(Fort Wayne Monthly “Along the Heritage Trail with Tom Castaldi” – closes Mar 2012 for May 2012, No. 89)
Allen County was created on April 1, 1824, by an act of the Indiana General Assembly, which had passed the enabling act on December 17, 1823. The newly created county was named for Colonel John Allen. Who was John Allen whose name now graces the largest geographical area of any of Indiana’s ninety-two counties? Some of what we know is that Allen was a member of the Kentucky militia who had helped relieve the siege of Fort Wayne in 1812 and who was killed in 1813 at the River Raisin massacre near the present-day Monroe, Michigan.
Born in Rockbridge County, Virginia, on December 30, 1772, his father James Allen immigrated to Kentucky with his family in 1780, eventually settling near Bardstown near Louisville. John enjoyed the benefit of attending private school before studying law at Staunton, Virginia. He then returned in 1795 to practice law in Shelbyville, Kentucky where he rose to great prominence as a lawyer. Among his celebrated cases was as an associate of Henry Clay in the defense of Aaron Burr. When he ran for governor of Kentucky against General Charles Scott, he lost the election by one vote. He did, however, win several elections that gained him a seat as a state senator. John Allen was described by his fellow Kentuckians as a tall, handsome soldier who enthusiastically led his valiant troops to the place of rendezvous and to his own death.
Jane, Colonel Allen’s wife was a daughter of General Benjamin Logan. Logan’s adopted son Spemica Lawba, a Shawnee nephew and of Tecumseh also has Fort Wayne connections. Known as “Captain Johnny Logan” he became endeared to the American defenders as the man who escorted the women and children safely to Piqua during the siege of Fort Wayne, and for whom the Indiana city of Logansport received its name.
During the War of 1812, the occupants departing Fort Dearborn on August 15, 1812, were attacked by the native Indians and the garrison lost. The fall of Fort Dearborn embolden the native warriors to join the British side planning the siege of Fort Wayne.
As the war progressed, Kentuckians were encouraged to organize and a volunteer force of over 2,000 men came forward led by Colonel John Allen along with John M. Scott and William Lewis. Allen was charged with a rifle regiment reporting to General William Henry Harrison who had been given command of all the troops of the Indiana and Illinois Territories.
On September 3, 1812, Colonel Allen’s regiment with two companies was ordered to make a forced march for the relief of the siege of Fort Wayne. The corps that arrived were composed of volunteers of all ages including many who held important offices in their native state. Allen’s regiment formed the right column. During the night the enemy spies caused some alarm as they moved around learning that Harrison’s army was certain to arrive the next day. The Indians left the field and people who had taken refuge in Fort Wayne expressed great relief and joy.
Pursuing this war with Britain, Colonel Allen was ordered to march with 110 soldiers to follow Colonel Lewis’ 550 troops to the River Raisin early on January 17, 1813. When the outnumbered Americans began battle on January 22, Allen pressed the enemy, however, overwhelmed in numbers the Americans were pushed back themselves. A surrender was negotiated, with the British Colonel Proctor who failed in honoring his promise to refrain his native forces from indiscriminate revenge killing of the wounded.
Although wounded in his thigh, John Allen urged his troops to make all their actions count as they made their escape. Exhausted after he had worked his way some two miles, Allen sat down on a log resolved to meet his fate. Robert McAfee, in History of the Late War in the Western Country in 1816 wrote of Allen’s last moments that, an Indian chief attempted to take him prisoner but was persuaded otherwise by Allen. According to McAfee, “Another (Indian) having at the same time advanced with a hostile appearance, Colonel Allen, by one stroke with his sword, laid him dead at his feet. At third Indian, who was near him, had then the honor of shooting (Allen) one of the first and greatest citizens of Kentucky.” The disastrous affairs of the River Raisin aroused the American resolve.
The War of 1812 eventually concluded on December 24, 1814, with the signing of the peace treaty between the U.S. and Great Britain at Ghent, Belgium. Because of the state of communications in those days future U.S. president Andrew Jackson, unaware of the peace treaty, was victorious at the Battle of New Orleans on January 8, 1815, and the British withdrew.
Historian Bert Griswold described the Colonel as a brilliant Kentucky statesman and brave soldier who, “was among the first of the Kentuckians to offer his services for his country when the perilous situation of Fort Wayne in 1812 was made known. His undaunted courage during the trying period after the siege of Fort Wayne up to the time of his tragic death at the battle of the River Raisin, has given him a fame throughout the middle west which will not pass from the memory of his countrymen.” Indiana’s large geographical county is inexorably tied to that war because of Colonel John Allen.
Allen County Historian Tom Castaldi © is author of the Wabash & Erie Canal Notebook series; hosts “On the Heritage Trail” which is broadcast Mondays on 89.1 fm WBOI; and “Historia Nostra” heard on Redeemer Radio106.3 fm. Enjoy his previously published columns on the History Center’s blog “Our Stories” at historycenterfw.blogspot.com.