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William Howard Allen

American Privateer

Born: July 8, 1790

Died: November, 1822

William Howard Allen was a Lieutenant in the United States navy, and a native of the city of Hudson. While a child, he was sent to school in London, England, but returned to Hudson only a year later, where he attended the Hudson Academy for boys before moving to the seminary in Doylestown, Pa., where he completed the remainder of his education. Quick, intelligent, and driven to achieve, he was appointed to midshipman in the United States navy in 1808. In 1811, his hard work earned him the commission of second lieutenant, and afterwards assigned to duty on the USS Argus.

The Argus was patrolling it's assigned course on August 13th, 1813 when it encountered the British sloop-of-war Pelican. Since American and English forces were still under orders to attack the other on sight, the two ships moved to engage.

The offical accounting of the battle reports:

"Although this vessel was superior to her in size, men, and metal, yet the battle was long, severe, and bloody. Early in the action, Captain William Henry Allen was mortally wounded, and carried below; shortly after, the first lieutenant, William H. Watson, was severely wounded, and take to the ward-room. The command of the 'Argus' then devolved on Lieutenant William Howard Allen; his conduct was cool, deliberate, and such as received the admiration of the crew and the approbation and praise of his superior officers.

After fighting was useless, the "Argus' was surrendered to the 'Pelican,' a perfect wreck. Lieutenant Allen was taken to Ashburton, England, where he was detained eighteen months a prisoner of war; but he was exchanged before the close of the war, and returned in a cartel to Norfolk; but, owing to an extraordinary passage of some ninety days, he did not arrive until after the peace. In 1816 he made a voyage to Dublin, as the master of the brig 'Henry Clay;' he was then engaged in the merchant service. During the two succeeding years he was attached to the frigate 'United States,' or ship 'Independence.'

"In the spring of 1819, the United States frigate 'Congress' sailed on a cruise to the Chinese seas. Mr. Allen was her first lieutenant, his conduct during the cruise was highly meritorious. This being the first American ship of war of her class that had visited the East Indies, the natives were frightened at her terrific appearance; and he often described the impression it made upon their minds, and the deep convection it left of the strength and prowess of the United States. In May, 1821, he returned in the 'Congress,' and remained attached to her until about the beginning of the year 1822, when he was transferred to the ship 'Columbus,' then lying in Boston. He left the 'Columbus' some time in June, having obtained the command of the United States schooner 'Alligator.' On the 3d of August, 1822, he sailed from New York on a cruise against the pirates, and he plucked a wreath of glory, but the shaft of death was in it. He cheerfully engaged in this last perilous service, which would have appalled any ordinary mind. It called him to the West Indies, the charnel-house of foreigners, whose seaports in the summer months are the hot-beds of pestilence, disease, and death, and whose climate had already consigned to the tomb many valuable lives, among whom were many of his intimate friends and brave companions. This service called him in contact with pirates, a gang of merciless bloodhounds, foes to God and man, who live by plunder and murder, and who had sworn vengeance toward American officers and citizens.

"On his arrival at Havana, he was informed that a gang of pirates, having in possession some merchant vessels, had stationed themselves in the bay of El Juapo, in the neighborhood of Matanzas; without coming to anchor, he immediately proceeded in search of them. He approached the place, saw the pirate vessels, three in number, well armed and supplied, and manned with a hundred or more of these desperadoes, with the bloody flag waving aloft and nailed to the mast. In possession of these assassins were five merchantmen and several American citizens; this property and these captives the gallant Allen determined to rescue. The 'Alligator,' in consequence of the shoalness of the water, could not approach them; he ordered the boats to be manned with about thirty of his crew, put himself in the van, and led the attack and boarded them. The outlaws resisted, but were driven from their flag vessel, of which he took possession. They fled to the other vessels, he pursued them amidst a shower of musketry; a musket ball struck him in the head; still he pressed forward, cheering his men, and, when about to board them, another pierced his breast; this was mortal; still he cheered his gallant little crew as they lifted him on board of the prized schooner, and laid him on the deck, he had so dearly won, and he died of his wounds in about three hours after. He called his officers about him, gave directions respecting the prizes, for the merchant vessels had been rescued; conversed freely and cheerfully; hoped that his friends and his country would be satisfied that he had fought well. He said he died in peace with the world and looked for his reward in the next. Although his pain, from the nature of his wounds, was excruciating, yet he did not complain, but died like a martyr, without a sigh or a groan, and the spirit of a braver man never entered the unseen world. The body of the martyred Allen was conveyed to Matanzas, in Cuba, where it was interred on the 11th of November, 1822, with the honors due to his distinguished merit.

