A Family Sketch

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A Family Sketch  (1837) 
by Littlebury Woodson Allen

This document was penned by Rev. Littlebury Woodson Allen, after his capture in the Civil War by Union forces. The original manuscript was hidden in the ceiling of the room in which he was kept, only to be discovered during demolition of the building in the mid-20th century. Rev. Allen and his family were direct descendants of Edmund Allen, noted in Burke's History of Virginia as one of the Virginia colony's early settlers.

A "Family Sketch"[edit]

Written in 1837 by the Rev. Littlebury Woodson Allen

Being a history of the Allen Family of Henrico Co., Virginia

and in particular the descendants of Edmund Allen, Immigrant


On the 16th day of March, 1803, I was born in the county of Henrico, Va., about nine miles east of the city of Richmond. My father, Littlebury Allen (after whom I am called) was a highly respected farmer of that county. My grandfather, Littlebury Allen, was, I am told, a Baptist preacher, but he died when my father was a boy, I know but little about it. My grandmother was also a Baptist and one of the oldest in Virginia, having been baptized by either El. Joseph Anthony or John Leland, though I think the former.

She lived to be very old, eighty-six perhaps. In early life my father married my mother, Jane Austin. She is said to have been very beautiful and was so after my recollection, though she was then thirty-five, and broken much by violent disease. By this marriage they had ten children of whom I am the fourth.

My oldest brother, James C. Allen, was born December 1796, and was at one time the most promising and thrifty young man in the county. At a very early age, he was made second teller at the United States Bank when it first went into operation in 1845 or ’15, at a salary of $1500 per annum, but unfortunately he was wild and inconsiderate and he finally resigned his office in 1819. On the 16th of October 1816 he married Miss Nancy Hobson, a young lady of beauty and some property. By her he had two children. One now survives him, Miss Harriet W. Allen (she is a Baptist). In June 1822 his wife died. A few years afterwards, his youngest daughter, Mary Morton, died. Falling a prey to his misfortunes, brought on by the ill treatment of certain individuals of Richmond while he was a bank officer, (whose names it may not be proper to mention here), he died suddenly in March 1832. He never professed religion. He was about thirty-six years of age, he was the nicest person I ever saw.

Isham was the second son. He was born the 9th of May 1798 and was never married. He was well educated and an elegant looking person, but he was dissipated and ultimately fell a victim to his habits, Feb. 25th, 1833. Poor Isham, but for dissipation what a man he would have made! But he fell young, in the bloom and vigor of manhood, a trophy to the foul destroyer. He was about thirty-five years of age.

Sarah was the first daughter and was born the 21st of July 1800, and was a sweet, interesting and handsome young lady. She was married at the early age of fifteen years, to a Mr. Archibald Partin of Richmond. This took place on the 28th of December 1815. She had one daughter, Elizabeth Partin, who still survives her. It proved to be an imprudent match, but when it occurred, to human appearance and prudence, it bid fair to be a happy and fortunate union. She lingered with consumption for nine years, until the 25th day of June 1826, when she expired at the age of 25 years. She made no profession of religion, until her last confinement, when she expressed her hopes in the merits of Jesus, and now I trust she is at home at rest.

I was the fourth child and was born on the 26th day of March, 1803.

William Austin, “now 1837, Col. William A. Allen of Barren county, Kentucky) was the fifth child and was born in the city of Richmond, February 22nd 1805. In his eighteenth year, or on the 22nd of December 1822, he married his cousin, Mary B. Allen, by whom he had three children, only one of whom is still alive, (Jane Austin). He lost his wife on the 13th of September 1828. She professed a hope in the merits of our Savior, for some time before her death, but her health would not allow her to be baptized as it was her desire to be.

William Austin became a Baptist in 1827, in September, I think, and joined Boar Swamp Church, under pastoral care of Elder John Carter. On the 16th July 1829, he married his second wife, Miss Eliza Price. In the year 1830 (Feb. 25) he removed to the state of Kentucky where he now resides. So far as this life is concerned Austin is doing well. He has risen astonishingly in the estimation of the citizens of his county and is making a fortune. About his spiritual condition, I fear, I cannot say as much. This world has doubtless engrossed too much of his feelings. May the Lord preserve him from the horrors of a worldly mind, and make him abundantly useful!

Jane was the sixth. She was a sweet and interesting child. She was born in 1807 and died in August 1817 in the tenth year of her age.

Elizabeth was the seventh. She was born November 9th 1809. In her sixteenth year she married William Haley of Richmond, who was a very worthy, respected man. She became a Baptist in 1831 and he in 1833. In October 1835 they removed to the state of Kentucky, where they are now residing. They have three children I think.

