Joseph Townsend

A young Quaker named Joseph Townsend was an observer of Howe's attack on Washington's right flank on September 11, 1777, and also of a number of subsequent events. He wrote up his observations late in life and they were published after his death. Much of our fact and lore about the battle comes from Townsend's accounts.

Townsend, aged 21, lived near Turk's Head, now West Chester, and was attending 5th day Quaker meeting in Sconnelltown when the British arrived in that area. He and his brother William, aged 29, talked with the British and followed them into battle near Birmingham Meeting. From him we learn: Cornwallis was tall and erect, with rich scarlet clothes and gold lace; Howe was portly, large, with coarse features and a mouth that was fallen in; and Hessians wore beards on their upper lips. We also get a picture of the progression of the battle and a first-hand view of the crude medical practices at Birmingham Meeting after the battle. Townsend and his brother had an adventurous trip home, encountering local militia, and days later helped bury the dead.

After the war was over, Townsend and his wife, discouraged by the destruction of the battle, moved to Baltimore. Townsend, known as a strong humanitarian, helped the young city grow. War came to his doorstep again in 1814 when the British attacked Baltimore. As a pacifist Quaker, he did not participate in the battle, but when it was over, he tended to the dead and dying, a reprise of the Battle at Brandywine 37 years earlier. Joseph Townsend died in 1841 at the age of 85, leaving us an important legacy of the battle. For those interested in reading Townsend's story, refer to Futhey and Cope's History of Chester County (1881) which is in the library at the Battlefield.

– Bob Goddu