William Parnell Townsend, planter, businessman, and Confederate officer, was born in Mississippi, on August 7, 1822, to Thomas Townsend and Tabitha Parnell. He fought in the Mexican War before marrying Almira Jennings on March 27, 1856, in Lowndes County, Mississippi. This couple had two sons and three daughters. Townsend settled in Robertson County in 1852 and played a key role in establishing that county as a major source of cotton in Texas. By 1860 he had prospered considerably, increasing the number of slaves he owned over the decade from thirteen to twenty-nine and boasting $13,500 in real estate and $25,750 in personal property. In September 1860 Townsend joined Robertson County's leading citizens in passing a resolution calling for the secession of Texas from the Union in the event of the secession of another Southern state. In May 1861 he raised a company of infantry, called the "Robertson Five Shooters," for service in the Confederacy. This unit trained in Central Texas throughout the summer of 1861. In September of that year, it was sent by rail to Virginia where it was incorporated into the Fourth Texas Infantry Regiment as Company C, and Townsend was made its captain. With this unit, Townsend participated in actions at the battles of Gaines' Mill and Second Bull Run and received promotion to major. At Second Bull Run, he was wounded and lost his left foot.
Following his injury, Townsend returned to Robertson County where he contributed to the Confederate war effort by establishing a cotton, wool, and flour factory, known as the Brazos Manufacturing Company, near Hearne. In addition to cash, Townsend pledged fifty bales of cotton. In 1869 Townsend was among several prominent Robertson County men who established the town of Sterling in hopes of taking advantage of the extension of a railroad beyond Hearne. His wife Almira died on November 25, 1873, during a yellow fever epidemic. Townsend died on October 24, 1882, and is buried next to his wife at the Calvert City Cemetery in Robertson County, Texas.