Allen, Augustus Chapman (1806–1864)

By: Amelia W. Williams

Type: Biography

Published: 1952

Updated: August 18, 2016

Augustus Chapman Allen, early settler and founder of Houston, son of Roland and Sarah (Chapman) Allen, was born at Canaseraga, New York, on July 4, 1806. At the age of seventeen he graduated from the Polytechnic Institute at Chittenango, New York, and began to teach mathematics there. In 1827 he resigned his professorship to accept a place as bookkeeper for the H. and H. Canfield Company, New York. Two years later he and his brother John K. Allen bought an interest in the Canfield business. On May 3, 1831, Augustus Allen married Charlotte Marie Baldwin in Onondaga, New York. They had four children, but only one child, daughter Martha Elizabeth, lived to adulthood. In the summer of 1832 the Allen brothers withdrew from the firm to move to Texas, where they settled first at San Augustine. By June 1833 they were established in Nacogdoches. There they joined a coterie of land speculators and soon were engaged in a variety of enterprises, chief of which was traffic in land certificates. When the Texas Revolution broke out, the Allens did not join the Texas army, but they rendered services to the country by fitting out, at their own expense, a vessel to protect the Texas coast and to land troops and supplies for the army.

Late in 1836 the Allen brothers bought the John Austin half league, which lay along Buffalo Bayou not far from Harrisburg. Upon investigation they found that the bayou contained sufficient water for navigation and that the site was beautiful, so they decided to establish a town and name it for Sam Houston. Early in 1837 the father, mother, four brothers, and a sister of the Allens arrived in Texas to make their home. All six brothers became prominent figures in the economic and social life of Texas. In developing their town the Allens pursued a policy of donating many town blocks to institutions, municipal and religious, and to various persons whom they wished to honor. Perhaps their cleverest scheme for inducing growth was to have the Texas Congress select Houston as capital of the Republic of Texas. In October 1836 John Allen promised Congress that the Allens would construct, by their own means, an adequate capitol as a donation to the government. Other buildings to accommodate the officials were to be rented at the nominal sum of seventy-five dollars a month. In the event of the removal of the government from Houston, the capitol and the other buildings were to revert to the builders. Congress accepted the proposal, and early in May 1837 the seat of government was moved from Columbia to Houston.

In 1837 it was difficult for travelers in Texas to find accommodations or food. The Allens opened their own comfortable home, without charge, to all who needed lodging. Their bookkeeper, William R. Baker, testified that although this hospitality cost more than $3,000 a year, the Allens considered it an expense that would bring rich returns in the development of their city. In addition to developing Houston, the Allens had other extensive interests. They were owners of more than a hundred leagues of land, shareholders in the Galveston City Company (see GALVESTON, TEXAS), and partners of Thomas F. McKinney and Samuel May Williams in the firm of McKinney, Williams and Company. It is said that the Allens obtained funds from friends in New York and placed their youngest brother, Harvey H., in the business to represent their interests.

On August 15, 1838, John Allen died of congestive fever. He left no will. At a family conference, his brothers waived their rights to share in his estate in favor of their father and mother, but by 1841 both parents were dead, and the four other brothers demanded of Augustus Allen their shares in John K. Allen's estate. Various interests made the business so complex that the only way to settle such an estate was by assignment. Allen began the tedious process of winding up the business in 1843, when a more perplexing problem arose. Much of the money that Augustus C. and John K. Allen had used in their early enterprises was the inheritance of Augustus's wife, Charlotte Allen. She became dissatisfied with the methods being employed in the settlement of the Allen brothers' business, and this dissatisfaction finally resulted in a separation, without divorce, from her husband in 1850; both husband and wife pledged to keep the details of their troubles secret.

Allen's health failed completely, and he decided to leave Houston. He signed over to his wife the bulk of what remained of his many enterprises and went to Mexico to seek health and a new start in life. During the early years of the 1840s he had engaged in business relations with Benito Juárez; in Mexico the two men became friends. In 1852 Allen was appointed United States consul for the port of Tehuantepec on the Pacific Ocean, and in 1858 he was given the same position for the port of Minotitlán. These offices gave him control of the consular affairs of the United States for the entire Isthmus of Tehuantepec, a commercially important position since a trade route-probably a canal-through that region was contemplated. Allen, in partnership with an Englishman named Welsh, developed an extensive private shipping business. Allen was never able to recover his health, however, and realized in 1864 that he was critically ill; he closed his private business and went to Washington, D.C., to resign his consulships. Soon after arriving there he contracted pneumonia. He died on January 11, 1864, and was buried in Greenwood Cemetery, Brooklyn, New York. A Texas Historical Marker was erected in his honor in Houston in 2005, and Allen Parkway in Houston was named for Allen and his family.

O. F. Allen, The City of Houston from Wilderness to Wonder (Temple, Texas, 1936). Eugene C. Barker, ed., The Austin Papers (3 vols., Washington: GPO, 1924–28). William Campbell Binkley, ed., Official Correspondence of the Texan Revolution, 1835–1836 (2 vols., New York: Appleton-Century, 1936). John Henry Brown, Indian Wars and Pioneers of Texas (Austin: Daniell, 1880; reprod., Easley, South Carolina: Southern Historical Press, 1978). Daily National Republican (Washington, D.C.), January 12, 1864. Historical Marker Files, Texas Historical Commission, Austin. Houston Daily Post, July 14, 1895. New York Times, January 15, 1864. Amelia W. Williams and Eugene C. Barker, eds., The Writings of Sam Houston, 1813–1863 (8 vols., Austin: University of Texas Press, 1938–43; rpt., Austin and New York: Pemberton Press, 1970). Dudley Goodall Wooten, ed., A Comprehensive History of Texas (2 vols., Dallas: Scarff, 1898; rpt., Austin: Texas State Historical Association, 1986).

Time Periods:
  • Mexican Texas
  • Texas Revolution
  • Republic of Texas
  • Antebellum Texas
  • Houston
  • Upper Gulf Coast
  • East Texas

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Amelia W. Williams, “Allen, Augustus Chapman,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 22, 2022,

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August 18, 2016

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