Elmer Townsend wrote the first group of letters, between 1827 and 1870, all from Boston, where he was a businessman, and financially the most successful of all the children. Most of his letters offer financial support to his parents, sending sums to his siblings, often in quite large amounts ($50, $100, $800 to help buy the new farm). His letters not only deal with his financial support but also have a heavy content in advice, extolling the need for a good education, working hard, warning his sisters to watch their reputation. He sends home books, even groceries to help out the parents. His letters often report on business matters, the hard times of the 1837 depression (though he also says he is worth $60,000). His December 14, 1864 letter attacking the Canadians for discharging the St. Albans Confederate raiders is the first real reference to current events. The letters have virtually nothing about his personal or family life.
Albert Townsend's letters, covering the years 1827 to 1844, show a very different person. Albert evidently was a heavy drinker in his early life. His July 6, 1840 letter describes his drinking troubles and his siblings often make reference to it. Albert starts as a tailor, in Windsor, Vermont, but evidently gets into heavy debt, and when he leaves the state he owes a large sum in Bellows Falls, and later writes that he won't come north till he has paid off his debts. He moves to Washington, D.C., then Georgia, where he settles in the "gold region or Cherocee (sic) Nation", seeing Indians in their native state, and giving good descriptions of poor, quarrelsome, hard-drinking, hard-fighting gold diggers. By 1840 he is in Carthage, Mississippi.
The letters of Alfred Townsend, Albert's twin, cover the years 1827 to 1874. He worked in Boston thanks to Elmer finding him a job by 1827, but he was plagued with ill health, perhaps tuberculosis. By 1831 he was in Windsor, Vermont, as a tailor's apprentice. He moved with Albert to Georgia. In 1836 he wrote a long letter home about Albert's wild dissipation and the fact he had given up trying to correct him. He wrote as well of the hostility of the Indians in western Georgia, and the Seminole uprising in Florida. By 1837 he was in business in Carthage, Mississippi, and spoke of what a sorry lot the whites were, with their knife fights, etc., and how peaceable the Choctaw were, though liquor-prone. By 1851 he had moved to Texas, farming on property of his wife's family, owning a slave family, expecting to restore his economic status. By 1853 he had moved to Louisiana, always optimistic for the future but always facing hard times. Often he wrote north of how he would send financial aid, but not yet. A November 21, 1853 letter spoke of the treatment of slaves, that they were mostly content, that he hoped slavery would end but was sure that the Abolitionists were wrong in their approach. His letter of April 8, 1861, explained why he was opposed to Lincoln, wanted Bell and Everett elected, but that he would support the Confederacy in spite of the hard economic times. Evidently there were no exchanges of letters north during the war, for the next letter was in June of 1865, asking his parents if they were still alive. By 1868 he had moved to Texas again, to farm, with his son attending Baylor, but the last letter, from his daughter and wife, describe his death.
Dennis Townsend wrote letters from 1835 to 1868; some of the letters from the 1850s are copies of originals at the University of Texas. Dennis attended school in Greenfield, Massachusetts, at age 18, and later in Plainfield, N.H. He attended Dartmouth, but left for financial reasons. He worked at his brother Elmer's store in Boston. He taught school, both in New England and Louisiana, the latter in part for his health, which always seemed questionable. By 1850 he was in Illinois, newly married. He was in California by 1853, speaking of the gold strikes, the characteristics of the Chinese, the wonders of high-speed communications. He was running a store in 1853, became the postmaster of Fiddletown, California, and taught. He voted for Douglas and Johnson in the 1860 election but was satisfied with Lincoln, and wrote a letter explaining why he felt the Union cause was just. He advised brothers William and Alfred to keep a low profile in the south during the war, assuming they would be pro-Union as well. In 1863 he moved to Volcano, California, to teach and he became county commissioner of schools. He wrote two letters in 1868 from Felchville, Vermont, giving details of his business ventures in manufacturing the folding globe he had invented, which he hoped to sell to schools and for home use. Many of the letters in this collection refer to the globe enterprise, brothers hoping it would bring fortune, sisters helping to sell them.
Valette Townsend's letters were written between 1855 and 1890, and were mostly short, full of economic and health woes. In 1855 he was building saw mills in Iowa, but then settled down in Worcester, Massachusetts, where he was gardening, and tending boilers in a mill, though that seems to be an on-again, off-again job. Many of the letters in this folder were written by his wife or his daughter, who attended Wellesley College for a time, and they stressed the poor health of Valette and the economic hardships the family faced. In 1881 Valette was named postmaster of Quinsigamond, Worcester, Massachusetts. Included in the folder is a biography of Valette, written by his daughter after his death.
