Their Descendants...Their Stories...Their Achievements

Lifting the Mists of History on Their Way of Life

By: Ethelene Dyer Jones

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The mystery surrounding William Townsend

William Townsend was the sixth child and fifth son of Elisha (Eli) and Sarah Elizabeth (Sallie) Dyer Townsend. He was born in 1840 or 1841 and appeared in two census records of 1850. He was listed in Union County in the home of his mother Sarah when he was 9, together with siblings Andrew, 24; Thomas, 18; Polly Ann, 14; Caleb 12; and Sarah, 5. Nearby is a married son of Sallie Townsend, Elisha, age 23, and his wife, Caroline Anthony Townsend, and their one-year old child, Martha.

The Cherokee County, Ga., census of the same year lists William Townsend as 10 years of age along with his sister Mary Ann, age 13. In the Union census Mary Ann had been listed as Polly Ann, age 14. Polly was a common nickname for Mary. These two were evidently visiting in the home of their aunt, Serena Townsend, who had in her care when the census taker called, three other children, also her nephews: David Townsend, age 8; Ezekiel Townsend, age 6; and Kimsey Townsend, age 3.

The mystery of the elder Eli Townsend’s whereabouts in 1850 is unknown. After the transaction to sell the grant of land received for his service in the Mexican War in 1849, he does not appear on census records either in Union or Cherokee County (where his father, Edward, lived).

Some of the descendants of Eli Townsend believe that the three younger children in his sister Syrena’s care in Cherokee County when the 1850 census was taken were the children of the elder Eli Townsend by “another woman” other than his wife, Sarah Elizabeth (Sallie) Dyer Townsend. Thus begins one of the mysteries surrounding the life of William Townsend, sixth child of Eli and Sallie. Did he live part of the time in his early years with his Aunt Serena in Cherokee County, Ga.?

He returned to Union County and to the home of his mother Sallie, for it was in Union County where he married Eliza Bower on July 15, 1860. Thompson Collins, Justice of the Peace, performed the ceremony. With the Civil War brewing, William Townsend enlisted for service with the Confederacy.

And with his enlistments came another mystery. War records show that William Townson (the spelling used) enlisted in Company G, 52nd Regiment of the Georgia Infantry on March 4, 1862 in Captain Lewis B. Beard’s unit. He signed up at Blairsville and received $50 for his enlistment. However, the Muster Roll lists him as “deserted” August 1, 1862. The same company shows him “absent without leave” for January and February 1863. However, in November and December of 1863, the roll shows him present. The archives records show that a William Townson, Private, in Company I, 6th Regiment of the Georgia Calvary enlisted on February 1, 1863 for a period of three years by Colonel J. S. Fain. Did he leave one company and enlist in another? Apparently so.

He signed the Oath of Allegiance to the United States, subscribed on March 5, 1864, at Chattanooga, Tenn. We get a physical description of the 24-year-old man from this record. He was five feet eleven inches in height, had a fair complexion, brown hair and hazel eyes.

His wife, Eliza, remained in Union County with their young children while William Townsend served in the Civil War. The 1870 census lists William, age 27 (which age poses another mystery about the birth date of William Townsend). In 1870, their children were Sarah, age 10; Elizabeth, age 8; Thomas, age 5; Andrew, age 3, and Rosa, age 1.

Between 1870 and 1880, four more children were born to William and Eliza Townsend: Newton (age 9 in 1880), Laura (5), Alice (2), and Virgil (11 months).

But William Townsend was not listed in the 1880 census with his wife Eliza, then age 42. And this brings us to the fourth mystery surrounding William Townsend—his death which occurred on January 5, 1880.

The Grand Jury of May term of court in Union County drew up a true bill declaring that William Townsend had been murdered. Arthur Owenby, Thomas Owenby “and others” were charged in his murder. Arthur Owenby was William Townsend’s brother-in-law, the husband of William’s sister, Mary Ann, called Polly. Thomas Owenby was probably his nephew, a son of Mary Ann and Arthur. The “others” were listed as Columbus Teague, Malinda Teague, James Colly, Joseph Colly and Jehue Dean.

These “unlawfully and with force and arms did with malice aforethought unlawfully against one William Townson (sic) with knives, their hands and fists and other weapons to the jurours (sic) unknown with intent unlawfully to kill and murder him…cutting, stabbing, holding, pulling, hitting, knocking, beating and wounding him, the said William Townson…and thereby inflicting many mortal wounds…The said William Townson then and there died.”

What caused such a mortal fight? Stories of the murder of that cold day January 5, 1880 say that the fracas was an argument about “the other” family of Eli Townsend and its denial by the family. Another story hints of disagreements over gold holdings and diggings. At any rate, a young man with a large family of nine children lay dead.

Union County Court Records show that the trial was completed on March 28, 1881 and that Thomas Owenby, evidently the main perpetrator of the crime, pleaded not guilty. The panel of traverse jurors found Owenby not guilty of the crime. Accessories to the crime went free as well.

With no 1890 census records to check the whereabouts of Eliza Bower Townsend and her nine children, this writer does not know how long she may have remained in Union County. However, after the heart-breaking incident of her husband’s murder, she evidently moved away, taking her children with her, for she is not listed in subsequent Union County census records. Three of her children could have married in Union County: A Rose Townson (sic) married an Owen on August 2, 1890; Alice Townson (sic) married Samuel Colley June 17, 1894; and Andrew Townson (sic) married Mary Duckworth June 2, 1895. It is difficult to tell whether these are the Rose, Alice and Andrew, children of Eliza and William Townsend, for first names were common and often the same among the various Townsend families. I did not find a marked gravestone for the murdered William Townsend in cemetery records of Union County.

c2005 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published Sept. 1, 2005 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

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