William Allen: The Squire of Mt. Airy

William Allen, the British loyalist who lived on what is today the LTSP campus, might well also be buried there, speculates historian/writer Frank Whelan.

Whelan, retired from the staff of the Allentown Morning Call newspaper and author of four books and thousands of articles on local history, gave a fascinating historical perspective on Allen Sept. 26, the day William Allen Plaza was dedicated only hundreds of feet from the location on the LTSP campus where Allen's principal residence was once located. Whelan noted he's never been able to figure out the location of Allen's final resting place, or that of Allen's third son, James, about whom Whelan is now writing. But the historian said that Allen, the Pennsylvania colony's Chief Justice for 24 years in the colonies prior to the American Revolution and founder in 1762 of what is known today as Allentown, died in 1780 during the Revolution, which sometimes raged outside his front door (during the Battle of Germantown). He is believed to have died at the residence, later confiscated by the newly independent state. Whelan concludes that it is logical Allen, a loyalist who could be critical of British policies like the Stamp Act, but who feared the anarchy that could arise if the colonies gained independence, probably wouldn't have been removed to a burial place of honor in Philadelphia or elsewhere. It's more likely he would have been buried near where he died.

Whelan detailed much of what IS known about Allen, a staunch and shrewd business leader and trader in the colonies whose demeanor could dramatically differ depending on whether he was in his commercial element or living the more relaxed country lifestyle he loved in Mt. Airy. First and foremost for Allen is that "everything he did was to try to better and secure the future for his family." But in later life, despite all he did as a philanthropist, Allen, once the wealthiest man in the colonies, lost nearly everything because of his loyalist leanings. He had been a gifted land speculator and owned more land in the colonies than anyone else outside of the Penn family, Whelan told his seminary audience.

A diary kept by Daniel Fisher of Williamsburg, VA, who sought employment from Allen in 1755, gives insight to Allen's Mt. Airy residence. Fisher described Allen's home on what is now the LTSP campus as a small stone structure close to the road, making dust a troublesome issue. He described the home as "dusty and tasteless." Fisher described the lack of landscaping and, though Allen fashioned himself as a gardener, Fisher wrote of his doubts a garden would survive well in the scorching open heat of Mt.Airy. (Allen was fond of cauliflower and beans and he raised edibles only in his garden. He also loved cheese and wine, which led to troubles with gout. His antidote was tea.) Fisher was treated sternly when visiting Allen at his counting house seeking work, and was told to go home to Williamsburg. But when the insistent young man later came to Mt. Airy, he was greeted hospitably at the front door by Allen himself, and offered a tankard of beer, conversation, a tour of the garden and later on tea.

Whelan said that even though Allen received an education in law in early life and sat on the colonial Pennsylvania bench for 24 years, he exhibited no real interest during his lifetime in the practice of law. He formed a highly successful business trading enterprise with Sea Captain John Turner, and traded directly with with French, Spanish and Dutch colonies, violating regulations demanding that traders "stop at London first," Whelan noted. Later on, Allen shifted to land speculation, believing that direction to be more secure than dealing with trans-Atlantic trading, where ships could sink, leading to a ruinous outcome.

Whelan said Allen was not alone in his loyalist views in the colonies. "One third of the colonists opposed the move toward independence, and 80,000 to 100,000 crossed the Canadian border" in the 1770s rather than choosing to be disloyal to the British cause.

in the photo: (rear) LTSP Librarian Dr. Karl Krueger, LTSP President The Rev. Dr. Philip Krey, EMAN President Dan Muroff, Author/Historian Frank Whelan, (front) LTSP Grants Director Natalie Hand, Researcher Mary Redline