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Correspondence, Documents, Papers Concerning the Fraudulent Claims of the heirs of the Lawrence-Chase-Townley Estate, 1873-1898

39 letters, 115 manuscript pages, (24 retained mailing envelopes) and 1 memorandum and accts book (81 manuscript pp.); plus related ephemeral material: 18 pieces (35 pp.) of manuscript ephemera; 15 pieces of printed ephemera (circulars, advertisements etc.); 15 newspaper clippings, 1 printed pamphlet (approximately 40 pp.), 2 postcards, and 1 calling card; all related to the Lawrence-Chase-Townley Estate and its supposed “heirs” and the various efforts of the association to defraud this estate.

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History of the Lawrence-Townley, or Chase-Townley Estate


Lawrence-Chase-Townley Associations, now considered fraudulent, were formed in the United States and Canada in the mid and late 1800s. Members of the Lawrence, Chase, and Townley families were approached with a story about a family estate in England originally belonging to Sir Richard Townley to which they were entitled, and invited to subscribe to a fund for the prosecution of its rightful claim to that estate. While a Townley estate did exist in England, there were no absent heirs, and therefore no claim to be made by American or Canadian Townley descendants.


The background of the long running hoax was that it was asserted and believed that there was in England a sum of money, variously estimated from three hundred to five hundred million dollars, which belonged to, and could be recovered by, lawful heirs of John Lawrence and Mary Townley, his wife. The origin of the family and of the fund had been at times differently stated in accounts given by the various claimants seeking recovery of the estate.

Richard Townley, the ancestor of Townley of Lancashire, England, owned vast estates, which descended through several generations to Richard Townley, of Townley Hall, who married Mary, the daughter of Lord Widrington, and had two sons, and two daughters, viz: Mary and Dorothy. Mary married John Lawrence, and Dorothy married Sir Francis Howard, afterwards Lord Effingham, who owned vast estates in Corby, including the famous Corby Castle.


Mary Townley and her husband John Lawrence immigrated to America about the year 1713 and died in Massachusetts leaving one son, Jonathan. Lord Effingham died without issue, and his wife became sole heir to his estate. She soon died leaving her estate to Mary Townley Lawrence in America; and by failure of a male line of Richard Townley, his estate reverted to his daughter, Mary Townley Lawrence, thus the line of inheritance was through the one son (Jonathan) of John Lawrence and Mary Townley who immigrated to America.


When Richard Townley, the father of Mary Lawrence, died, his will was proved and recorded at Doctors' Commons, in London, on 10 October 1735, leaving his widow surviving. The latter died in 1740, leaving her vast estates in land, jewels, plate and money in the Bank of England, by will to her two daughters, Mary Lawrence and her heirs in America, and Dorothy Howard, of Corby Castle, England, and to their heirs and at their disposal.

Dorothy Howard died in 1757 without issue and willed her estates, both real and personal, to her sister Mary Lawrence, in America, and to her heirs forever. These two estates at that time, for want of an heir in the name of Mary Townley Lawrence, were administered by the Government of England, and all the landed estates were held and rented by the government and the rents, as well as money, jewels and plate of Mary Widrington Townley and Dorothy Howard were deposited in the Bank of England drawing interest at three percent a year on the money deposited. It was this fortune sitting in the Bank of England for over a century that drew the attention of covetous impostors in the late 19th Century. The estate was caught up in legal battles with the supposed descendants and heirs fighting for recovery of this by now immense sum of money. In the late 19th century there were supposedly several hundred plus claimants many of whom were caught up in associations such as those outlined in this correspondence; however, it was all eventually proved to be a hoax and a fraud.


After the death of Colonel John Townley, last of Richard's male line of descent, the British Parliament devised the Townley Estates Act, which divided the estate among seven heirs. Several of the Lawrence-Chase-Townley associations sought to challenge the distribution. A High Court solicitor named Howell Thomas took their case, but the court dismissed the action as frivolous, as it was based on the fraudulent genealogies created by the Association. Though a book, The Lawrence, Chase, Townley Estate: The Mystery Solved, was published in 1888 to debunk the myth of the Townley estate, the Associations continued their activities until after the First World War.


Description of Collection


Correspondence includes 10 letters from 1873; 11 letters from 1885; 15 letters from 1886; and 1 each from 1896 and 1898, and 1 undated letter. The ephemeral material appears to date from the same general time period (1873-1898). The majority of the correspondence was written either to Mrs. Sarah Chase Fox, or her husband, Mr. J.B. Fox. Mrs. Fox was one of the "supposed" heirs who were attempting to recover the monies from the famed Lawrence-Chase-Townley Estate.


The letters of 1873 are all addressed to Mr. J. B. Fox of Chicago. They were written by Wm. C. Stevens (Princeville, Illinois); Franklin M. Chase (Ann Arbor, Michigan); Dr. John B. Chase (Taunton, Massachusetts); Joshua Chase (Hammonsville, Kentucky), and Henry S. Chase (Cornish Flats, New Hampshire). All of the letters are written in response to inquiries by Fox about the genealogy of the families involved in the Lawrence-Chase-Townley Estate case, etc.


The letters from 1885 and 1886 were written primarily to Mrs. Sarah Chase Fox (23 letters), the wife of J.B. Fox. The remaining 3 letters were written to J. B. Fox (1); a Mr. E.D. Thorne, of St. Louis, Missouri; and Wallace Stevens, of Terre Haute, Indiana. Mrs. Fox received letters from her husband (1); G. W. C. of Olathe, Kansas S.M. Warriner, of Oneida Co., New York; John W. McDonald, of Ft. Scott, Kansas (3); Geo. F. Chase, of Taunton, Massachusetts (2); Cha. H. Wallace, of Kirwin, Kansas; M.A. Boynton, of Muskegon, Michigan; Mrs. Jud Clark, of Fairbanks, Nebraska (3); Laura Ann Bingham, of Northfield, Michigan; H.H. Weir of Carlinville, Illinois; John Osburn, of Ashley, Ohio (2); brother Wm. S. Chase of Canton, Ohio; C. Wood Davis, Wichita, Kansas (2); F. E. Chase, Havana and Centralia, Illinois (2); Mrs. J. O. Kinney, New York City; Mrs. B.S. George, Concord, Massachusetts.  


The letter written to J.B. Fox is from the American Consul at Cuba, the letter to Wm. Stevens being written by F. Alden Held, of Washington, D.C. The correspondence relates to the Lawrence-Chase-Townley Estate, the claimants and general information and developments in the case, as well as other claimants coming forward, etc.


The two letters from the 1896 and 1898 were written to Sylvester S. Chase, of Baldwin, Iowa and were written by a W.S. Chase of Cleveland and Canton, Ohio. These two letters do not deal with the Lawrence-Chase-Townley Estate, but concern instead family matters.


The ephemeral material consists of 1 memorandum and accts book (81 mss pp.); plus printed and manuscript ephemera, including: 18 pieces (35 pp.) of manuscript ephemera such as memorandum notes, genealogy; 15 pieces of printed ephemera (circulars, printed proceedings of meetings, etc.); 15 newspaper clippings, 1 printed pamphlet (approx 40 pp.), 2 postcards, and 1 calling card, with all material related to the Lawrence-Chase-Townley Estate heirs and efforts of the associations.