Collecting Delaware Books

George Alfred Townsend "Gath" 1841-1914


What Hath "Gath" Wrought?
by Jerry A. Shields

george alfred townsend 'gath'
George Alfred Townsend - Gath

Written for CDB in 1993.

When I started collecting Delaware books 20 years ago, one fact soon became obvious. Auction-goers, whatever else they might or might not know about the subject, generally recognized, and were on the lookout for, three titles: Scharfs History of Delaware, Beers' Atlas, and Townsend's novel The Entailed Hat.

Why the first two were so popular was clear: as reference works they contain scads of specific information not readily obtainable elsewhere. But the mystique surrounding Townsend's book puzzled me, and still does. While Hat is a lively, colorful tale and an exciting read, it's not a classic novel in any sense. The prominence in the book of Patty Cannon — Delmarva's most notorious historical figure — may account for part of Hat's appeal to collectors. But not all. I felt a need to learn more about Townsend or "Gath" (his initials plus the letter H), as he sometimes signed his works.

While Townsend stands as probably the most prolific and versatile of Delaware-born literary writers, much of his vast output was political reportage for newspapers and magazines around the nation and abroad. But, besides writing, or dictating, thousands of columns for the periodical press, he took time to produce a number of large and small manuscripts which found their way between hard or paper covers during his life. It was these I wanted to acquire and study.

Famous in his own age, "Gath" is relatively obscure today. No definitive study of him or his works has been made, though plenty of material for one is available. The lengthiest so far is Ruthanna Hindes' 72-page George Alfred Townsend: One of Delaware's Outstanding Writers, done, I believe, as a masters thesis at the University of Delaware and published in 1946. From this and a few other sources, plus the works I could find, I've tried to put together a biographical/bibliographical sketch.

The author was born January 30, 1841, in Georgetown, Delaware, to the Rev. Stephen and Mary Milbourne Townsend. His father (a powerful influence in his son's life) was a Quaker carpenter turned Methodist circuit rider, and the family, because of the Rev. Townsend's calling, moved around the Delmarva Peninsula frequently before settling in Philadelphia in 1853. There, the carpenter/preacher would acquire a medical degree and a practice, and — in his old age — a Ph. D.

He also owned, or came to own, several farms on the Peninsula. One was in the Bohemia Manor area of Cecil County, Maryland, another near Kenton in Kent County, Delaware. Alfred, in his teens, usually spent his summers working on these farms.

Alfred's early schooling, sporadic because of the moves, was supplemented by his parents' tutelage. His mother often read to him and told him stories, and he soon developed a childhood habit of reading and writing in his leisure hours.

In Philadelphia, he wrote actively for school publications, and, the day he graduated from high school, was offered a job on the Philadelphia Inquirer. A year later, he was city editor and drama critic for the Philadelphia Press. When the Civil War started, the New York Herald hired him as a war correspondent to cover the Peninsula Campaign in Virginia.

Townsend, at 21, was the youngest correspondent covering the war, and one of the best. With an excellent eye and ear for capturing detail, and as much interest in private soldiers and civilians as generals, he caught the sights, sounds, smells, tastes and feels of battle and its aftermath. Most significant, he focused vividly on the human elements and effects of the war.

But, after some months at the front, he developed a persistent camp fever and sailed for England to recuperate. Landing in Liverpool October 1, 1862, he first tried lecturing, then managed to sell some articles to English magazines. He also planned a novel, The War Correspondent, about his recent experiences, but couldn't interest a publisher.

After nine months in England, he sailed for the Continent, where he would spend a year among struggling artists and writers — "Bohemians" in the language of the day — in various countries of Europe. Later, he would display a fondness for the term "Bohemians," possibly relating it to his experiences as a boy on the "Old Bohemia" farm as well as to his European travels.

George Alfred Townsend

Then and later, Townsend seems to have thought of himself more as a creative writer than a journalist. He wrote for the newspapers and magazines because that's where the money was, and he would soon become rich and famous doing so. But he also craved recognition as a poet, dramatist and novelist, even though he was unlikely to earn as much money writing creatively.

