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700 College Pl
Williamsport, PA, 17701
United States

Biography

Early Life Before the War:

David Allen was born of Scottish heritage on  June 24, 1761 in Ireland.[1] By the age of two years old, Allen and his father were “on the sea” and eventually settled in Chester County, Pennsylvania where the family resided for roughly seven years before they moved to Campbelltown in Lebanon County, then part of Lancaster County. The Allen family was most likely Presbyterian; David’s Scottish heritage, Irish birth, where his family settled upon arriving in Pennsylvania, and his burial in a Presbyterian cemetery supports this assumption. The Scots-Irish were native Scots that migrated to Ireland in the seventeenth century, forming a large Presbyterian community in Ulster, Ireland; that community later migrated in a second wave from Ireland to Pennsylvania in the eighteenth century.[2]

Scottish and English Presbyterians faced persecution during the Restoration of the monarchy after the Cromwell regime, which prompted many to immigrate to Ireland throughout the seventeenth century.[3] During the beginning decades of the eighteenth century, the Presbyterian population began to migrate to North America in increasing numbers reaching a high of 12,000 people leaving Ulster yearly.[4] This in part was due to the internal conflicts within Northern Ireland.[5] Immigration from Ireland surged in the mid-eighteenth century; however, despite the Catholic majority in Ireland an overwhelming majority of the immigrants were Presbyterian. The total number of Scots-Irish that had come to Pennsylvania between 1767 and 1774 was approximately 96,000 immigrants.[6] David Allen would have been part of that second migration as he moved from Ireland around the age of two. These Scots-Irish immigrants largely populated the frontier, just to the east of the Alleghany Mountains.

On February 13, 1764, settlers from Lancaster, York, Cumberland, Berks, and Northampton Counties sent a petition to the Pennsylvania Governor, John Penn, asking for redress of grievances that had, for many years, inflamed the minds of backcountry inhabitants. The frontiersmen argued that they were British subjects equal with those in the eastern counties and ought to have the “same privileges and immunities.”[7] They called for equal access to justice and for localized courts in their counties and not only in Philadelphia, Chester or Bucks Counties. They argued that the frontiersmen would be able to accomplish these reforms  if they had equal representation in the Assembly. When such supplications failed, violent extralegal mobilizations erupted, creating chaos and confusion in their wake and further alienating many from those in power. Based on the account given in his pension file, David Allen settled on that same frontier around 1769 or 1770. Although he  arrived after the petition was sent, David would have no doubt been affected by the same grievances expressed in the petition and would have experienced the extralegal attempts to rectify those grievances. 

Many of the problems frontiersmen complained about revolved around the social, political, and diplomatic place of Native Americans in and around the colony. According to backcountry inhabitants, the eastern colonial government catered to the Indians and refused to defend the colonists on the frontier during two destructive Indian wars. Although there were forts for the colonials’ protection, they were not “serviceable.”[8]  These forts were not defending the frontier properly.[9]  As the Indian wars raged on the frontier, frontiersmen complained that the same Native Americans who slaughtered frontier colonials were obtaining refuge in the eastern capital of the colony under the guise of friendship and were being “maintained at the public expence.”[10]  Settlers on the frontier were outraged that their government was taking care of the “friendly” natives, with whom they were at war, and not their fellow British subjects on the frontier.[11]  In response, they petitioned the government, asking them to take better care of their veterans, to reinstate monetary incentives for Indian scalps, and most importantly, they asked the government to cease trading with the natives until the colonists held captive by the Indians were freed. Unfortunately, these grievances and petitions went unheeded. These ignored grievances began the transition from the formal petitions for reform to the revolutionary fervor that led men like David Allen to join in the War for Independence.

Unresolved political and social issues plaguing the frontier as well as the political rhetoric in Presbyterian churches throughout the colonies motivated David Allen and other Scotch-Irish Presbyterians on the frontier of Pennsylvania to take up arms against the British.  As extra-legal groups, such as the Paxton Boys, attempted to assuage the frontiersmen’s grievances, Presbyterian rhetoric from the pulpit described and advocated political ideals and the Christian state of nature.[12] Ministers throughout the colonies argued that government existed for the benefit of the general public and they began to reason for revolution as the possibility of war grew throughout the 1750s and 1760s.[13] As member of the Scotch-Irish Presbyterian population on the frontier, David Allen was exposed to the social unrest as well as the Presbyterian rhetoric. He and his fellow frontiersmen had limited access to the legal system and he had seen the failures of the current political system to address military defense. As he witnessed this political unrest, Presbyterian ministers encouraged and inflamed ideas of resistance and revolution, as they discussed the state of nature and invoked natural law.[14] While his personal motivation for joining the war may remain unknown, David Allen was undoubtedly influenced by both the grievances of the frontiersmen, as well as the politically charged rhetoric of Presbyterian ministers.

