Townsend Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Townsend Meaning
Townsend is, as its name suggests, a locational surname, describing
someone who lived at the extremity of a village. Surname variants
are Townshend and Townend.
Townsend Resources on

Townsend Ancestry

The Townshend
in Norfolk dates back to the early 12th century and
Ludoric of Townshend who married the heiress Elizabeth de Hauteville of
Raynham. Raynham Hall was to be the Townshend seat for
generations. The family remained Catholic during Elizabethan
times and lost some of
their estates as a result. The poet Aurelian
was a court favorite of Charles I.

The family hey-day was the 18th century when Charles Townshend, known
“Turnip” Townshend, led the way in agricultural improvements that were
made possible by the passage of the Enclosure Acts. He introduced
a four-field crop rotation system of wheat, barley, a root crop and
clover, thereby substantially increasing farm productivity by avoiding
leaving the soil uncultivated every third year.

Grandson Charles
was briefly Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1766. His is most
remembered for the Townshend Acts, a series of excise taxes on America
which led the way to the break between the two countries. Thomas
Townshend was created Viscount Sydney and gave his name to Sydney,

One Townsend line with Norfolk roots began with Jonathan Townsend, a
brewer in London in the early 18th century. His son Chauncey held
the Government contracts for provisioning troops and settlers in Nova
Scotia, from which he made a considerable fortune. Chauncey’s
descendants included:

  • James Townsend, the Lord Mayor of London in 1772
  • Chauncy Hare Townsend, an eccentric art collector and poet who
    formed a friendship with the writer Charles Dickens. He is best
    remembered today for his bequests to the Victorian and Albert
  • while another line led to the Rev. Joseph Townsend of Pewsey in
    Wiltshire and to Chauncey
    , an early settler in New Zealand.

The other county in England with a
sizeable Townsend population has been Yorkshire.

Ireland. An Anglo-Irish
Townsend family began with Colonel Richard Townesend, an
officer in
Cromwell’s Irish army. He stayed in Ireland and built his home at
Castletown, later Castletownshend, near Skibbereen in county

The main line of descent passed through his son, Colonel
Bryan Townsend, to John Townsend, an Irish politician, and Samuel
Townsend, a British general, in the 18th century. A descendant
Sir Charles Townshend led an ill-fated Anglo-Indian expedition to Kut
in Mesopotamia in 1915.

America. Thomas Townsend
of the Norfolk Townshend family moved to London and then departed for
America in 1637 on the Handmaid.
He settled in Lynn, Massachusetts.

Some six years later three Townsend brothers – Henry, John and Richard
– arrived in Dutch-held New York. They were
Quakers and their beliefs resulted in a number of conflicts with the
Dutch authorities. Henry Townsend who held Quaker meetings was
arrested, imprisoned and fined. In 1658 the Townsend brothers
moved to
Oyster Bay
on Long Island which was outside the jurisdiction of the Dutch.

Among their descendants were:

  • Dr. Platt Townsend, born on Long Island,
    who moved upstate to Delaware county in the 1790’s
  • John
    Townsend, a prominent
    industrialist in the Albany area in the early 1800’s, thrice
    elected mayor of Albany
  • while another line led to Colonel E.C.
    of Shulsburg, Wisconsin.

Townsends in the South.
One Townsend line began with John Townsend from Berkshire who came
to Philadelphia with William Penn in 1712. Benedictus
Townsend of South Carolina is believed to be related to his
line. Joseph and Clarice Burval’s 2006 book Benedictus Townsend of South Carolina
traced the descent from Benedictus through two of his sons, John and
Light. Later Townsends of this line were to be found in Florida
and Texas.

interestingly-named Repentance Townsend appeared in the Scots Irish
of Augusta county, Virginia in the 1740’s and was also to be found in
county, North Carolina. He ended up in
Abbeville, South Carolina. Later
Townsends migrated to Georgia and Alabama.
Eli Townsend
of Union county,
Georgia fought in the Mexican war in 1847 and then disappeared.

Canada. Micah Townsend of Brattleboro, Vermont was
a Loyalist during the Revolutionary War and received a land grant from
the British Government in Farnham, Quebec. He and his family
moved to Clarenceville nearby. His youngest son Micajah was
ordained as a minister and remained in that position there for some
sixty years.

William Townsend ran away from home in New
York in 1828 at the age of sixteen. He ended up in Nova
Scotia. He started a chandlery and
hardware business in Yarmouth and later became a civic leader in the

South America
. Andrew
Townsend was an architect who came to Peru and designed the
neoclassical cathedral at Chiclayo. His descendants are still to
be found in Peru, notably the politician Andres Townsend and his
daughter Arel.


Townsend Miscellany

Townsend and Townshend in Norfolk.  The Townshends
of Raynham in Norfolk date back to the 12th century:

traditionally meant “at
town’s end,” but in Norman dialect could be “town holder.”
The silent “h” was dropped about 1500 as superfluous, but then
returned to the family soon after 1580.”

Aurelian Townshend, Court Poet.  From an
early age Aurelian Townshend had a reputation as a writer of graceful
which gained him many friends amongst courtiers who shared his literary
tastes.  He enjoyed a high literary
reputation at
Charles I’s court and was a particular favorite of the King’s wife
Henrietta.  He succeeded Ben Johnson as
composer of Court Masques in 1631.

in the confusion of the Civil War of the 1640’s, Townshend simply
disappeared.  Some have listed his death
date as 1651.  But no one knows.