Returning to America late in 1864, he continued trying to succeed as a literary writer. When this failed to produce much income, he went back to the front as a correspondent in time to cover some of the last battles of the war. He was also at the deathbed of Lincoln as the President's life ebbed away after the shooting at the Ford Theater. Watching the Great Emancipator as he lay dying, Townsend vowed to himself that he would dig out and report the real story behind Booth's conspiracy.

Here I want to abandon straight biography and summarize the remainder of Townsend's life and career with an annotated list of the books he wrote. This is not as simple as it sounds, for it involves making a number of judgment calls, even on such basic questions as, "What is a book?"

Some of Townsend's published works are obviously books, having several hundred pages each, bound between hard covers. Others, though, are pamphlet-sized and in paper covers. Some are offprints of newspaper or magazine articles. The latter should probably not be classed as books, while the former should be. Unfortunately, there's not always a sharp line between these categories when we consider the body of Townsend's writings. Both Townsend himself and, later, Ruthanna Hindes have tried to make this task easier by providing lists of Townsend's books. Hindes found the author's ("Gath's") list of his own works (excluding juvenilia and periodical articles) in one of his scrapbooks in the University of Delaware's collection (mostly donated by Robert Richards), and she prints it in her study of him, following it with her own annotated list of his works.

This sounds authoritative but isn't. Neither list is chronologically sequential, the two contradict one another in spots, and errors exist in both, some of which, without hard evidence, are difficult to correct. Still, the two lists can serve as starting points for creating a checklist for collectors which may be amended and updated as more information surfaces.

A Townsend Checklist

George Alfred Townsend (left) and Mark Twain

1. Bohemians. A play. Both Townsend and Hindes start their lists with this work. Townsend says it was published in 1861. Hindes calls it The Bohemians and lists the publication date as 1862, adding "His first attempt, and it was unsuccessful. To date no copies are available." Since she had not seen or handled a copy of this work, it's hard to know why Hindes disagreed with Townsend here. She may have assumed that he wouldn't have written a play with that title before actually going to Europe and experiencing "Bohemian" life. But, as noted above, Townsend didn't go to the Continent and live among the "Bohemians" until the summer of 1863, so it's possible he wrote the play and got it published while still a young editor and drama critic at the Philadelphia Press. Having worked as a farm boy in the "Old Bohemia" part of Eastern Shore Maryland, he was already acquainted with the term, and his romantic imagination may have done the rest. The guess here is that Townsend was probably right about the 1861 date. Finding a copy of the original play would settle the argument, but no one, to my knowledge, has yet done so.

2. Life, Crime and Capture of John Wilkes Booth. New York: Dick & Fitzgerald, n. d. [1865]. 80 pp. Second on Hindes' list, third on Townsend's. For collecting purposes, this paperbound work can be considered Townsend's first published book unless a copy of Bohemians surfaces. Wilmington Free Library lists a copy the University of Delaware Library and other in-state public libraries do not.

3. Campaigns of a Non-Combatant, and his Romaunt Abroad During the War. New York: Blelock & Company, 1866. 368 pp. Second on the "Gath" list (probably because he wrote it before the Booth book), third on Hindes. Townsend dates the book 1865, Hindes, correctly. Much of this work, dealing with the Peninsula Campaign in Virginia, was written in 1862-63 and first published in Britain by Cornhill Magazine. The book contains descriptions of the author's experiences in Philadelphia and Europe which were later omitted from a 1950 reprint edition retitled Rustics in Rebellion published by the University of North Carolina Press.

4. Life and Battles of Garibaldi, and his March on Rome in 1867. "Gath" lists this fourth, dates it 1867, and calls it Small Life of Garibaldi. Hindes lists it fifth (after a pamphlet) and dismisses it as "A biography. Not important." It may be an offprint of a magazine article. No Delaware public library seems to own a copy it would be a choice collector find.

