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The Townsend Family and Raynham Hall
In 1738, Samuel Townsend purchased the property now known as Raynham Hall. It consisted of a four-room frame house on a sizeable plot of land with an orchard across the street and a narrow meadow leading down to the harbor. By 1740, Samuel had enlarged the house to eight rooms by building a lean-to addition on the north side, creating a "saltbox" residence dubbed "The Homestead". This was the house in which Samuel and his wife Sarah Stoddard Townsend made a home for a large family of eight children and built a thriving mercantile business.
Samuel was a prosperous merchant who dealt in a variety of goods. He owned four ships that sailed to Europe, South America and the West Indies, bringing back items including lumber, molasses, pottery, wine, fabric, dye and rum. In addition to his shipping business, Samuel operated from his home a general store where he sold spices, sugar, snuff, smoked hams, shingles, nails and inkstands. He was an active member of local government, serving as Justice of the Peace and Town Clerk. Samuel was also elected a member of the New York Provincial Congress, which voted to ratify the Declaration of Independence.
Although most of Oyster Bay favored the Loyalists during the American Revolution, Samuel's sympathies were with the Patriots. Following the colonists' defeat in 1776 at the Battle of Long Island, the British army occupied the town until the end of the Revolutionary War in 1783. For a six-month period from 1778 to 1779, the Townsend home served as British headquarters for the Queen's Rangers led by Lt. Col. John Graves Simcoe. Simcoe was often visited by British officer Major John Andre.
Lt. Col. Simcoe also had a more personal link with the Townsend Family. Indeed, Raynham Hall is home to the first known Valentine in the United States, addressed to Sally from Simcoe. The Valentine reads as such:
Fairest Maid, where all is fair
Beauty's pride and Nature's care;
To you my heart I must resign
O choose me for your Valentine!
Love, Mighty God! Thou know'st full well
Where all thy Mother's graces dwell,
Where they inhabit and combine
To fix thy power with spells divine;
Thou know'st what powerful magick lies
Within the round of Sarah's eyes,
Or darted thence like lightning fires
And Heaven's own joys around inspires;
Thou know'st my heart will always prove
The shrine of pure unchanging love!
Say; awful God! Since to thy throne
Two ways that lead are only known-
Here gay Variety presides,
And many a youthful circle guides
Through paths where lilies, roses sweet,
Bloom and decay beneath their feet;
Here constancy with sober mein
Regardless of the flowery Scene
With Myrtle crowned that never fades,
In silence seeks the Cypress Shades,
Or fixed near Contemplation's cell,
Chief with the Muses loves to dwell,
Leads those who inward feel and burn
And often clasp the abandon'd urn,--
Say, awful God! Did'st thou not prove
My heart was formed for Constant love?
Thou saw'st me once on every plain
To Delia pour the artless strain -
Thou wept'sd her death and bad'st me change
My happier days no more to range
O'er hill, o're dale, in sweet Employ,
Of singing Delia, Nature's joy;
Thou bad'st me change the pastoral scene
Forget my Crook; with haughty mien
To raise the iron Spear of War,
Victim of Grief and deep Despair:
Say, must I all my joys forego
And still maintain this outward show?
Say, shall this breast that's pained to fell
Be ever clad in horrid steel?
Now swell with other joys than those
Of conquest o'er unworthy foes?
Shall no fair maid with equal fire
Awake the flames of soft desire:
My bosom born, for transport, burn
And raise my thoughts from Delia's urn?
"Fond Youth," the God of Love replies,
"Your answer take from Sarah's eyes.
and was said to have been found among Sally’s possessions after her death at the age of 82. As Sally never married, we may never know what effect the Valentine might have had on her life, nor the true nature of her relationship with Simcoe.
Robert Townsend and the Culper Spy Ring
At the time he was recruited into the American spy network in 1778, Robert Townsend operated a New York City-based merchant shipping firm with his brother William. By using his work as a merchant as a cover, Robert could move about the docks of Manhattan without arousing suspicion.
Under the codename "Culper Junior", Robert formed the first link in a chain of agents who came to be known as the Culper Spy Ring. Townsend forwarded messages via courier (usually Long Island tavern keeper Austin Roe) to the Culper Ring's headquarters in Setauket, Long Island. Once there, the messages would be sent by whaleboat to Connecticut, and eventually to George Washington's headquarters. The process of gathering and forwarding information was both slow and hazardous, and it caused continual friction between Washington and his field agents. Repeated attempts to speed the messages met with failure, and Washington's frustration is clear from his correspondence. "It is of little avail to be told of things after they have become a matter of public notoriety," he wrote in June of 1779.