"Soon after the reception of this sad intelligence at Hudson, which cast a gloom over the city, the citizens of Hudson assembled at the city hall, and it was a more numerous meeting than had ever been witnessed in that city. This was on the 5th of December, 1822, and on motion of Elisha Williams, the honorable Alexander Coffin was called to the chair; and on motion of Ambrose L. Jordan, Esq., Dr. Samuel White was appointed secretary. The Rev. B. F. Stanton opened the meeting with an appropriate and impressive prayer. The Hon. James Strong then pronounced a splendid eulogy on the character of the late gallant Lieutenant William Howard Allen.

"The common council of the city of Hudson requested of the navy department to have the remains of Lieutenant Allen brought from Matanzas to New York in a public vessel. This request was promptly acceded to by the secretary of the navy, and on the 15th of December, 1827, the schooner "Grampus' arrived at New York, having on board the remains of the lamented hero. On the reception of this intelligence, the common council of the city of Hudson deputed Mr. Reed, former mayor of this city, and Mr. Edmonds, the recorder, to receive and bring them to his native city. On the Wednesday following, they were removed from the navy-yard at Brooklyn, under the escort of the marine corps of that station, and accompanied by Commodore Chauncey and a numerous body of naval officers. The colors at the yard and at New York were at half-mast; and the procession landed at New York amid the firing of a salute from the 'Grampus,' which had been moored in the stream for that purpose. At New York the procession was joined by the common council of that city, and an immense concourse of citizens and officers, and moved across the city to the steamboat which carried them to Hudson. There a salute was fired by a detachment of artillery and by the marine corps, and the remains were delivered by Commodore Chauncey to the Hudson deputation. His remains were accompanied to Hudson by the following officers of the navy: Lieutenants Francis H. Gregory, George N. Hollins, William D. Newman, John R. Coxe, John Swartwout, and Alexander M. Mull; Sailing-Master Bloodgood; and Midshipmen Lynch, Nichols, Schermerhorn, Lawrence, and Pinckney, and arrived early on Thursday morning. They were welcomed by a national salute, and were escorted to the dwelling of Captain Alexander Coffin, the patriotic kinsman of the lamented hero, by a detachment of military and a numerous escort of citizens, which moved in the following order:

  1. Hudson City Guard.

  2. Columbia Plaids.

  3. Athens Lafayette Guards.

  4. And the military under the command of Col. William A. Dean, with standards furled and drums muffled.

  5. The Reverend Clergy.

  6. The Corpse,

  7. Borne by Lieuts. Gregory, Hollins, Newman, Coxe, Swart-wout, and Mull, and Midshipmen Lynch and Nichols.

  8. Mourners, including Messrs. Bloodgood, Schermerhorn, Lawrence, and Pinckney, of the United States Navy.

  9. Hudson Military Association.

  10. Brigadier-General Whiting and his Suite.

  11. The Mayor and Recorder.

  12. Aldermen.

  13. Assistant Aldermen.

  14. Clerk and Marshal of the City.

  15. Clerk and Sheriff of the County.

  16. Committee of Arrangements.

"Followed by a larger and more respectable procession of citizens than had, for many years, been witnessed in that city. While the procession moved, the bells of the city were tolled, and minute-guns were fired from Parade hill. On its arrival at the grave-yard the body was conveyed in front of the line of the military, resting on arms reversed, and was committed to the earth, near the grave of Lieutenant Allen's mother. The funeral service was read by the Rev. Mr. Stebbins, and a volley fired over the grave by the military. The procession then returned to the United States Hotel, where it was dismissed.*

The ashes of the hero rest in the Hudson cemetery, beneath a monument reared by the citizens of Hudson, and bearing these inscriptions :

"To the memory of William Howard Allen, lieutenant in the United States navy, who was killed when in the act of boarding a piratical vessel on the coast of Cuba, near Matanzas, at the age of thirty-two.

"William Howard Allen was born in the city of Hudson, July 8, 1790; he was appointed a midshipman in 1808, and a lieutenant in 1811, and he took a conspicuous part in the engagement between the 'Argus' and the 'Pelican,' in 1813, and he was killed while in command of the schooner 'Alligator.'

"William Howard Allen. His remains, first buried at Matanzas, were removed to this city by the United States government, and interred, under the direction of the common council of this city, beneath this marble, erected to his memory by the citizens of his native place, in 1833:

"Pride of his county's banded chivalry,
His fame their hope, his name their battle-cry;
He lived as mothers wished their sons to live,
And died as fathers wished their sons to die."

Much of this information was reproduced from
"Biographical Sketches of Distinguished men."

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