5. The New World Compared with the Old etc. Hartford, Conn.: S. M. Betts, etc., 1869. 663 pp. plus two pages of ads. This was Townsend's first "big" book, comparing European governmental institutions with those of the United States. It was a big seller as well, going through several printings. Hindes remarks, "This book was his biggest money maker, and his worst literary work. In 1881 an advertisement stated that 80,000 copies had been sold." Townsend thought more highly of it, particularly as he grew older. Hindes quotes a little poem he inscribed in a copy for his daughter Genevieve in 1901:

	This book I wrote at 28 and thought
it only light and flip
	And did not know, till now, too late,
our best is in apprenticeship 	That while we learn, we so enjoy,
as, when we're learned, we never can:
	The feats of Hercules, the boy,
he never matched when he was man.

6. Poems. Washington, D. C.: Rhodes and Ralph, 1870. 160 pp. Hindes notes, "On the flyleaf [of a copy she was studying] is written in pencil, in what appears to be 'Gath's' handwriting, 'Only 300 copies issued.' This volume contains the most deliberate of his work in verse, and yet was printed by a comparatively unknown firm." The University of Delaware Library owns a copy other in-state libraries apparently do not. A valuable find.

7. Lost Abroad Hartford, Conn.: S. M. Betts & Company, etc., 1870. 594 pages. Hindes quotes from Townsend's preface to this book a passage indicating he had thought of doing this book about his European travels in the 1860s, "I conceived the idea of charging some of those experiences upon a fictitious character, and wrote the early parts of this story while returning home upon the ship and now, almost without my will, this modest adventurer is called forth and introduced to the folks of his age and his ardor … ." I suspect, though, that what chiefly motivated this book was the publisher's, and Townsend's, desire to capitalize on the immense popularity of Mark Twain's The Innocents Abroad, published the previous year. But, lacking Twain's irreverent, somewhat provincial wit, Townsend's book, judging by its relative rarity today, did not sell as well as expected or hoped. A few copies show up in state libraries.

8. Mormon Trials at Salt Lake City. New York: American News Company, 1871. 49 pp. This pamphlet-sized work is dismissed by Hindes as "not important," but does not show up in lists of instate library holdings and is probably hard to find. Western bookdealers specializing in Mormon books may locate copies.

9. Washington — Outside and Inside, etc. Hartford, Conn.: James Betts & Co., etc., 1873[?]. 750 pp. "Gath" dates this 1872-73, indicating uncertainty Hindes dates it 1873. DELCAT [on-line library catalog] gives 1874 as the date of a copy in the University of Delaware Library , but this may be a later printing. Hindes remarks, "This is the first time the name 'Gath' appears in his books."

10. New Washington. Washington, D. C.: Chronicle Publishing Co., 1874[?]. 26 pp. "Gath" dates this pamphlet-sized work 1872, Hindes, who had seen a copy, dates it two years later, indicating it was an offprint of a series of newspaper articles.

11. Events at the National Capitol and the Campaign of 1876, etc. Hartford, Conn.: James Betts & Co., etc., 1876. This book is on Hindes' list, who notes it was written by "Geo. Alfred Townsend and others," but strangely absent from "Gath's" list of his own books. This is another big Betts book published when Townsend was one of the nation's best-known political columnists and syndicated across the nation.

It was also the last, for, at this point, Townsend, probably suffering from burn-out at age 35 and wealthy enough to indulge his urge toward creative writing, took his career in another direction. In the year this book was published, he made a leisurely journey down the Delmarva Peninsula and rediscovered his own roots and those of the region. This experience would largely change him from political pundit to local color writer.

12. Tales of the Chesapeake. New York: American News Company, 1880. 285 pp. This collection of short prose pieces and poems about the Eastern Shore had been years in the making. A prefatory note states that two of these pieces had appeared earlier in Chambers's Journal, London, and that "the poem 'Herman of Bohemia Manor' is new ," indicating that most other pieces were not. A third edition copy I own includes praises from such worthies as Mark Twain, Henry W. Longfellow, Oliver Wendell Holmes, E. C. Stedman and others, including the President of the United States (Rutherford B. Hayes), who is listed third behind Twain and Longfellow. Hayes (not the most intellectual of our national leaders) gushes, "I have read three of the tales & a large slice for me & and find them entertaining and altogether Gathlike. All he writes that I can lay hands on is always read eagerly."

13. Bohemian Days. New York: H. Campbell & Co., 1880. 200 pp. This collection of three tales and four poems had been written years earlier and was published at this time, according to an inscription, at the request of "ten friends at dinner."