Service During the War:

David Allen volunteered for the militia in July or August of 1776 shortly after the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Throughout his service in the military, he played a variety of roles in the quest for independence. Allen primarily served in more routine aspects of the war, and he fought in only one battle. He transported supplies, he hampered British advances by cutting bridges, and he campaigned against the Indians.

When he first volunteered for the militia, David Allen was marched up into New York and encamped at Paulus Hook from which he and his fellow soldiers could see the Battle of Long Island. Allen then marched to Fort Lee and later to York Island, where he engaged in several skirmishes along the way to White Plains. While Allen was within the lines at the Battle of White Plains, he was not actually engaged in combat. On October 9th, three British ships sailed up the Hudson past Fort Lee, Fort Constitution, and finally Fort Washington towards White Plains in an attempt to outflank the Americans by water.[15] The rest of the British fleet sailed through Hell’s Gate into the Long Island Sound and landed at Throg’s Neck. When hearing the news of the British arrival at Throg’s Neck, Washington recognized their strategy and began to withdraw to White Plains.[16] When the British arrived at White Plains on October 28, Washington already held the high ground. As the British marched, it seemed that they wanted to engage in the open field, an option Washington wanted avoid.[17] One column of the British line turned sharply toward Chatterton’s Hill which, although controlled by Americans, was a last minute decision and was occupied by mainly militiamen like Allen.[18]  Despite heavy casualties, the British overcame the poorly organized militia in Chatterton’s Hill, determining the Battle of White Plains. For four days the fighting ceased. When the British moved again, they marched southwest to King’s Bridge to trap the Americans and force them to surrender.[19] As General Washington and the army began their retreat, David Allen was ordered to set large fires in the aftermath of the battle to confuse the enemy. The British pursued the Americans to Brunswick and, Allen reported, “hit the streets of Brunswick with Grape Shot.” 

After the Battle of White Plains, David Allen enlisted in the Flying Camp for five months. Flying Camps were a creation of mid-1776 that would allow available and reliable troops to fill in the gaps of the continental line.[20] Flying Camps were assembled in a piecemeal fashion, without giving the soldiers much notice. By mid-1776, Washington was hard pressed for soldiers, as the focus of the war split between the middle colonies in New York and a campaign in Canada.[21] Pennsylvanian Flying Camps, such as the 1st Regiment Flying Camp of Lancaster County, 1776, in which David Allen was enlisted, participated in much of the New York Campaign.

 Once he had completed his five months of service in the Flying Camp, David Allen returned home and after a year he enlisted as a boatman in General John Sullivan’s Campaign, a 1779 operation against the Iroquois Confederacy.[22] There were three different divisions to the expedition: Sullivan himself led the first division, which marched from Easton, Pennsylvania, to Wyoming along the Susquehanna and onto Tioga Point.[23] David Allen was most likely a member of this first division, because in his pension file, he states that he “convey[ed] provisions to Tioga.” The second division, led by General George Clinton, marched through Onondaga country to meet up with Sullivan at Tioga.[24] Although General Clinton was also headed to Tioga, Allen’s participation as a boatman seems to fit better with Sullivan’s intended path along the Susquehanna River through the Indian country. The last division, headed by Colonel Daniel Brodhead, left from Pittsburgh and marched 380 miles through Indian country destroying corn, houses, and gardens.[25] Originally, Brodhead was to meet up with Sullivan in Genesee and mount an attack on Niagara, but that plan did not come to fruition.[26] Sullivan’s Campaign delivered a decisive blow to the native peoples who in Pennsylvania and New York.

