Original Document
Original Document
Joseph Townsend's Recollection of his Encounters with British at the Battle of Brandywine in September, 1777.

Joseph Townsend, a twenty-one-year-old Quaker youth from Chester County, wrote a detailed recollection of his encounters with British troops during the day of the Battle of Brandywine that was published after his death. Since Quakers were known as pacifists and many of the local farmers were loyal to the Crown, Townsend and his brother were apparently allowed remarkable access to the British Army. The following excerpt tells of his intermingling with the Royal soldiers during their mid-afternoon rest at Sconnelltown, just prior to the main engagement near the Birmingham Friends Meeting House.

"When in sight of Jefferis' Ford we discovered that they had turned their course towards Birmingham, and were passing by where the meeting had on that day been held [in Sconnelltown]. Being disposed to have a better and nearer view, we set out for the purpose, and passing by the dwelling of Abel Boake, we soon after met Sarah, his wife, who had been as curious as ourselves, and had been among the soldiers as they marched along.

The space occupied by the main body and flanking parties was near half a mile wide. She encouraged our going amongst them, at the same time admiring their appearance, and saying what fine looking fellows they were, and to use her own expression 'they were something like an army,' which we would see for ourselves, if we would go amongst them, and that there would not be any objection to our entrance; thus encouraged, we walked on until we approached the flanking party, when a soldier under arms called out 'where are you going?'

We replied, 'we wished to see the army, &c., if there was no objections.' He observed 'there was their Captain, we might speak to him,' which being done, leave was readily obtained, and in a few minutes we found ourselves in the midst of a crowd of military characters, rank and file: little to be discovered but staff officers, and a continued march of soldiers and occasionally a troop of horse passing; great numbers of baggage wagons began to make their appearance, well guarded by proper officers and soldiery.

We reached one of the most eligible houses in the town [of Sconnelltown] and soon after divers of the principal officers came in, who manifested an uncommon social disposition. They were full of their inquiries respecting the rebels, where they were to be met with, and where Mr. Washington was to be found, &c….

The officers aforesaid, were replied to by brother William Townsend, who modestly and spiritedly told them that if they would have patience a short time, he expected they would meet with General Washington and his forces, who were not far distant, (the front of his army was then in view on the heights of Birmingham meeting house, though three miles distant from us.) They inquired what sort of man Mr. Washington was. My brother had a knowledge of him by being with him at his quarters at Chadd's Ford, and replied that he was a stately, well proportioned, fine looking man, of great ability, active, firm, and resolute, of a social disposition, and was considered to be a good man…

To which one of them answered that 'he might be a good man, but he was most damnably misled to take up arms against his sovereign….'

The house we were in was elevated, so that on the first floor were we stood we had a pretty full view of the army as they progressed along; and while we were conversing together, my brother called on me to step to the door to see General Lord Cornwallis, who was passing by. He was on horseback, appeared tall and sat very erect. His rich scarlet clothing, loaded with gold lace, epaulets, &c. occasioned him to make a brilliant and martial appearance….

It may be observed that most or all of the officers who conversed with us, were of first rank, and were rather short, portly men, were well dressed and of genteel appearance, and did not look as if they had ever been exposed to any hardship; their skins being as white and delicate as is customary for females who were brought up in large cities or towns."

Source:  “Some Account of the British army, under the command of Gen. Howe, and of the battle of Brandywine, September 11, 1777, and of the adventures of that day, which came to the knowledge and observation of Joseph Townsend.” Proceedings of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania No. 7 (June 23, 1846).
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