John Gilles Townsend Jr. papers1908-1977
1.5 Linear Feet
General Physical Description
Townsend was born in Bishopville, Maryland, son of John Gillis Sr. (1838-1918) and Mariedith Dukes Townsend (1847-1885). In 1890, he married Jeannette “Jennie” Collins (1872-1917). The couple had seven children: Edith Tubbs (1891-1980), Julian E. (1893-1968), Lyla Savoy (1894-1983), John Gillis III (1896-1966), Paul Lockwood (1903-1940), Jennie Thelma (1907-1907), and Preston Coleman (1910-1984).
In 1894, the family moved to Selbyville, Delaware. Townsend operated his own sawmill and orchard. He grew thousands of acres of strawberries and became known as the “Strawberry King.” Shortly after he became involved in local politics. Townsend was elected to the Delaware State House of Representatives from 1901 to 1903. In 1903, he founded and served as President of the Baltimore Trust Company where he supported small local businesses.
As Governor (1917-1921), he was part of the Progressive Party. He advocated for educational reform, the Women’s suffrage amendment, and improved transportation systems. Townsend was a supporter of the Good Roads movement. Between 1911 and 1916, he worked with T. Coleman Dupont (1863-1930) on the development of the Du Pont Highway (Route 113), which opened southern Delaware to increased commerce.
At the start of his governorship he appointed his childhood friend, Everett C. Johnson (1877-1926), as Secretary of State. Everett Johnson was a publisher and politician who founded the Newark Post in 1910 and established a fine printing house called the Press of Kells in 1916. Prior to being Delaware Secretary of State for Townsend, Johnson served as Delaware House Representatives from 1910 to 1914. He died suddenly of a heart attack in 1926.
His wife, Louise Stanton Johnson (1882-1977) continued his work as editor of the Newark Post and operated the Press of Kells until 1935. In 1929, she moved to Washington, DC and worked for Senator Townsend as a secretary during his two terms in the U.S. Senate. In 1940, she served as an editor of Division of International Economics and Statistics for the Commerce Department. She retired in 1946 and relocated to Newark, Delaware. She continued to write about her life and work until her death in 1977.
As a Senator, Townsend worked on the establishment of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and other New Deal-era programs that reformed and rebuilt the nation’s banking system. He was reelected to the Senate in 1934, but was defeated in 1940. He was a member of the American Delegation to the first session of the United Nations General Assembly in 1946. In 1960, Townsend attended his last Republican National Convention as a delegate from Delaware.
In 1937, Townsend began his poultry business and founded Townsend Inc. Farms with his youngest son Preston Townsend. Townsend Inc. Farms built its first hatchery in 1939 at Swan Creek Orchard (Townsend’s orchard). In 1945, they expanded and built their own feed mill. In the 1950s, Preston Townsend planted corn and soybeans, built a soybean processing plant in 1951 and, in 1957, a poultry processing plant. This expansion made Townsend Inc. Farms one of the first fully integrated poultry companies. In 1964, after Townsend's death, Preston Townsend became chairman and President of Townsend Inc. Farms until he died in 1984. The company then passed to a third generation and in 1986, under the direction of P. Coleman Townsend (dates private), the company expanded by purchasing processing facilities in North Carolina and Arkansas.
In 2010, due to increases in feed-corn prices caused by the diversion of corn crops for ethanol production, Townsend filed for bankruptcy. The Ukranian-based chicken producer Agroholding Avangard’s Omtron, Ltd. acquired their Georgetown offices and chicken plants in North Carolina. Peco Foods Inc. purchased their facilities in Arkansas. Mountclaire Inc. acquired their chicken plants in Delaware. P. Coleman Townsend is chairman of the board of Omtron USA, LLC.
Scope and Content
Governor and Senatorial papers series contains correspondence, photographs, and newspaper clippings which date from 1908 to 1977, with a bulk of the materials dating from the 1930s through the 1950s. The correspondence is varied and includes some letters from constituents in regards to an issue. There are some letters related to road building. Of particular interest are the letters related to the Neely Bill. Matthew M. Neely (1874-1958) was a Senator from West Virginia who proposed a bill which would prevent the motion picture industry from block booking, a practice in which the studios would bundle a group of films together and sell them to movie theatre owners without their knowledge as to what they were buying. Various studio representatives and prominent actors wrote to senators to vote against the bill. There is only one letter asking for support of the bill, from Abram Myers representing the Allied States Association of Motion Picture Exhibitors. There are newspaper clippings about Townsend’s career, his obituaries and some letters of condolences to his son Preston Townsend; as well as some posthumous biographical articles. There are a few portraits and group photographs which include Townsend. There are some of Townsend’s writings and speeches, of note is a copy of his speech after returning from the first United Nations Assembly in London in 1946. There are also materials related to his memorial fund and the dedication of the Townsend building at the University of Delaware.
The Townsend Inc. Farms records series contains two booklets about the operation of the farms, one from the 1950s and one from circa 1986. There are many photographs of the farm in Millsboro, Delaware after a poultry processing plant was built in 1957. These photographs include views of the feed mill, soybean extraction plant, grain storage, soybean oil refinery, and the poultry processing plant. John and Preston Townsend appear in many of the photographs, some workers are also pictured, specifically in the poultry processing plant. There are a few portraits and general biographical information about Preston Townsend. Some newspaper clippings about the farm and poultry industry and a set of clippings about Rehoboth Beach from the early 1970s.
The Louise Stanton Johnson papers series primarily consists of multiple drafts of a biography Johnson wrote about Townsend. There are some of her notes and correspondence with publishers about the biography. One set of drafts are typed on carbon paper and the other draft is typed, but cut apart and then pasted onto paper. The biography appears to have been written in the 1940s. There is a handwritten note by Johnson indicating that a completed version of the biography was bound and given to Townsend, but was then given to a reporter who never returned it. A copy of her memoir titled “A Narration of Many Memories, Several Detours, and A Few Thoughts” is bound in a soft cover and dated 1974. There are only a few items related to the Press at Kells, the Newark Post, and Everett Johnson.
Printing plates and seals series includes two seals and a printing plate. One seal is for the Highway Engineering, one is for Indian-Swan Fruits and the printing plate is a portrait engraving of Townsend with his signature.
Language of Materials
Finding Aid & Administrative Information
- John Gilles Townsend Jr. photographs
- Laurie Sather
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