Despite the shortcomings of the system, Townsend and his comrades provided valuable service to the American cause. By gathering information on British troop movements, they alerted Washington to the possibility of attack. Likewise, they broke the news that the British were planning to undermine the war effort by flooding New York with counterfeit American currency.
The greatest coup of the Culper Spy Ring was alerting Washington to a planned British attack on the French fleet landing at Newport, Rhode Island. With this timely piece of intelligence, Washington was able to bluff the enemy into believing he would attack New York City. This forced the British to withdraw their attack force, and the French were able to disembark without hindrance.
Robert Townsend served his country well, and at great risk to himself and his family. He appears to have kept his involvement in the Culper Spy Ring a total secret from his family and friends for the remainder of his life. Indeed, Robert's involvement in the Culper Spy Ring was not uncovered until the 1930's, when local historian Morton Pennypacker used handwriting analysis to prove the true identity of Culper Junior.
The Samuel Townsend FamilySamuel Townsend, 1717-1790
married Sarah Stoddard, 1724-1800
- Captain Solomon, 1746-1811
- Samuel, 1749-1773
- William, 1752-1805
- Robert (Culper, Jr.), 1753-1838
- Audrey, 1755-1829
- David, 1759-1785
- Sarah (Sally), 1760-1842
- Phebe, 1763-1841
In 1851, Solomon Townsend II, grandson of Samuel, purchased the house and land from his uncle, Dr. Ebenezer Seely. He remodeled and enlarged the old colonial dwelling in the fashionable Gothic Revival style. The addition of a large rear wing and tower doubled the size of the house and transformed it into an elegant Victorian "villa". He renamed it Raynham Hall after an ancestral home in Norfolk, England. Initially, Raynham Hall served as a summer residence for Solomon and his family. Solomon probably commuted to New York City during the week while his wife Helene DeKay Townsend and their children lived in Oyster Bay. By 1861, the family made Raynham Hall their permanent residence.
Like his father and grandfather, Solomon was a prosperous merchant and importer. In keeping with the family tradition of public service, he served in the State Legislature and at two State Constitutional Conventions, in addition to being President of the Oyster Bay Board of Education. By 1860 he was one of the wealthiest and most respected men in Oyster Bay.
The Solomon Townsend II FamilySolomon II, 1805-1880
married in 1849
- Helene DeKay Townsend, 1821-1895
- Solomon Samuel, 1850-1910
- Charles DeKay, 1851-1922
- Robert, 1853-1915
- Maurice Edward, 1855-1927
- Edward Nicol, 1857-1917
- Maria Fonda, 1860-1908
Preservation of Raynham Hall
In 1914, Julia Weeks Coles (niece of Helene DeKay) and her sister Sallie Townsend Coles purchased Raynham Hall for $100 to preserve it from change. It was used as a tea room and meeting place for the Oyster Bay Historical and Genealogical Society. The Coles sisters created a museum-like setting by furnishing the rooms in Raynham Hall with Townsend Family "relics". In 1941 Miss Coles gave the house to the Daughters of the American Revolution, who kept the house open as well as maintained the tea room. As upkeep became too burdensome, the DAR offered the building to the Town of Oyster Bay. In 1947 the Town took possession, making the decision to restore the original colonial house to its circa 1740 appearance. With the help of the Friends of Raynham Hall, incorporated in 1953, the building officially opened as a museum focusing on the historical events of the eighteenth century.
Board of Trustees, 2012-2013
- Kay Hutchins Sato - President
- Rita Roselle - Vice President
- Joanna Badami- Vice President
- Tara Bzezinski Clark - Treasurer
- Karen J. Underwood - Secretary
- James M. Murphy - Legal Advisor
- Barbara Adelhardt
- John M. Collins
- Kathleen G. Pries
- John A. Bonifacio
- Maureen Brennan
- Elizabeth Brown
- Barbara Curry
- Rebecca Finelli
- Antoinette Hatzopoulos
- Patricia P. Sands
- John Van Wie
- Abby Weir
- Rosemary E. Bourne
- Judith C. Chapman
- Ernesto Colón
- Alice L. Gromisch
- John M. Perkins
- Franklin Hill Perrell
- Townsend Weekes
- Richard Weir III
- Mrs. Bradford G. Weekes, Jr.