14. Poetical Addresses. New York: E. F. Bonaventure & Co., 1881. 42 pp. This little paper bound work contains five occasional poems of some length, the fourth of which was read at commencement exercises at the University of Delaware in 1868 and mentions much local history. The final poem, titled "Caesar Rodney's Fourth of July," was read at Independence Day ceremonies in Georgetown, Delaware — Townsend's birthplace — in 1880. It too is packed with local references.

15. The Entailed Hat, or Patty Cannon's Times: A Romance. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1884. 565 pp. plus 12 pp. of ads. This book, upon which Townsend's current reputation as a writer rests almost entirely, had its origin when its author, in Snow Hill, Maryland, doing some genealogical research on his mother's family, ran across an early ancestor's will in which that individual bequeathed to one of his sons "my best hat, to him and his assignees forever, and no more of my estate." This struck Townsend as so odd that he determined to write a novel around it, but, early on, recalling stories his mother had told him about Patty Cannon, he soon allowed her and her gang to take over the plot. Much of the book is based on real personages and events, but some is concocted, including, probably, the gang's raid on Woodburn in Dover. While a historical marker commemorating this raid stood at the spot for years, I have never found historical evidence that this foray ever occurred outside the book's pages. On another tack, I have heard it rumored that Townsend's manuscript, as originally submitted, was considerably longer than the published version and contained damning references to a number of prominent Delaware and Eastern Shore families who sympathized with Patty and her activities, and that pressure from these families caused the incriminating pages to be removed prior to publication. I don't know if this is fact or fancy. [Many editions of this book have been published, and it may still be in print today. — Editor]

16. Presldent Cromwell. New York: E. F. Bonaventure & Co., n. d. [1884?]. 94 pp. "Gath" dates this four-act drama to 1883, while Hindes states it was published in 1885 in a private edition of 200 copies. Modern lists hedge by giving "circa 1884" as the date of publication. Since it is "Dedicated to the President of the United States in whichever passing term this mould of the First Roughcasted Anglo-Saxon President may find him," we may find it plausible that this was written during the presidential campaign of 1884 when the outcome was still in doubt, and either published that year or early in 1885, as Hindes indicated.

17. Katy of Catoctin, or the Chain-Breakers: A National Romance. New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1886. 567 pp. plus 8 pp. of ads. This novel starts with John Brown's raid, continues through the Civil War , and gives the supposed inside story of John Wilkes Booth and the plot to assassinate Lincoln. While researching it, Townsend, having crossed the Potomac into Maryland on his way north from Harper's Ferry, happened across a tract of mountainous, wooded land near Gapland which he fell in love with. He soon purchased it and built upon it a complex of several houses and a monument to Civil War correspondents. The monument still stands and, some years ago, the State of Maryland bought the property and established Gathland State Park at the site.

Editor's Note 2005: Now "Gathland," part of Maryland's South Mountain State Battlefield. There are many overlapping Web sites with information about this park area including Gathland. The pictures of Gath's war correspondents memorial and of his home are interesting.

18. Tales of Upper Maryland. This work, like several to follow, was written by Townsend but never published. The Gath list dates it 1886. Hindes, by omitting an asterisk, indicates she never saw it or the other unpublished works listed below. Whether it still exists, and, if so, where, are questions yet to be answered. I have asked around in some of the obvious places, but have found no clues so far. Finding it would be a real coup. Any help or valid information is welcome.

19. "Life of the Ron. Levi P. Morton," in Wallace, Lew: Life of Gen. Benjwnin Harrison, etc. Philadelphia: Hubbard Brothers, 1888. Neither "Gath" nor Hindes list this work among Townsend's literary writings, and it's actually a campaign biography of the Republican candidate for vice president of the United States. But the fact that Gen. Wallace (author of Ben Hur, etc.) and Townsend were chosen to write these campaign biographies shows the degree of prestige accorded both authors by national party leaders, and I felt this work should be included in a Townsend checklist.

