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ALLEN, PETER

ALLEN, PETER (ca. 1805–1836). Peter Allen, a free black and musician who participated in the Texas Revolution, was among the troops under the command of Col. James Walker Fannin, who surrendered at Goliad and were subsequently executed on Palm Sunday, March 27, 1836. Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, about 1806, Peter Allen was the son of Richard Allen (1760–1831), founder and first bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, and his wife, Sarah (Bass) Allen (1764–1849). Richard Allen was born a slave into the household of Benjamin Chew, attorney general of the state of Pennsylvania, but purchased his freedom in 1783 and went on to become one of the preeminent black leaders in Colonial America. An accomplished writer, Richard Allen published books, tracts, and sermons, while serving as a minister and educator up until the time of his death in Philadelphia on March 26, 1831.  His wife, Sarah Bass, who was born into slavery in Isle of Wight, Virginia, in 1764, came to Philadelphia as a slave at the age of eight, obtained her freedom prior to marrying Richard Allen on August 13, 1801, and was active in reform activities up until the time of her death in Philadelphia on July 16, 1849. 

In 1835 Peter Allen moved from the secure environs of Philadelphia, a city whose entire black population of approximately 15,000 was free, to Huntsville, Alabama, where only one percent of the state’s black population enjoyed freedom. The reasons for his emigration are unclear; however, it was an extraordinary move considering the threat of seizure and sale into slavery for any free black from the North that ventured into the Deep South. That danger became more poignant with his marriage to an enslaved woman, Mary (ca. 1807–1885), shortly after his arrival in Huntsville. Despite the inherent danger, the events that unfolded in October 1835 suggest Peter Allen had, at the very least, gained tacit acceptance by the white community in Huntsville.  

Beginning in late October 1835, appeals were published in several Alabama newspapers, including the Huntsville Southern Advocate, urging Alabamians to come to the aid of their “brothers in Texas.” On the night of October 31, 1835, an organizational meeting was held in Huntsville, and a volunteer company was formed by Capt. Peyton S. Wyatt. Although he was a free black who had only recently arrived in the city, Peter Allen, a flutist, was welcomed into the company as a musician as it departed Huntsville on Sunday, November 8, 1835.  

A steamboat transported the twenty volunteers, including Peter Allen, down the Tennessee River and into the Ohio River before stopping at Paducah, Kentucky, for two days. There, Peter Allen and his small group of volunteers marched through the streets and played music, made speeches, and exhorted the local men to join them before continuing their journey down the Mississippi to Natchez and overland to Nacogdoches. Arriving in Texas in early December, Wyatt’s company was mustered into service on December 25, 1835. On January 12, 1836, they were dispatched to Goliad and then joined the volunteers at Refugio about January 22, 1836. With Wyatt on furlough, the Huntsville volunteers were commanded by Lt. B. T. Bradford and participated in the battle of Coleto Creek under Fannin before their surrender on March 20, 1836, and imprisonment at Goliad. 

The night before the massacre, Capt. Jack Shackelford, commander of the Alabama Red Rovers, recalled that the musicians of the troop, which would have included Peter Allen, played the tune “Home, Sweet Home” on their flutes as tears “rolled down many a manly cheek.” The next morning, Palm Sunday, March 27, 1836, the men were awakened at dawn by their Mexican guards, split into four divisions, and marched outside the fort. Each group proceeded in a different direction. Some minutes later, Shackelford heard shots and the screams of men as they were being executed. Later that day, the mangled corpses of his comrades were burned by the Mexican soldiers. 

Peter Allen’s siblings in Philadelphia—John Allen, Sarah Wilkins, and Mary Adams—claiming to be his only heirs, obtained title to 4,036 acres of land in Texas as a result of Allen’s service. When his wife, Mary, proved her marriage and filed a claim as well, the Philadelphia heirs objected, and a protracted court battle ensued that ended in the Texas Supreme Court. Mary Allen’s claim was confirmed by the Texas Supreme Court, and the suit to deny her claim by the Philadelphia heirs was dismissed.  

Peter Allen’s widow, Mary, lived the remainder of her life in Huntsville, Alabama, and died in that city in 1885. Her second husband, John Cook, preceded her in death. Mary’s obituary recounted Peter’s service in the Texas Revolution and his refusal to save his own life when offered his freedom in return for again playing “Home, Sweet Home,” this time at the request of the Mexican commander. The Huntsville Independent recalled Peter Allen’s determination to remain with his comrades and share their fate when he replied to the Mexican commander, “No, I’ll not play, but I’ll just go along with the rest of the boys.”

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Africans in America, Part 3: 1791-1831, “Brotherly Love: Philadelphia,” PBS.org (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part3/3narr1.html), accessed August 9, 2017. Richard Allen and Absalom Jones, The Life, Experience, and Gospel Labours of the Rt. Rev. Richard Allen: To Which is Annexed The Rise and Progress of the African Methodist Episcopal Church in the United States of America. Containing a Narrative of the Yellow Fever in the Year of Our Lord, 1793: With an Address to the People of Colour in the United States (Philadelphia: Martin & Boden, Printers, 1833). Claude Elliott, "Alabama and the Texas Revolution," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 50 (January 1947). Henry Stuart Foote, Texas and the Texans (2 vols., Philadelphia: Cowperthwait, 1841; rpt., Austin: Steck, 1935). Henry Louis Gates, Jr, and Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, eds., African American National Biography (8 vols., New York: Oxford University Press, 2008). Huntsville Gazette (Alabama), June 17, 1885; September 17, 1892. Margaret Jerrido, Archivist, Mother Bethal AME Church Archives, Philadelphia, to Stephen E. Taylor, Personal e-mail, June 7, 2011. Thomas L. Miller, Bounty and Donation Land Grants of Texas, 1835–1888 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1967). “Muster Roll: Capt. P.S. Wyatt’s Co., Hunstville, Alabama Volunteers, From 25th December to 29th February 1836,” Valley Leaves 14 (1979), Tennessee Valley Genealogical Society. Harold Schoen, "The Free Negro in the Republic of Texas," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 39–41 (April 1936-July 1937). Telegraph and Texas Register, November 9, 1936.

Stephen E. Taylor

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Handbook of Texas Online, Stephen E. Taylor, "Allen, Peter ," accessed September 24, 2017, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/falle.

Uploaded on August 14, 2017. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.