Scope and arrangement
The Townsend Family Business Records are divided into six series: Correspondence, Accounts, Legal Papers, Land Papers, Insurance Papers and Miscellaneous Papers. They span the years 1799-1902, with the bulk of the collection concentrated between 1812 and 1871. The papers are devoted primarily to the activities of Isaiah and John Townsend, and to a lesser extent to the activities of their heirs, Franklin, Theodore and Rufus King. Other family members are represented mostly in the form of incoming correspondence.
The collection gives a detailed account in correspondence and financial records of the business activities of the Townsend family, especially the iron trade and foundries which were the starting point and the income producers for their other ventures. Over the years the Townsends invested in real estate, the manufacture of salt, steamboats, railroads, insurance, dry goods, a hotel and a flour mill. The records include accounts, inventories, contracts for work and construction, apprenticeship agreements and lists of laborers and wages. In addition to the iron trade their interest in steamboat companies, particularly the North River Steamboat Company, is well documented. A few letters which include discussions of political matters, especially those affecting steamboats, railroads and banking, can be found throughout the correspondence.
Some information about family matters can be gathered from the correspondence and in the household accounts found in the Legal Papers (Heirs at law of Isaiah Townsend) and to some extent in the general accounts. Biographical information gathered since the collection came to the Library has been filed in the Miscellaneous Papers.
NOTE: These additional Townsend items are also available in this Division:
Diary of Isaiah Townsend, Jr., 1840-1841 (Diaries).
Howard Townsend, Lectures delivered to students at the Albany Medical College, 1860-1865.
The Townsend family papers are arranged in six series:
Mostly related to business interests, but also contains references to the issues of the day and to family and personal matters. Incoming correspondence predominates; some outgoing correspondence can be found in the Letterbooks (1806-1825; 1832-1841).
General business correspondence relates to orders for manufacture of parts, accounts, and purchase and sale of iron. The Townsends conducted their business primarily in upstate New York and New York City, but also in Philadelphia, New England and other parts of the United States. Their clients included railroads, paper makers, woolen mills, machine shops and other merchants. Letters requesting parts from the Townsends' furnace often include sketches and detailed descriptions.
As family members were often business associates as well, the correspondence reflects both of these relationships. Henry, Peter, Solomon, Robert, Samuel, William and Noah Townsend all wrote to Isaiah and John regarding business and family matters. There is little, if any, totally personal correspondence, and virtually no letters written by the women in the family. Letters from the 1840s onwards tend to be more strictly business letters. There are some letters regarding political issues, especially as they affected the family's interests. Information on the Townsends' shares in the Mohawk & Hudson Railroad, the Saratoga & Schenectady Railroad, the Utica & Schenectady Railroad among others, can also be found in the correspondence. Notable correspondents include Ambrose Spencer and John C. Spencer, the father-in-law and brother-in-law, respectively, of John Townsend, Henry Burden, Horatio Allen, Robert L. Livingston, Edward P. Livingston and Le Ray de Chaumont. Allen Munroe, the son-in-law of John Townsend, was a frequent correspondent on business matters. A letter from Samuel Townsend (July 10, 1825) gives an account of a balloon flight witnessed from Castle Garden in New York City. Among the com- panies represented in the correspondence are: Blackwell and McFarlan (New York City), Emlen & Howell (Philadelphia), Corning & Winslow (Albany) and the Seneca Knitting Mills.
Correspondence regarding the North River Steamboat Company (primarily 1816-1827) is of particular interest and contains information on legislation affecting steamboats, mail contracts for the captains of the boats, cost of wood and coal, fares, condition of the boats, scheduling, accidents, and the purchase and sale of boats. Correspondents on these matters include D. Lynch, a treasurer of the Company, Robert L. Livingston and Edward P. Livingston, shareholders, Charles Rhind and Samuel Townsend, employees, and James Wiswall, a boat captain. Robert L. Livingston (17751843) was the son-in-law of Robert R. Livingston (1746-1813), the partner of Robert Fulton. Boats owned by the Company included the Chancellor Livingston, the Paragon and the Clermont. Additional correspondence of a somewhat later period relates to the Lake Champlain Steamboat Company and the Lake Champlain Ferry Company.