Isabelle (Townsend) Waterman's letters also contain many additions from her husband Henry. This collection was microfilmed (VHS-246). The letters cover the years 1862 to 1895. In 1862 they were living in Polk City, Iowa, where Henry joined Company B, 23rd Regiment of Iowa volunteers, and in 1864 he was serving in a hospital in Keokuk, Iowa. After the war he built houses and went into the building supply business. By 1872 they were in Milford, Nebraska, evidently farming, a crooked partner having ruined the building company. Poverty followed them everywhere, and ill health, and Isabelle is often in low spirits. In 1877 they wrote of the damage done by grasshoppers in Nebraska, where they finally owned their own farm. By 1887 they had left Nebraska to move to Mapleton, Kansas. In 1892 Henry was assisting in producing a populist newspaper, The Lantern. The folder contains a few later letters, from their off-spring.
William Townsend's letters cover the years 1832 to 1864. In 1832 he worked as a book keeper for Elmer in Boston, and wrote home about Alfred's bad behavior, with liquor and debt, and wrote of Albert being a drunk. He condemned the anti-slavery speakers of Boston for causing trouble, though he wanted slavery abolished. He seemed to have had a born-again experience, for suddenly his letters, often quite long, were all full of religious topics, such as morality, temperance, and church attendance. He described life in Boston in the 1830s. In 1836 he quit the business world and decided to become a minister, moving to Marietta, Ohio by 1839 to teach and serve as a minister. He taught in Missouri, spoke of going south to teach, but in 1842 he and Dennis were running a school in Burlington, Iowa. When the school failed, he followed Dennis to Louisiana to teach. He owned slaves, and in 1848 wrote a glowing letter about how well slaves were treated by good masters. In an 1861 letter he railed against "Black Republicans," saying the south would never give up, that God supported the south, and wrote quite eloquently justifying the southern cause. There are a few letters from his widow, written between 1864, when he died, and 1874, speaking of the great poverty the family faced.
Alstyne Townsend's letters are brief, giving much practical advice about where to put money, mortgage matters, etc., covering the years 1840 to 1892. He evidently helped his sisters living at home take care of money matters. He lived in Springfield, Vermont, working in the machine shop business, probably as a laborer, at one point making lathes. He described the economic hardships caused by the Depression of 1873. His leisure time was taken up with gardening. This folder contains five letters written by his wife, Aurelia.
Van Buren Townsend's letters cover the years 1857 to 1898. The letters start in Worcester, Massachusetts, though from their content it is clear he had been to Iowa and Florida. There is a long letter, undated, from his wife to Vermont describing the Orlando, Florida, area and the joys and hardships of farming there, with a short post-script from Van Buren. In 1872 he was working in a wire mill in Worcester, living with his wife's family, and dealing with uncertain employment. He also tried to sell the globes produced by Dennis, made boats to sell for Lake Quinsigamond, without great success. Poor health was a constant in his letters, displeasure with his mill job, and his desire to move south and escape the diseases of the north. He sold his Iowa land and in 1878 left for Florida, where he opened an orange grove on 40 acres in Maitland, Florida. One year later he and his wife were back in the mill in Worcester, having over-extended themselves in building their Florida house, resulting in the sale of some of their land. Many of the letters were written by his wife, with Van Buren adding a few words. By 1885 he was back in Florida, living in Tampa, extolling his good health and the virtues of the Florida climate. His wife wrote two long letters about spiritualism, meeting dead relatives, etc.
Marquis Townsend wrote between 1862 and 1899, mostly from Conneaut, Ohio. In the Civil War he was stationed in Arkansas in 1862, and then moved to Vicksburg for the siege. There are five letters from Vicksburg, the last from the post hospital there, and then four from Ohio while waiting for his discharge. In an 1876 letter he mentioned having met President Grant in Washington. He was active with the G.A.R., as Post Commander of the local unit and Assistant Adjutant General of the state G.A.R. He was a staunch Republican, commenting each four years on the virtues of the Republican candidate. He wrote letters on the trials and tribulations of a traveling salesman, and most of the letters were written on hotel stationary.
One folder contains letters written by and to other family members including a few from Aurelia (Townsend) Herrick, from 1867 to 1875, three to Eliza Townsend from John S. McConnaughey, a soldier in the Union Army, one of which describes the Battle of Antietam, and others written to Eliza from assorted relatives.
In the miscellaneous file are six newspaper clippings written by Horace Herrick (Aurelia's husband), describing the state of the economy and farming in Illinois, Ohio, and Nebraska in the 1870s, problems with grasshoppers, and the relative merits of farming in the east and the west. There are clippings from the Conneaut, Ohio papers of a proposed Civil War monument to be given the town by Marquis, and its dedication, an obituary for his wife, a notice of Marquis' 82nd birthday, and an extensive obituary for Marquis.