William Youel Allen, clergyman, the son of Benjamin and Margaret (Youel) Allen, was born in Shelbyville, Kentucky, on May 7, 1805. He began to study law at the age of twenty-one but soon changed his focus to the ministry. He attended Centre College, graduated in 1831, and taught there for 2½ years while studying theology. He later studied at Princeton Theological Seminary. He was licensed to preach in 1836 by the Presbytery of New Brunswick, New Jersey, and spent some time working for a black colonization society in Pennsylvania before traveling to Texas in March 1838. He conducted Sunday school and preached in Houston on his first Sunday there. He served as chaplain of the Texas Senate in 1838 and, perhaps, of the House of Representatives in 1839, although the latter is disputed. Allen organized a church in Houston in March 1839, one in Austin in October, and one in Columbia the following year. He also participated in the organization of the Presbytery of the Brazos in April 1840.
While in Houston he served as a member of the school board and organized, with the support of President Sam Houston, the first temperance meeting in Texas. He helped organize the first Texas temperance society as well as the Texas National Bible Society. He drafted the first Texas congressional legislative enactment for education. While serving in Texas Allen made several trips to the United States. On his first trip (1838) he was ordained an evangelist, and on the fourth trip (1841) he was ordained a minister in the Presbyterian Church and married Sarah Stonestreet. After her death in April 1848, he married Margaret Maxwell. He left Texas on February 18, 1842, but visited the state in 1857.
After his return to Kentucky, Allen was elected president of Centre College, Danville, on September 2, 1845. Later he served as pastor at Bethany, Kentucky, and spent fourteen years at Rockville, Indiana, where he died on February 13, 1885.