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John Kirk Townsend
John Kirk Townsend
Born August 10, 1809 (1809-08-10)
Died February 6, 1851 (1851-02-07) (aged 41)
Place of birth Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

John Kirk Townsend (August 10, 1809 – February 6, 1851) was an American naturalist, ornithologist and collector.

Townsend was a Quaker born in Philadelphia, the son of Charles Townsend and Priscilla Kirk. He attended Westtown School in West Chester, Pennsylvania and was trained as a physician and pharmacist. He developed an interest in natural history in general and bird collecting in particular. In 1833, he was invited by the botanist Thomas Nuttall to join him on Nathaniel Jarvis Wyeth's second expedition across the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Ocean. Townsend collected a number of animals new to science. These included birds such as the Mountain Plover, Vaux's Swift, Chestnut-collared Longspur, Black-throated Gray Warbler, Townsend's Warbler and Sage Thrasher, and a number of mammals such as the Douglas Squirrel; several of these were described by Bachman (1839)[1] from samples collected by Townsend.


John Kirk Townsend was the son of Charles Townsend and Priscilla Kirk, he had five brothers and four sisters. His sister Mary wrote a book called, "Life In the Insect World" in 1844. And Mary and another sister, Hannah, wrote "The Anti-Slavery Alphabet" in 1846, which was sold at the Anti-Slavery Fair in Philadelphia. His brother Edward was President of the Philadelphia Institution for Instruction of the Blind and helped organize the Philadelphia Dental College.[2]


While at Wyeth’s Fort William in Oregon, Townsend served as the appointed magistrate to the first public trial by Europeans in Oregon.[3] This occurred when the post’s gunsmith, Thomas J. Hubbard, attacked and killed the fort’s tailor in an argument over a young native girl.[3] The gunsmith was acquitted by a jury when they ruled the death was justifiable homicide.[3]


On his return, Townsend wrote The Narrative of a Journey across the Rocky Mountains to the Columbia River and a Visit to the Sandwich Islands (1839).

A number of mammals are named for Townsend, including Townsend's Ground Squirrel (Spermophilus townsendii), Townsend's Chipmunk (Tamias townsendii), Townsend's Pocket Gopher (Thomomys townsendii), Townsend's Mole (Scapanus townsendii), Townsend's Vole (Microtus townsendii), and the Whitetail Jackrabbit (Lepus townsendii).


  1. Bachman, J. (1839) Description of several new Species of American quadrupeds. Journal of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, 8, 57-74.
  2. "Early American Nature Writers: A Biographical Encyclopedia," by Daniel Patterson, Roger Thompson, J. Scott Bryson, 2008
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 "Narrative of a Journey". New and Recent OSU Press Books. OSU Press. Retrieved 2007-01-23. 
  4. | + | {{#strreplace: & | %26 | J.K.Towns. }} }} "Author Query for 'J.K.Towns.'". International Plant Names Index.{{#strreplace: | + | {{#strreplace: & | %26 | J.K.Towns. }} }}. 

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