Reuben Caesar was the eighth. He was born October 27th 1811. In his twentieth year, he became a Baptist and joined Boar Swamp church. On the 15th December 1831 he was married to Miss Sally Hooper, of Hanover. By her he got considerable property. He remained in this state until April 1835 when he also went to Kentucky. He is now doing well. He is well educated, better than any of my father’s children, but it does him no especial good. He seems to be gaining popularity among the people of Kentucky. Oh! I fear they are all too thirsty for worldly fame and honor. So much unlike their Savior. He made himself of “no reputation” but we are hungering and thirsting after the bread that perisheth. Lord, make him useful in Thy cause, for he is capable!

John Woodson was the ninth and was born October 21, 1814. John became a Baptist in September 1833, in his nineteenth year. In Dec. 1834 he went to Kentucky with Austin, where he still resides. He has always been less worldly minded than the rest of us, and I had hoped and do still hope to see him a very useful man. If he were near me it would be so, but being so far out of my reach I have very little influence over him. I know I had influence with him, and he always looked to me for advice. I was his guardian. I consented to his going to Kentucky because after losing my sweet Ann Price, I became a wanderer about on the earth, and though I had a home I had no settled abiding place. I could not have him near me, and I thought he had better go with the other brothers and he went with them. Though now I am sorry I ever consented for him to leave this state. I pray God, he may do well.

The tenth and last child was Mary Morton. She was born in 1817 and died in infancy, being not more than two or three years old.

On the eighth day of April, 1822, my dear mother departed out of this poor world. She died suddenly, being found dead in her bed. She at one time was very fat and corpulent, afterwards from repeated and long continued attacks of disease, she became in a low state of health and also in a melancholy state of mind. On the day previous to her death, it being Easter, feeling a great deal better than usual, she rode with my father to one of his plantations about two miles distant. It was the place where they had first settled in life after marrying, about thirty years before that time. Doubtless the recollection of so many interesting as well as painful events which happen to one in the course of a long life quite overpowered her weak and fragile frame. Besides there was perhaps as fine a spring of water as there was in the whole country, and so much better than that at their residence, she, the doctor thought, drank too much water and upon lying down it overflowed the stomach and prevented the action of the heart, or as he expressed it, “drowned the heart.” She went to bed better than usual. In the morning very early, my father rose to go several miles to meet some engagements; he found her, as he supposed, in a sweet sleep (but alas! it was the sleep of death), and as she had been much fatigued the day before, he did not disturb her. As breakfast time came on, her not waking occasioned some uneasiness in the family. They looked at her frequently, and she appeared to be taking rest in sound sleep. Breakfast was ready. The housekeeper said to a servant: “Go wake your mistress up to breakfast.” She went, but ah! it was fruitless. Her spirit had fled so gently, not a muscle, not a feature, nor a limb was distorted or its position moved. How loudly it says “Be ye also ready for ye know not the day or the hour when the Son of men cometh.” She never professed religion, but had the seasons for religious improvement been then as they have been since, she doubtless would have been religious. A more tender and affectionate mother, a better wife, or a kinder mistress and neighbor, no one ever made. Naturally of a kind and amiable turn, her heart was always touched at sorrow’s tale, and her benevolent hand was ever ready to extend relief to the distressed. She was about forty eight years of age at her death.

Monday, the third day of September 1832, will ever be memorable to me, as being the day on which I lost as kind and indulgent a father as a son ever lost. He died of the congestive bilious fever, and was not sick more than six days. He lived and died without religion, though in his last illness he was much concerned. I do not know whether he obtained any hope. It would be to me a source of exquisite joy, could I be permitted not to mourn as others who have no hope. But at the great, the decisive day, we shall know, and oh! may he be found at the right hand of God on that Day. My father was a sober, moral, industrious, persevering man, and after a life of toil he had accumulated quite a handsome fortune, but owing to the forfeiture of a security bond of $10,000 which my brother James C. gave, when an officer in the United States Bank in 1819, my father became a great sufferer.

My brother had amassed a handsome property, but from the rapid decline of propery at that time, it was found insufficient to pay that debt which he owed, and my father, releasing to some extent (I don’t know how much) the other securities, became responsible for the whole debt, which from the first to last amounted to about $16,000. This nearly ruined him, though he managed not to sell his property during his lifetime, selling only about two Negroes. He borrowed money, which was owing at the time of his death, and it took nearly the whole of his estate to pay those debts. Had it not been for that, he could have divided a handsome property among his children, but as it is he will never have more than enough to pay his debts, if indeed, there should be sufficient. It was a most unfortunate affair. It not only destroyed my brother James, not only ruined my father’s fortune… as well as his own… but embittered their lives ever afterwards, and so much engrossed their feelings how they might disembarrass themselves from debt, that I think they both from that cause chiefly, neglected the great subject of religion.

