There’s a column’s worth of Townsends in the Robeson County phonebook. People with that last name have been in Robeson County since before the Revolution, according to Daniel Townsend, but he goes much deeper than that in tracing his lineage.
Townsend’s book, “In Search of Thomas,” is a genealogical and historical exploration of the patriarch of the American side of the Townsend family, Thomas Townsend. Research for the book spanned 30 years and has taken Daniel all over the Southeast and to England for research.
What he learned was that there have been members of that family, some of whom are Daniel Townsend’s ancestors, who have lived in Robeson County since 1747. While searching for information about Thomas, along the way, he became acquainted with his family and gives an account of what life was like for some Robeson County residents.
Townsend grew up in Fayetteville and lives in High Point, where he is a retired Spanish teacher. He has relatives living in Robeson County in Raft Swamp and Red Springs. He says he is William Townsend’s great-grandson, a man who descended from Thomas Townsend, who is buried near the Pinecrest Country Club golf course. William’s son, Frank Townsend, lived in St. Pauls and owned livery stables and a dry goods store where Sugar’s Men’s Store stands today.
The Townsends came to Robeson County as farmers after they set out from Jamestown, Va.
“We were all tobacco farmers all the way back,” said Daniel.. “There was nobody in Robeson County that didn’t farm. We were farmers before there were cities ... . There were no roads so the earliest ones moved by water. At one time my grandfather closed the livery stables and we didn’t see him for two weeks. We got a postcard that said he was in Havana.”
Daniel began research for the book in 1979 after realizing that he didn’t know most of his family members who lived in Robeson County. He received a phone call from his father while he was living in Baltimore. His father told him a close relative was dying. Both he and his father visited her. While Daniel was there his relative took out an old cigar box full of newspaper clippings about her and her family.
“I read those clippings from way back and said, ‘I gotta find out more about this,’” Daniel Townsend said.
Townsend had studied history at Wake Forest and took a few history classes as he studied for his master’s degree in education at Fayetteville State. He says his book is partly a genealogical book, but he also puts the story of his family in historical context.
He spends a chapter on his trip to England to find the Townsends in that country. He can trace his ancestry back to England to the Townsends who were responsible for the Townsend Acts and the Stamp Acts, two major events in British history.
Townsend described the seven-week voyage across the ocean in the middle of the 1700s as a treacherous and uncomfortable journey. Half the people who set out died during the journey. People slept on the top of barrels, and could only drink beer because water became contaminated during the long voyage. Daniel a much-shorter trip to England in 1982.
“They had nothing,” Daniel said. “That is the reason they came. That’s a 2009 answer having seen and thought about this whole thing over the last 30 years.”
For a copy of Daniel Townsend’s book, “In Search of Thomas,” contact him at (336) 882 5677.