20. Mrs. Reynolds and Hamilton: a Romance. New York: E. F. Bonaventure, 1890.276 pp. "Gath" dates this paper-bound novel to 1884, which may have been its time of composition. Hindes notes that it was originally called Doctor Priestly of the Federalists, but gives the later publishing date. The University of Delaware Library owns a copy.

21. Columbus in Love. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1892. "Gath" lists this among the books he wrote. Hindes lists it under "Pamphlets and Shorter Publications." Evidently it is an offprint of a Lippincott magazine article.

22. Cuckoo. An unpublished novel. "Gath" dates it 1893. The manuscript's whereabouts, if it still exists, is unknown.

23. Tales of Washington City. An unpublished miscellany. "Gath" dates it 1897. Whereabouts unknown.

24. Talbot's Hawks. Unpublished. Hindes does not indicate genre, but my guess is that it's a novel. "Gath" dates it 1898. Again, whereabouts unknown.

25. Poems of Men and Events. New York: E. F . Bonaventure & Co., 1899. 328 pp. Gapland Edition [the only one] , 500 copies printed. This work, illustrated with photos and a pencil sketch, reprints many poems from earlier works and adds some new ones. It is a sort of "Selected Poetry" volume by which Townsend probably wanted to gain greater recognition as a poet during his lifetime. In the preface he indicates that it started out as a "Collected Poetry" volume which got shortened by printing limitations. "I therefore omitted," he says, "the poems in my book of 1875, and those published in Tales of the Chesapeake, Bohemian Days, and Poetical Addresss, and set to the front my latest pieces, not till now published, and added to them particular reproductions bearing out the title of this book, or in line with my present preferences and ideas Although the newspapers have been my bulrushes, holding me up, Poesy has been Pharaoh's daughter, raising me." A question is raised as to what he meant in referring to "my book of 1875." No source I've found refers to any book of his with that date. Was this a mistake? Did he mean 1870? Or did he publish another book that year that doesn't show up on the lists?

26. Poem by George Alfred Townsend Read at Drawyer's Presbyterian Church, New Castle County, Delaware, June 1st, 1902. Wilmington, Del,: "Every Evening" Press, n.d. [1902]. 31 pp. The "Gath" list ends at 1899, and Hindes lists this among the "Pamphlets and Shorter Publications," but it is longer than some works she includes in her book list. Like his other occasional poems, this one is filled with local scenes and references, and of special interest to Delawareana collectors.

27. Monticello and Its Preservation Since Jefferson's Death. Washington, D. C : 1902.56 pp. Pamphlet form. Listed by Hindes under "Pamphlets and Shorter Publications." Probably an offprint of a magazine article.

28. Houses of Brick Imported From England. Washington, D. C.: 1904. Listed by Hindes under "Pamphlets and Shorter Publications." No other information given.

29. John Andre. Unpublished manuscript. Hindes lists this among the "Pamphlets and Shorter Publications," then tells us it is a "Typewritten mss. (sic) of 170,000 words with six pen sketches written circa 1905." Clearly 170,000 words are enough for a substantial book, so this should be classed as another unpublished book-length work. Hindes appears to have seen this work, so it must have existed somewhere when she wrote her study. But where is it now? She gives no clue, nor does she indicate whether it was a novel, biography, or whatever.

30. Poems of the Delaware Peninsula. Hindes notes, "No publisher's information in book, but it was printed in Wilmington, Delaware: Every Evening Printing Company, 1913." 200 pp. Hindes also quotes the book's dedication, "To the Memory of Hannah Clegg Gould, 1780-1865, whose poems my Mother had me read in the parsonage, the only poetry ever there " (An 1883 encyclopaedia I have contains an article about a Hannah Flagg Gould, born 1789, died 1865, who published volumes of poetry between 1832 and 1854, so this is probably whom Townsend meant, and regarded as his first influence in the writing of poetry.) The preface to this book is by another hand than Townsend's, anonymous but well-informed, and the information given here is useful, including the fact that "in 1876, he repented of having left literature so long and revisited Delaware to find some themes that he could use for tales and books. "At intervals he made this quest a labor of love, using all his journalistic diligence to run down graveyards, court records, aged witnesses and localities, and collecting a library to inform his mind. So well did he lay up these lessons that in 1911, at the age of 71, while sick in the hospitals, he wrote, without any references, most of the poems in this book, for immediate publication." Given the book's specific references to people, places and events in Delaware, this was certainly a remarkable performance and one to command admiration. One can imagine "Gath" quoting those lines from the young Keats:

When I have fears that I may cease to be
Before my pen can glean my teeming brain

to urge himself on and get his memories into verse and onto paper before dying or losing his abilities to think and write. He did not long survive this book's publication, dying in 1914.