Colonel Richard Townesend and Castletownshend.  Colonel Richard
Townesend, an officer in Cromwell’s Irish army, stayed in Ireland and
built his
home in 1665 at Castletown, later Castletownshend, near Skibbereen in
Cork.  Early times there were unsettled.  In 1690 his castle was besieged by MacFineen
O’Driscoll and Richard was forced to surrender.
His home was destroyed; but, with the £40,000 he received in
compensation, he was able to build a new castle nearby.

has stayed with the Townsend
family since that time.  However, its
useful life ended in the 1890’s when the estate, saddled with debts,
was put up
for auction.  Although bought back by
Townshends, it lay forlorn and empty for many years.
four sites of the castle – Bryan’s Fort, now a ruin; the original
of which only the foundations remain; its replacement, of which nothing
and the Dower House, the present day castle – are situated within a
meters of each other.

Colonel Richard always spelt
his name Townesend, which subsequently became Townsend.
In 1870 the then head of the family, the Rev.
Maurice Townsend, consulted with Marquis Townshend of Raynham and
that the whole family incorporate the “h” into their name.
Not all did so and there are consequently Townsends
and Townshends in Ireland.

The history of
this family was first recorded in Richard and Dorothea Townshend’s 1892
book An Officer of the Long Parliament.

Townsends in Oyster Bay.  Three Townsend brothers – John, Henry, and Richard – arrived in Oyster Bay, Long
Island in the 1650’s.  No
father has been identified and where the brothers came from is not

The Townsend presence is still there.  It
is the site of The Townsend Society of
America’s Research Center. The original
museum, a turn of the century house, was purchased in the early 1980’s
as a
repository of the archives with a bequest to the Society by Miss Helen
Townsend.   In accordance with her
wishes, the museum was dedicated to the memory of her
Samuel and Rebecca Purdy Townsend.

in Oyster Bay there is Raynham Hall, a Townsend family home, and the
Townsend Inn, a Masonic Lodge, and next to an old Victorian Townsend

Colonel Townsend’s Family Recollections.  The following
were the recollections of Colonel E.C. Townsend of Shullsburg,
Wisconsin about his family in 1904.

brothers John,
Henry and Richard Townsend came to Oyster Bay, Long Island and
afterwards settled
in Duchess county.

grandfather, Eber
Townsend, was a son of Henry Townsend and was a soldier in the
Revolutionary War.  He was wounded and
taken prisoner when the
British captured New York City and was one of the soldiers the British
to execute, had not Washington ordered the execution of two British
for every one of the Americans so treated.  Eber
Townsend died in 1826.

His wife Sarah, my grandmother, was a very
large woman, weighing 240 pounds, and of dark complexion.
She remarried after my grandfather’s death
and lived to be 103 years old.

father, Samuel Townsend, was an American soldier in the War of 1812 and
moved to
Steuben county, New York in 1814.  She
and my mother Sara had eight children, five sons and three daughters.  But Sara died in 1821.  I am now in my 87th year and when I am called
for will be buried in Shullsburg, Wisconsin.”

The Mysterious Eli Townsend.  Eli Townsend was
descended from Repentance Townsend who had been located variously during his
life in the second half of the 18th century in Virginia, North
Carolina, and
South Carolina.  One line from Repentance
descended to his son Thomas who headed south to Georgia after the War
thanks to
a land lottery and then to his grandson Edward and great grandson Eli.

Eli of
Union county in Georgia, born in 1810, lived for many years in the
Choestoe district along a stream that officially and affectionately
became known
as Stink Creek.  Some say that the creek
got its name because so much whiskey was made there and that the mash
could be
smelled for miles.

The records show that
Eli was illiterate.  He emerged briefly
obscurity and then faded away.  Family tradition for years
maintained that Eli
Townsend “disappeared” during the Mexican War in 1847-8. However,
research has revealed that he was discharged and returned to his home
in Union county
in August 1848.  Eli’s “disappearing” act may have been started by
family to cover up his deserting his family for another woman.

The August 1848 discharge paper was the last
known record of Eli.  The 1850 census of
Union County listed Eli’s wife and their seven children but not Eli.

Chauncey Townsend in New Zealand.  The earliest piece of correspondence held at Wellington city
archives is a description by settler, Chauncey Henry Townsend, of his
life in Wellington.

A newsy, four-page
letter sent to a friend in England in 1842 includes gems of information
such as
this description of the bird life in Thorndon: “also the green parrot – I have shot hundreds and their feathers, my dear Isabella, has made into some
excellent pillows.”  The letter is
cross-hatched – the handwriting goes in both directions on each page –
a common
practice in the 19th century when paper was hard to get.

Chauncey’s grandfather Joseph Townsend, an evangelical Anglican
minister and son of an earlier Chauncey Townsend, had been rector of
Pewsey in Wiltshire for more than fifty years, from 1764 to 1816.
He had made a name for himself with his 1786 treatise A Dissertation on the Poor Laws.
He had also started a free medical practice in Pewsey.

Chauncey himself was born in Pewsey in 1816 and had come
to New Zealand as a young man.  He was
as a settler living on Tinakori Street in Wellington in 1858.



Townsend Names

  • Charles Townsend, known as “Turnip” Townsend, led the agricultural improvements in England in
    the 18th century by his introduction of a four-field crop rotation system.
  • Pete Townshend was the
    guitarist and songwriter for The Who group.
  • Bill Townsend is an internet developer of search engines such as Lycos and the social network
    site that formed the basis of LinkedIn.
  • Sue Townsend is an English novelist, best known for her Adrian Mole books.

Select Townsend Numbers Today

  • 21,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Yorkshire)
  • 24,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 16,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)


Select Townsend and Like Surnames

Many surnames have come from East Anglia (Norfolk and Suffolk) and surrounding areas in eastern England.  These are some of the noteworthy surnames that you can check out.




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