1740-1776: Before the Revolution

Sketch of the Townsend Homestead, now known as Raynham Hall, c. 1840, by Benson J. Lossing, for his “Pictorial Field Book of the Revolution”,published in 1850, in the Collection of Raynham Hall Museum.

In 1740, 23-year-old Samuel Townsend purchased the property now known as Raynham Hall, moving from his father’s place in nearby Jericho. His move to Oyster Bay allowed him easier access to the waterfront and benefited his growing shipping business, co-owned with his brother, Jacob, who moved in next door on Main Street. Samuel’s property consisted originally of a four-room frame house on a sizable plot of land, with an apple orchard across the street, hundreds of acres of nearby pasture and woodlands for his livestock, and a meadow leading down to the harbor, where he and Jacob kept their ships.

In short order, Samuel had enlarged the house to eight rooms by building a lean-to addition on the north side, creating a saltbox-style house. This property, then known simply as “The Homestead,” would have been a hub of activity during the years leading up to the Revolutionary War, and was home to Samuel, his wife Sarah Stoddard Townsend, their eight children, and 20 enslaved people.

By 1769, Samuel and his brother Jacob owned five ships, which sailed to Europe, Central America, and the West Indies. They traded in an impressive range of goods, including most importantly logwood (which was and continues today to be a crucial ingredient in the dyeing of textiles), tea, lumber, molasses, sugar, china, wine, textiles, dye and rum. In addition to the shipping business, Samuel operated a general store, providing local access to a wide variety of imported wares. He was an active member of local and state government, as Oyster Bay’s Justice of the Peace and Town Clerk, a member of the New York Provincial Congress from 1774 to 1777, and, after the Revolution, a New York State Senator from 1786 to 1790.

Although most of Oyster Bay sided with the British during the American Revolution, Samuel’s sympathies were with the Patriots, despite the far greater risks those sympathies posed to his position, family and fortune. Following the Patriots’ decisive defeat in 1776 at the Battle of Long Island, British forces occupied all of New York City and Long Island, often brutally. Many people in the area who ran afoul of British authorities were confined to prison ships on which more than 12,000 people would die of illness or starvation by the end of the war in 1783, at a time when Manhattan’s entire population was around 20,000. The Townsend family, unlike many Patriots who fled, decided to stay in their home throughout the occupation.