31. General Alfred T. A. Torbert Memorial taken from the Army-Navy Journal, November 13, 1880. N.P.[Wilmington]: Historical Society of Delaware, 1922. Hindes includes this in her "Pamphlets and Shorter Publications" and I list it here since, while it was not printed in book (or booklet) form until after Townsend's death, it is part of his literary legacy. It is also to be found occasionally at auction and is one of the easiest and least expensive of Townsend's works to acquire.

The preceding checklist is intended to demonstrate, among other things, that collecting Townsend's works offers a very considerable challenge. Even if one can acquire copies of all of the works that were printed — and collectors will need both diligence and luck to find and obtain half — there is still the task of locating those which were neverpublished but may still exist somewhere. Yet it's a worthy endeavor even if never entirely accomplished, for Townsend was manifestly one of the state's most versatile, productive and talented writers, and, even if he doesn't now shine among the biggest, brightest stars in America's literary heavens, he surely twinkles quite colorfully and clearly in our little comer of the sky. — JAS

Many Unpublished "Gath" Works Found
— John P Reid, 2005

In early 1993 I was editing the above checklist by Jerry Shields of George Alfred Townsend books. It was close to publication deadline, and in those days authors did not submit material as computer files. I was keyboarding from a typed copy. Something kept nagging me, but there was no time to investigate it.

Jerry kept mentioning Ruthanna Hindes 1946 landmark Townsend biography as if he did not know that Ruthanna was still alive and living in Hockessin after a distinguished career with the Historical Society of Delaware and the Hagley Museum Library. Maybe that was natural. Who would think that the author of book written 46 years ago was still available?

I knew Ruthanna through the Center for Creative Arts in Yorklyn where she taught silversmithing and was a frequent committee member for the center's antiques show. She was a tiny, energetic lady in her late 70s with strong opinions. When she heard that Jerry did not know her she exploded with mock rage, "He's trying to put me in my grave!"

I got the two of them together. Over lunch, they became good friends and a research team. Ruthanna remembered interviewing a nephew of Townsend in his home in New York state. There was a large wooden barrel of manuscripts and books the nephew let her go through and hurriedly catalog. What had happened to that barrel in the intervening half-century? With Ruthanna's help and Jerry's legwork, the barrel was located. It had been bequeathed to the Maryland State Archives in Annapolis.

In April 1996 the Delaware Heritage Press of the Delaware Heritage Commission published Gath's Literary Work and Folk and Other Selected Writings of George Alfred Townsend by Jerry Shields, which he dedicated to Hindes "who broke trail and pointed out the way."

The book starts with a 48-page biography of Gath. It adds much to our knowledge of this prolific author. It especially documents his life-long connection with Delaware, though he traveled and worked throughout the country and the world and is claimed equally by Delaware and Maryland.

Gath was a nationally-recognized newspaper columnist from the Civil War until almost the time of World War I. He wrote poetry and novels as well. His best-known work is The Entailed Hat, based in part on the life and crimes of Patty Cannon. Jerry tracked down a number of obscure, rare, and unpublished works and presents more than 300 pages of them. The high point in the collection is Gath's Literary Work and Folk, a 49-page previously unpublished manuscript, written in the last year of his life, explaining and justifying his literary career. Jerry supplies extensive annotation.

The book sheds new light on George Alfred Townsend and gives us many examples of his writing previously unknown or unavailable. It belongs on a Delaware book collector's shelf. In July 2005 the book is still available from the Delaware Heritage Commission in The Carvel State Office Building in Wilmington or at 121 Duke of York St., Dover, DE 19901.

Jerry and Ruthanna are no longer alive, but their work together forever enriched the world of Delaware books.

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