be more comfortable, and I well remember how I could hear old "Bally's" teeth chatter as she stood sheltering by the house.

One other incident occurred that winter that is fresh in memory. One night when the wind was blowing a fierce gale, and it seemed every minute that the house would be blown away or torn in pieces and father had gotten the family all up waiting for what might come (I think it was about midnight), some one knocked at the door; of course we all wondered who could be out such a night as that, when upon opening the door who should it be but that friend and neighbor, Isaiah Morris. His first salutation was "Well William I thought maybe you would be a little scared so I thought I would just come over and tell you not to be afraid, this will soon be over;" and his cheery talk quieted our fears and we all went back to bed and were soon sound asleep.

But the winter with its biting cold and hardships finally ended and spring came, beautiful and bright as springs have come ever since in "Iowa the Beautiful."

Father did a variety of things those first winters to earn something to meet family expenses and to feed us hungry children; he mended shoes for the neighbors, and made brooms and baskets and sold them to earn money to keep the wolf from the door.

I think it was about a year after we came that uncle James and family came, then uncle Timothy Kirk and family, and soon uncle Thomas Barrington and family, and then aunts Mary and Letitia, and still later uncle Blackburn Vore and family, and aunt Ester Hathaway and family; and many other people besides our relatives came to this beautiful prairie land to make new homes. And later still came Uncle Asa and family and settled in Marshall Co.

But with all the joys of meeting relatives, and building up the new home, sorrow came to us in the death of the oldest child, Watson: this was indeed a great sorrow to us all, for it was Watson that brought so much light and brightness into the home with his cheerful disposition; and no doubt father had depended a great deal on his help in changing these wild prairie hills into a beautiful and productive farm.

Watson's death occurred in the year Nov. 1858. Death came again in 1861 and took away our dear mother; in her death father was left a very lonely man and it was some time before he seemed to regain his former cheerfulness. In 1864 he was happily married to Rachel Oliphant, a union in which all of his children willingly acquiesced.

Father was prominently identified with the building up of the little town that was largely built on his farm; and also in the building up of the church and school in the neighborhood. He like uncle James was greatly interested in the freeing of the slaves and had stock in the "Under-ground Rail-road," and frequently sheltered slaves in his house in Iowa; and with his anti-slavery proclivities he was also a strong prohibitionist.

I have written thus at some length of father's coming to Iowa and his journey there, for the reason that he was the pioneer in the westward movement of the relatives.

Father passed away February 3rd 1892.