Dr. John Townsend was born in Fayette County, Pennsylvania. His parents, John F. Townsend and Sarah McNamee, among the first settlers of Fayette County, arrived in America from England in the late eighteenth century. He had six siblings, Sarah, Nancy, Hannah, Matilda, William and Thomas. Dr. Townsend received his first medical degree from Lexington Medical College and later set up successful practices in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and Missouri. In 1832, he and Elizabeth Louise Schallenberger were married in Stark County, Ohio. Dr. Townsend, his wife Elizabeth and her brother Moses Schallenberger were part of the Murphy-Townsend-Stevens party which brought the first wagons to California over the Truckee River route in 1844. He and his wife died on December 8, 1850 in San Jose, California, during the cholera epidemic of the time. They were survived by their one son, John Henry Moses Townsend born in 1849.
The Townsend Family Papers collection contains correspondence, business and other personal documents of Dr. John Townsend, his wife Elizabeth, and their son John. Items in this collection offer glimpses into the Townsends' lives: their travels with the Murphy party, their real estate investments and their roles as settlers of Northern California during the mid to late 1800s.