My father held during his life several respectable and lucrative offices. At one time he was for many years an officer in the Virginia Bank, and afterwards for about 17 years he was one of the doorkeepers to the Senate of Virginia. From these offices he saved considerable money which enabled him to pay much of his debts, as well as to accumulate other property, which he did indeed after his embarrassments commenced. At his death he owned upwards of twenty Negroes, and about 1500 acres of land, some of which was very good, being situated in Chickahominy Swamp. He was, without exception, one of the best and finest of fathers and as an honest and upright man and useful citizen no man was more esteemed and respected by all who knew him than he was. His memory is dear to us, and we ought to cherish the fondest recollection of it.

But though however dear and beloved he is gone. To me, though married, I found his loss irreparable. I have often indulged the fond fancy of living to cherish his declining years, and even now, while I am fully sensible I did not fully discharge my duties as a son, I do feel that I did take some pains to cheer and sustain him and I flatter myself I was not entirely successful. Oh! that it could have been more so. He died in the 63rd year of his age. His memory was retentive and exact as to particulars; he was, consequently, a very agreeable and instructive companion. His opinions and influence in politics were very weighty. The old and the young sought the law at his mouth. His opinions to this day in reference to the politics of the day are regarded and acted out by his neighbors. Frequently to this day, this or that thing, or principles, or man, is spoken of in such a manner, “as your father used to say.” In his political sentiments he was of Republican principles, a supporter of Gen. Andrew Jackson’s administration and a stern opposer of the powers of the United States Bank. His principles of republicanism are not to be dated at the elevation of Gen. Jackson, but from Mr. Jefferson down through Mr. Madison and Monroe, or for his first term.

After the death of my mother he married his second wife, Mrs. Polly Carter, on 4th of January 1823, by whom he had no child to live. She still survives him.

From tradition my father traced our ancestry back to Edmund Allen, mentioned in Burke’s History of Virginia, who came from England in the early settlement of the colonies. Edmund Allen had five children, three sons and two daughters. Edward, our immediate progenitor, displeased his father by marrying an Indian, or half breed, but I must think she was full blood, so that he disinherited him and left the whole of his large property to his other children.

From his other sons descended the Allens about Williamsburg, Surry, etc. (Edmund Allen settled in James City County. One of his daughters married Bradley, from whom the Bradleys of Charles City, etc., descended. The other married Christian, from whom the large and respectable family of that name in Charles City, New Kent, Powhatan, Buckingham, Cumberland, Etc., descended. The Allens of Henrico, Cumberland, Prince Edward, Pittsylvania, and the Wilsons of Cumberland all descended from our branch of the family. The Indian character and complexion may be easily traced in some of the family.

Several of my father’s near relatives fought bravely in the Revolution… he being too young to take any part in it, himself. They distinguished themselves as soldiers at Camden, South Carolina, The Cowpens, Eutaw Springs, Guilford Court House, and several other places.

Addenda[edit]

The Rev. Littlebury W. Allen, after his father’s death, also went to Kentucky. At one time he was pastor of the Walnut Street Baptist Church, the leading Baptist Church of Louisville, Ky. Later he returned to Virginia and was a preacher at the Old County Line Baptist Church, Caroline county, which is said to still be standing. (1930) At the outbreak of the Civil War, Mr. Allen tendered his services to the Confederacy and served almost four years as an officer in the Confederate Cavalry and later on Gen. Magruder’s staff. His participation in one action may be found in Battles and Leaders of the Civil War. (The Century Co., New York, 4 vols.)

Notes[edit]

  1. The wording and punctuation of the original copy of Rev. Allen’s text was closely adhered to except that in two instances the word “respectable” was changed to “respected” as being more in conformity. The last paragraph of the copy has been deleted as being irrelevant and of no importance to the general theme.
  2. In Burke’s History of Virginia, Vol. I, p. 339 of the appendix, it says: “The names of the adventurers for Virginia as they were in the year 1620: Edward Allen, John Allen, Edmund Allen esq., Thomas Allen…” (then followed other names.)

The above addenda and notes are by Clyde Burton Allen (long of Spokane, Wash.; d. 10-14-1954), genealogist, and descendant of Reuben Caesar Allen, younger brother of Littlebury Woodson Allen.

The above text was copied and contributed in 1963 by Aline Morton Burt (Mrs. Roland Willard Burt) of Hinsdale, Illinois, and was again transcribed in 2005 by Shaun Irving of Richmond, Virginia.