Early Settlers of Union
Descendants...Their Stories...Their Achievements
Mists of History on Their Way of Life
By: Ethelene Dyer Jones
surrounding William Townsend
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
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
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
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
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
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
He signed the
Oath of Allegiance to the United
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.
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.
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).
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.
“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
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.
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
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
Dyer Jones is a retired educator, freelance writer, poet, and historian.
She may be reached at e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org;
phone 478-453-8751; or mail 1708
Updated January 16,
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