In the 1880s Hubert Howe Bancroft asked John Bidwell if he could supply any information about several early California pioneers, Dr. John Townsend among them. On May 23, 1884 Bidwell wrote back with short recollections of the men he had known. Of Townsend he said:
“A kinder man I have never known.”
Townsend stood out in Bidwell’s mind as a cut above the usual emigrant to California. He was intelligent and well-educated, with a medical degree from Lexington Medical College. He could have been successful anywhere in the States, but he had a restless and adventurous spirit, and was attracted to California before it became the destination of the entire nation in 1849.
He served as the first American alcalde (magistrate) of San Francisco, and as one biographer said: “he held the scales of justice so evenly as to cause him to be ever remembered for his judicial integrity.” After a successful mining venture in 1848-49 he bought 195 acres near San Jose, intending to settle down to farming and raising a family. On November 26, 1848 his wife Elizabeth bore their first child, John Henry Moses Townsend.
On December 8th, 1850 both John and Elizabeth Townsend died of cholera within hours of each other. Their son was raised by Elizabeth’s brother, Moses Schallenberger, and his wife Fannie. It was a sad end to a worthy man and his wife, who had a bright future before them.
As far as I know, there is no portrait of Dr. Townsend.