Lawyer Thomas Chasteene Townsend (August 14, 1877-November 5, 1949) is most remembered for defending union coal miners on charges including treason during the 1922 trials arising from the Battle of Blair Mountain. Townsend was born in Fayette County. He grew up working in the coal mines, before saving enough money to attend West Virginia University. In 1903, Townsend opened a law office in Fayetteville.
From 1909 to 1911 and again after 1929, Townsend served as the state tax commissioner. He was elected as Kanawha County’s prosecuting attorney in 1912. As tax commissioner, he worked to change the state’s tax structure to remove the burden from low-income families. In addition, he drafted the legislation that put into effect the state’s uniform system of accounting.
In 1921, Townsend was hired by the United Mine Workers of America to defend miners and union leaders for their part in the March on Logan and the ensuing Battle of Blair Mountain. Townsend’s successful defense of Bill Blizzard and other UMWA leaders during the Charles Town trials gained him enormous prestige and secured his position with the miners’ union for the rest of his life.
Townsend ran for governor on the Republican ticket in 1932 with the support of the UMWA and the West Virginia Federation of Labor, but he could not distance himself from the tarnished reputation of the Hoover administration. Herman Guy Kump defeated him by 59,665 votes. Townsend died in Charleston.
This Article was written by C. Belmont Keeney
Last Revised on November 05, 2010