David Allen served his first two months in the Pennsylvania militia in the Second Battalion of Lancaster County under Captain Casper Ewill and Colonel Curtis Grubb.[27] He then served five months in the 1st Regiment Flying Camp of Lancaster County, 1776, and then three months as a wagoner. After serving five months as a boatman in Sullivan’s Campaign, David Allen served in the First Battalion of Militia in Cumberland County in the Company commanded by James Howell and Major John Elliot as a substitute for Hugh McCormick for two months. He finished his service with another battalion for two more months before a substitute took his place. Allen served a total of 19 months; however that time was not served consecutively. For example, after his service in the Flying Camp, Allen took an entire year off from combat before he again enlisted as a wagoner. David Allen’s extensive service, although not necessarily consecutive, illustrates his dedication to the cause and shows his revolutionary fervor.

Life After the War:

David Allen was 16 at the time of his enlistment and it is not likely that he was married at that time; however he did marry Mary Nelson Allen either during the war or after, and the couple had two daughters, Martha and Mary Jane Allen. After the war, Allen describes the mobility of his family as they moved from Lancaster County, to Northumberland County, and finally settled down in Wilkes Township located in Juniata County. It was in Juniata County where he related his story as a Revolutionary War veteran in open court and received his pension totaling $79.98. He resided in Juniata County until his death on August 18, 1839 at the age of 78. David Allen is buried in Glebe Cemetery, which was established in 1773; this cemetery is also known as Cedar Spring Presbyterian Cemetery and  is located in Mifflintown, Juniata County, Pennsylvania.[28] On his grave is written “Christian and Soldier of the Revolution.”[29] The inscription on his grave illustrates David Allen’s character and self-identity; he was a Christian first, which then led him to serve as a “Soldier of the Revolution.”[30]

Sarah Donovan

Lycoming College

 

Endnotes

[1] “Find a Grave: David Allen,” findagrave.com http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=88858210&ref=acom (accessed March 29, 2015).

[2] Guy Soulliard Klett Presbyterians in Colonial Pennsylvania (Philadelphia PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1937).

[3] Guy Soulliard Klett Presbyterians in Colonial Pennsylvania (Philadelphia PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1937) 12.

[4] Ibid., 22.

[5] Ibid., 22.

[6] Ibid., 36.

[7] "A Remonstrance From The Pennsylvania Frontier," in Documents for Colonial and Revolutionary America, (New York, 2015), 9.

[8] "A Remonstrance From The Pennsylvania Frontier," 14.

[9] "A Remonstrance From The Pennsylvania Frontier," 14.

[10] “A Remonstrance From The Pennsylvania Frontier," 11.

[11]"A Remonstrance From The Pennsylvania Frontier," 12.

[12] Christopher Pearl, “Pulpits of Revolution: Presbyterian Political Thought in the Era of the American Revolution” Journal of Presbyterian History (Forthcoming, 2016), 2. In author’s possession.

[13] Pearl, “Pulpits of Revolution: Presbyterian Political Thought in the Era of the American Revolution” 7,10.

[14] Pearl, “Pulpits of Revolution: Presbyterian Political Thought in the Era of the American Revolution” 10.

[15] David McCullough, 1776, (New York NY: Simon and Schuster, 2005) 228-229.

[16] Ibid., 230.

[17] “Extract of a Letter from White Plains, Dated Oct. 28, 1776, at Two o'clock, P. M.,” Pennsylvania Ledger, (02, November 1776), issue XCIII, p. 3.

[18] Ibid., 232-233.

[19] Ibid., 234.

[20] Francis E. Devine “The Pennsylvania Flying Camp, July-November 1776,” Pennsylvania History, vol.46, no. 1, (January 1979): 59-78.

[21] Ibid., 59-78.

[22] Sherman Williams “The Organization of Sullivan’s Expedition,” Proceedings of the New York State Historical Association, vol. 6, (1906), 29-36.

[23] Ibid., 29-36.

[24] Ibid., 29-36.

[25] Ibid., 29-36.

[26] Ibid., 29-36.

[27] Thomas Lynch Montgomery, Pennsylvania Archives: Muster Rolls of General Officers in the Pennsylvania Militia 1743-1787 series 5, vol. 5, (Harrisburg PA: Harrisburg Publishing Company State Printer, 1906).

[28] “Find a Grave: David Allen,” findagrave.com http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=pis&PIcrid=2291055&PIpi=15501493&PIMode=cemetery (accessed March 29, 2015).

[29] Ibid.

[30] Ibid.