Allen, John Kirby (1810–1838)

By: Amelia W. Williams

Type: Biography

Published: 1952

Updated: August 20, 2016

John Kirby Allen, founder of Houston, legislator, and backer of the Texas Revolution, fourth son of Roland and Sarah (Chapman) Allen, was born at Orrville, near Syracuse, New York, in 1810. He took his first job—that of callboy in a hotel at Orrville—when he was seven. Three years later he became a clerk in a store. At sixteen he went into partnership with a young friend named Kittredge in a hat store at Chittenango, New York, where his brother, Augustus C. Allen, was professor of mathematics until 1827. John Allen sold his interest in the hat store and followed his brother to New York City, where they were stockholders in H. and H. Canfield Company until 1832, when they moved to Texas. They settled in Nacogdoches around 1833 and engaged in land speculation.

At the beginning of the Texas Revolution the Allen brothers did not join the armed forces but rendered more valuable, and equally dangerous, service in other ways. At their own expense they fitted out the Brutus for the purpose of protecting the Texas coast and for assisting troops and supplies from the United States to land safely in Texas. When some of the members of the Texas provisional government objected to the activities of privateers under letters of marque, the Allens, in January 1836, sold the Brutus to the Texas Navy at cost. The brothers also served on committees to raise loans on Texas lands and became receivers and dispensers of supplies and funds without charge to the republic. In spite of these services there was considerable gossip and censure concerning the Allens because they were not in the armed services.

In August 1836 the Allen brothers purchased more than 6,600 acres of land around Buffalo Bayou and founded the city of Houston. In September 1836 John Allen was elected a representative from Nacogdoches to the Texas Congress. He served as congressman from Nacogdoches and was on the president's staff with the rank of major. In partnership with James Pinckney Henderson he operated a shipping business. Allen was never married. He contracted a “bilious fever” (possibly yellow fever or malaria) and died at his brother’s home in Houston on August 15, 1838. He was buried in Founders Memorial Cemetery, Houston. A Centennial marker was erected in his honor in 1936, and a Texas Historical Marker was erected in 1968. Allen Parkway in Houston is named for Allen and his family.

William Campbell Binkley, ed., Official Correspondence of the Texan Revolution, 1835–1836 (2 vols., New York: Appleton-Century, 1936). James E. Buchanan, comp. and ed., Houston: A Chronological and Documentary History, 1519–1970 (Dobbs Ferry, New York: Oceana, 1975). Diplomatic Correspondence of the Republic of Texas, ed. George Pierce Garrison (3 parts, Washington: GPO, 1908–11). Clarence Pekham Dunbar, Houston, 1836–1936: Chronology and Review (Houston: Business Research and Publications Source, 1936). Historical Marker Files, Texas Historical Commission, Austin. Jim Hutton, Houston: A History of A Giant (Tulsa, Oklahoma: Continental Heritage, 1976). Marie Phelps McAshan, A Houston Legacy: On the Corner of Main and Texas (Houston: Gulf, 1985). Telegraph and Texas Register, August 18, 1838; September 1, 1838. Texas House of Representatives, Biographical Directory of the Texan Conventions and Congresses, 1832–1845 (Austin: Book Exchange, 1941).

  • First Congress (1836-1837)
  • House
Time Periods:
  • Mexican Texas
  • Texas Revolution
  • Republic of 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, John Kirby,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 22, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

All copyrighted materials included within the Handbook of Texas Online are in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107 related to Copyright and “Fair Use” for Non-Profit educational institutions, which permits the Texas State Historical Association (TSHA), to utilize copyrighted materials to further scholarship, education, and inform the public. The TSHA makes every effort to conform to the principles of fair use and to comply with copyright law.

For more information go to:

If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

August 20, 2016

This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects: