Who’s Who

Silhouette of Captain Solomon Townsend

A Sketch of the Samuel Townsend Family

Samuel Townsend (1717 – 1790) and Sarah Stoddard Townsend (1724 – 1800) 

The first Solomon Townsend, (November 10, 1743 – February 15, 1744) died in infancy. His parents used the same name for their second son when he was born.

From an early age Solomon Townsend, 1746-1811, was educated in the intricacies of his father’s shipping business, going to sea as a cabin boy at age fourteen and becoming a ship’s captain at twenty, first for his father’s ship, the brig Sally, and later for Thomas Buchanan’s 300-ton ship Glasgow, making many successful transatlantic voyages. During the war, while serving a Loyalist employer, Solomon’s own patriotic beliefs led him to give up his career at sea in 1778. Landing the Glasgow in London, he traveled to Paris where he met with Benjamin Franklin, and swore his allegiance to the new United States. Returning to America, but unable to return home due to the occupation, he spent the last years of the war with his cousin Peter Townsend, owner of the Sterling Ironworks in Orange County, New York. Earlier that year Peter Townsend had forged for General Washington the “Great Chain,” an enormous iron chain that was stretched across the Hudson River at West Point to block the passage of British warships. Solomon learned the iron business, and married Peter’s daughter Anne in 1782. After the war he established the Augusta Forge nearby, as well as an anchor shop in New York City. He went into the shipping business for a period with his brother Robert, and dealt primarily with iron and anchors. Following in his father’s footsteps, he was elected to the New York Legislature and was serving in Albany when he died in 1811 at age 65.

Samuel, 1749-1773: Samuel was married to his cousin Esther Townsend and they had a son named William Penn. Samuel was a merchant in the family merchant trade, and while on business in Wilmington, North Carolina in 1773, he caught a fever and died at the age of 24. Tragically, just two months later, his son Penn also died, aged 2 in Oyster Bay, leaving Esther a deeply grieving young widow.

Phebe (died aged 3 months), 1751-1752

Robert (Culper, Jr.), 1753-1838 — See Robert Townsend and the Culper Spy Ring 

Audrey, 1755-1829: Audrey married Captain James Farley, a sea captain who had commanded one of her father’s vessels before the Revolutionary War, and was a close associate of her brother Capt. Solomon Townsend. She and James did not have children, and lived in Oyster Bay their entire lives, though Capt. Farley was often at sea. 

William, 1758-1805: William was a clerk in his brother Robert’s mercantile business in New York City during the war, rooming with Robert and cousin John in an apartment above the shop described as “Bachelor’s Hall.”  After the war he returned to Oyster Bay. Considered by some family members to be the most handsome of the Townsend sons, he was called “the flower of the family.” William died unmarried in the winter of 1805 at age 48. While he was cutting a boat out of the ice in Oyster Bay harbor, he slipped, fell into the icy waters and drowned. 

David, 1759-1785: Also engaged in the family business, David died unmarried of hasty consumption (tuberculosis) following the Revolutionary War, at age 26. 

Sarah (“Sally”), 1760-1842: Sarah, who is believed to have had a flirtation with British Commander Simcoe when she was 18 years old (link to Valentine story) spent her entire life living in Raynham Hall with family, especially Robert, Phebe, and Phebe’s husband Dr. Seeley. After her father’s death in 1790 they shared the house until her death in 1842 at age 82. An original windowpane from the front of the colonial house was preserved, with a scratched message from a British officer describing her in her youth as “the adorable Miss Sally Sarah Townsend.”

Phebe, 1763-1841: Phebe lived at Raynham Hall for most of her life, and created a family scandal when she was married in 1808 at age 45 to a man who was just 26. Her husband, Dr. Ebenezer Seeley, became the owner of the Townsend family property.

Townsend family cousin Edith Bradford Weekes Slade, daughter of Arthur Delano and Lillie Underhill Weekes, and wife of John Slade, as a child, with her pug and doll, c. 1883, photo by Rockwood.

A Sketch of the Solomon Townsend II Family

Solomon II (1805 – 1880) in 1849 married Helene DeKay (1821 – 1895)

They had six children:

  • Solomon Samuel, 1850-1910
  • Charles DeKay, 1851-1922
  • Robert, 1853-1915
  • Maurice Edward, 1855-1927
  • Edward Nicoll, 1858-1914
  • Maria Fonda, 1860-1908

By 1912, the house had passed into the ownership of Edward Nicoll Townsend, Jr., son of Edward Nicoll Townsend above, and grandson of Solomon II. He held the house for two years before selling it to a cousin, his great-aunt Sarah Townsend Coles’ granddaughter, Julia Weekes Coles. Julia owned the Townsend home between 1914 and 1933, and though she apparently never lived there, she and her sister, Sarah Townsend Coles Halstead, maintained the home and operated a tea room there for a time. In 1933, Ms. Coles sold it for $10 to the Oyster Bay chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, a hereditary organization whose members are female descendants of Patriot combattants during the War of Independence.

The Daughters of the American Revolution, in turn, donated the property to the Town of Oyster Bay in 1947, on condition that the Town maintain Raynham Hall “as a public shrine, and as far as possible, make perpetual a memorial to the brave men and women of revolutionary times, for the use and benefit of the general public of the nation under agreements, covenants and conditions which will best secure to our people the diffusion of knowledge and the inspiration of our forebears in cherishing freedom, love of country and the fostering of patriotism.”