Townsend was born on August 24, 1824 in Morganfield, Kentucky. Townsend moved to Putnam County, Indiana with his family. He later moved to Albia, Iowa.
He studied law and was admitted to the Iowa Barometer
He served in the Iowa House of Representatives from December 6, 1852 to December 3, 1854 and later served as Iowa district judge. Townsend died on April 23, 1892 in Albia, Iowa, at the age of 67.