The Lewiston Townsends

The Townsends (spelled Townshend in England) traced their ancestry back to the service of King Henry I, the youngest son of William the Conqueror. Jacob Townsend’s ancestors arrived in the colony of Massachusetts in 1637. Some of the family remained in England and became tied to American history. Charles Townshend served in the British House of Commons. He was the subject of much “ill feeling for the acts that bore his name ‘Townshend Acts’ which ignited the revolution!” Charles when taunted by a political opponent responded: “I dare tax America!” Some of these taxes were on tea, glass, and paper. Charles’ brother, George commanded the British forces after the death of General Wolfe. Montcalm surrendered to Townshend during the siege at Quebec. This victory presaged the end of the French and Indian Wars.

Jacob Townsend (1769-1850) and his brother, Kneeland, traded and shipped goods to and from the southern states and the West Indies. Their warehouse located on Long Wharf in New Haven, Connecticut was 3,480 feet long. It was the longest wharf in the world at that time. President Jefferson imposed an embargo in 1807 forbidding all foreign trade. Jefferson wanted to avoid entanglement with the conflict between France and Britain.

Here is a photo of Rev. Sheldon Clark Townsend (1802-1884) son of pioneer settlers of Lewiston , Jacob and Betsey (Clark) Townsend. Sheldon’s father ,Jacob Townsend , came to Lewiston in 1810 from New Haven , Connecticut (Sheldon was born in Connecticut) for the purpose of ship building and trading on the Great Lakes. The Townsend homestead and farm on the Niagara escarpment were burned during the War of 1812.


Jacob decided to move his commercial interests to Lewiston about 1810. He established trading operations in Black Rock, Oswego, and Lewiston. Jacob established a large profitable farm above the escarpment. It was used as a military post during the War of 1812.

Sheldon Townsend reminiscing about his childhood and the war wrote an article to the newspaper “Oswego Palladium” in 1877 at the age of 75 ,as follows, “Late in September (1813) we took passage for Niagara on board the schooner Genesee Packet, Capt. Obed Mayo, and about the 6th of October arrived thee, passing in the river the British ship of war Wolfe or Prince Regent, which had been of the fleet commanded by Sir James L. Yeo. We found the inhabitants on the frontier busily employed in replacing their buildings which had been burned by the British forces.” He also writes: “The shot fired which struck the warehouse of Thompson, Bronson & Co. (his father’s company)(referring to the Battle of Oswego) entered the eastend , cutting off the plate near the southeast corner. I recollect fishing up a cannonball near Hugunin’s Wharf b/w Cayuga and Seneca Sts. which bore the broad arrow upon it, showing whence it came” In addition to farming for 50 some years in Lewiston Rev. Sheldon C. Townsend was a Methodist minister at Dickersonville Methodist Church.

In 1810 Jacob formed a shipping and trading firm known as Townsend, Bronson & Co. He was also involved in shipbuilding. Three of the many ships Jacob built were the Fair American, the Charles & Ann , and the Catherine. The government purchased these ships for the Great Lakes Navy during the War of 1812 and renamed them. The Charles & Ann was renamed the Governor Tompkins (see and the Catherine was renamed the Somers. The Somers took part in the Battle of Lake Erie and was captured by the British at the mouth of Niagara River on night of Aug. 11,12 th 1814 Later used in the British Provincial Marine (see

After the war of 1812 Jacob and his partners bought the ships back from the government. Jacob was also part of the partnership of Gillett and Townsend.

Jacob Townsend married Betsey Clark in New Haven, Connecticut. After her death he married Eunice Atwater. Rev. Sheldon Clark Townsend (1802-1884) was the second eldest son of Jacob and Betsey. He married Rachel Tompkins of Niagara County.

Jacob and his son, Rev. Sheldon Clark Townsend, both served as supervisors of Lewiston. Rev. Townsend and his wife, Rachel Tompkins, donated land to build the Dickersonville Church on Ridge Road. Prior to the church being built Rev. Townsend and other ministers in the Lewiston area presided over church services at homes. Rev. Townsend was the last postmaster of the Dickersonville post office in the mid 1850s. Rev. Sheldon Clark Townsend wrote to the Oswego Palladium in 1877 at the age of 75 years old. He details some of the family history and the War of 1812.

Samuel Townsend (1825-1901), son of Sheldon, married Susannah Pool, granddaughter of Achish Pool an early Lewiston settler. Sheldon’s half-sister, Mary Townsend, married William Hotchkiss son of William. William Hotchkiss Sr. built the Long and Short House in the village.

James Sheldon Townsend (1859-1909), son of Sheldon Clark Townsend and Rachel Tompkins Townsend, was the Chief Constable for Lewiston. James married Sarah Rowena Bradlee of Cambria. Sarah is a descendant of Nathaniel Bradlee of Boston (a Son of Liberty, who dressed as an Indian for the Boston Tea Party). Constable Townsend was described as a “terror to the evil doers of the frontier and the river toughs.” The Townsends are related to many of the early families in the area including Cook, Way, Campbell, Emmons, Moss, Hinds, Wright, Campbell, Sutherland, and others.

Here is a picture James Sheldon Townsend. “Mr. Townsend (1859-1909) came from one of the most prominent and highly respected pioneer families of Niagara County. He was the son of Samuel and Susan Townsend of Lewiston, one of Lewiston’s first families. For 20 years Mr. James S. Townsend was Lewiston’s Chief Constable. A man of remarkable courage and prowess, he was a terror to the evil doers of the Niagara Frontier and the river toughs always were glad to give “Jim” Townsend a wide berth. It is interesting to note that Mr. Townsend and his brother married two Bradlee sisters and the Townsend sisters married two Campbell brothers.”


Williams, Edward T. Niagara County New York a Concise Record of Her Progress and People 1821-1921, Chicago, Illinois: J. H. Beers & Co.

Townshend, Doris B. Townshend Heritage, New Haven, Connecticut: New Haven Historical Society, 1971.

Townsend, Barbara O. original letter from 1812 written to Jacob Townsend