Also of interest are items of correspondence, often with Lemuel Pomeroy, found in the War of 1812 period, referring to arms sales and supplies of wheat and flour. In the 1830s the the Townsends manufactured wheels for the South Carolina Railroad and the collection contains correspondence with Horatio Allen (1802-1890), the well known civil engineer and the chief engineer for the South Carolina Railroad. There is also correspondence (1860s) with Walter A. Wood (1815-1892), inventor of harvesting machines, mowers and reapers.
Isaiah and John Townsend were in frequent contact with their businesses outside of Albany. These included the Troy Iron and Nail Company, Cornwall Cotton Factory, operated by Samuel Townsend, and the Greenbush Mill. Letters from Henry Burden at Troy report on operations there, including the manufacture of railroad spikes. Burden also wrote to the brothers from Washington, D. C. in 1834, regarding the political situation, and in 1836 from England, where he was purchasing iron. Business at the Monroe Iron Works was managed at times by Roger Parmele and Peter Townsend. Sales of flour and grains were managed at Syracuse by M. D. Burnet.
The letters of Isaiah Townsend, Jr. were received separately and have been kept together at the end of the correspondence series. They include letters from Townsend to his mother describing the funeral of Lafayette in Paris (1834), notes on the civil war in Spain (1837), and his plea to President Jackson for the re- instatement of David Bailie Warden, U. S. Consul at Paris.
Accounts included for Stewart & Townsend, Henry Townsend, I. & J. Townsend, John Townsend, F. & T. Townsend, Franklin Townsend, Franklin Townsend & Co, Townsend's Furnace and Townsend & Jackson In addition accounts are included for the following companies in which the Townsends had shares and/or interests: Cornwall Cotton Factory, North River Steamboat Company, Greenbush Mill, Albany Nail Factory, Troy Iron & Nail Factory, Syracuse Company, Syracuse Salt Company and M. D. Burnet & Company.
These records include bills, receipts, orders, notes & drafts, invoices, money and labor lists, weigher's returns, statements and cancelled checks. They reflect all aspects of the Townsends' business interests, including details of prices, shipping costs, labor costs, rents and production costs.
The accounts of the North River Steamboat Company also include information on rates and schedules, inventories of boat furnishings (china, linen, etc)., repair of boats and purchase of wood for the boats.
Accounts of the Townsend House (a hotel) in Albany can be found with John Townsend's accounts for the years 1844-1848.
Also included are records of cases involving the Townsends, notices of foreclosures on Townsend-owned properties and a few documents concerning the North River Steamboat Company. The case of John Townsend vs. Hannah Townsend et al. (1852) regarding the separation of assets, is well documented and includes inventories of Isaiah Townsend's estate. Also included are receipts retained as records by Hannah Townsend and the heirs of Isaiah Townsend. These receipts for the family 's expenditures during the years 1838-1854, provide an itemized and comprehensive account of running a house- hold in that period. Receipts are for groceries, repairs, schools, books, clothing, medical services, medications and other expenses.
Include records of lands and properties owned and leased by Isaiah and John Townsend in New York, Michigan, Illinois, Vermont, Ohio and Virginia. The bulk of the material concerns their New York holdings. Also included are tax receipts, rental records and foreclosure notices. There is one file of material regarding the New York State Tax Land Association.
Mostly made up of policies issued on Townsend properties, including steamboats, buildings, factories, and one for a painting owned by John Townsend. The majority of the policies are issued by the Albany Insurance Company which John Townsend organized in 1811. There is also a file of renewals and receipts on Albany Insurance Company policies.
Contain a variety of business-related documents including stock certificates, apprenticeship agreements, partnership agreements, contracts, loan papers, I. O. U.'s, powers of attorney and petitions to the Legislature made by the Townsends and their business associates. There are some documents relating to the North River Steamboat Company, the Lake Champlain Steamboat Company and the Utica & Schenectady Railroad. One file of biographical information includes notes made by a Library employee and a copy of a "Memorial of John Townsend... ", dated 1854.
An account of the making of an iron chain, placed across the Hudson during the American Revolution, may be the earliest document in the collection. It is undated but is estimated to date from 1778. The chain is said to have been made by Peter Townsend who owned an iron works at Sterling, New York. He may have been the grandfather of Hannah Townsend. The author of the account is unknown.
One oversize folder contains mechanical drawings, mostly from the publication The Engineer.