One of the Genesee Valley’s most colorful and perhaps despicable inhabitants was Ebenezer “Indian” Allan. Born September 17, 1752 somewhere in New Jersey, Allan had likely moved to Pennsylvania by the time of the Revolutionary War in 1777. He was a British sympathizer (Tory) and enlisted in a loyalist regiment commanded by Major John Butler.
The Six Nations Confederacy which was made up of the Mohawk, Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida, and Tuscarora tribes also gave their allegiance to England as war began. With the promise of whisky and other goods for every settler scalp they presented to the British, the tenuous peace on the frontiers of the colonies was demolished. It was with these Six Nations raiding parties that Ebenezer was embedded. Allan gained notoriety for his vicious, sadistic attacks against civilians during the war, caring neither for women or children who were burned out of their homes and slaughtered for coup throughout Pennsylvania and New York. With most men off to fight, isolated families and small towns were easy prey. As you can imagine, Allan earned an ignominious reputation among the “rebels” as the British called Americans.
When the British army realized that their defeat was imminent, and an exit plan was necessary in late 1782, Lieutenant Allan found himself unceremoniously discharged from the military, losing the promise of a land grant along with his walking papers. He left Pennsylvania, traveling to the Genesee Valley in New York where he met Mary Jemison. She and her husband, Hiokatoo, along with their children were living in a cabin at Gardeau Flats.
From Mary’s account, it seems that Allan told her he’d come to live with the Indians and struck up a friendship with her son, Thomas. The men hunted together that winter and Allan bunked with the family while he tried to formulate a plan to make a living. As he considered his options, Ebenezer became enamored of a Nanticoke squaw, the wife of a white man, who lived on the Jemison property. While the husband went off to work, Allan made daily visits to the wife and soon she reciprocated Allan’s affections. She made him a stunning Indian-style cap of red that immediately caught the attention of her husband. Of course, jealousy and anger came into play. Before the men could do harm to each other, Mary’s husband, Hiokatoo took down his old tomahawk, instructing the offended husband to leave the house. Although it looked like Allan would woo the squaw from her husband, it wasn’t to be. The couple made up and left for Niagara in the spring.
It was that same spring Allan decided he would pay back the British for their injustice to him by assisting in brokering a peace between the Six Nations and the newly-formed United States. Although, the U.S. had a peace agreement with England, it hadn’t yet made a treaty with the chiefs, which was an advantage to the British who continued to plunder as they were able. It was a messy and broken process amidst the birthing of a nation. The most powerful chiefs were in Canada, safely away from the Americans. Joseph Brant, a chief of the Mohawks was one of those men. However, skirmishes and destruction continued in the frontier regions led by Indians and remaining British soldiers.
The shrewd Allan inserted himself in the negotiations by procuring a wampum belt through devious means and took it to a nearby U.S. military post, indicating that the Indians wanted peace. The commander immediately accepted the belt with elation. Mary Jemison tells the story that although Allan had stolen the belt from the Indians, they reluctantly honored Allen’s arrangement since they so highly regarded the wampum. With the first step completed, he then composed a letter to the U.S. government to speed the treaty process along. Here’s his letter, which he carried to Philadelphia to the Continental Congress in the summer of 1783.
12 August 1783
To His Excellency the President of Congress
On the 13th June last, Mr. Bull messenger from Congress to the five nation Indians was carried a Prisoner from Oswego to Niagara without being allowed to speak to the Indians. On the 20th of the same month, he found means to apply privately to me, and begged I would take charge of a letter and bring it Express to congress, which I agreed to do. He likewise desired me to make a just Report of the situation and disposition of the six nations Indians, after speaking with them, and informing them of the substance of Mr. Bull’s Instructions, and particularly the offer of Peace and Friendship from Congress; and their desire to meet the Indians at any Time or Place they should appoint to settle the terms of Peace and Friendship.
On my speaking to the principal Chiefs, they expressed great Satisfaction with the contents of Mr. Bull’s message and appointed to meet the Commissioners from Congress at Wia loosin the 27th of this present month, agreeable to the letter I have delivered to Gen. Lincoln.
Permit me gentlemen to inform you that the Indian nations are well disposed for Peace, but are ready for War, and will desolate the frontiers of Pennsylvania if the United States resolve to conquer their lands; yet as they have been the aggressors they will readily give up a Part of their country and engage to never more make war, nor join the enemies of the United States; or trespass over the Boundary that may be agreed upon.
It is my opinion that if Congress adopt this System and direct that an honest wise conduct be observed towards the Nations, it will save thousands of lives, and much money. I beg pardon for intruding my opinion, but a Sense of Duty impels me to take this Liberty, and I hope I will soon be dispatched back to the Nations and that Congress will send some Persons they have confidence in, to meet the Indians in their own towns, rather than on our Frontiers.
There remain in the Seneca country about 100 American prisoners, which prudent commissioners might have delivered up to them immediately. As many of these are Young People fast degenerating into Savages and forgetting their own language would it not be wise to draw them out of the Hand of the Indians without delay, and restore them to their Religion and to their country?
In everything I can do, be pleased to command me,
“Indian” Allan donned his British uniform, saddled a good horse and headed for Philadelphia with his missive. As he rode into the Wilkes-Barre area of Pennsylvania and the fort there, he was stopped in the woods by none other than Major Moses Van Campen. Van Campen was an American soldier of some renown having fought brilliantly against the British throughout Pennsylvania and New York. He was well known by the Six Nations tribes and had earned their respect.
Once Van Campen found out who he was talking to, his first inclination was to arrest him and incarcerate him at the fort. The man had terrorized the countryside all during the war and Allan was deeply loathed by the citizens of the area. After Allan explained his mission, which was confirmed by the letter he carried, Van Campen organized a few soldiers to help Allan on his way to Philadelphia. The major knew the settlers would lynch Allan in a minute if they found out who he was, and the peace treaty was of more importance than bringing the Tory to justice.
Allan delivered his letter and returned to the Genesee Valley, specifically Allen’s Creek (now Mt. Morris) where he built a small house and “married” the sister of Seneca chief, Captain Bull. Her English name was Sally. Their domestic bliss was short lived.
The Indians had taken a burn about the wampum and Allan’s deceptive ways during his absence, and a small party from Niagara came looking for him along with a British man named Nettles. Allan hid out in the woods for months with Mary Jemison’s help, but eventually he was arrested and taken to Fort Niagara for trial. He managed to escape, returning to Mary’s home on the Gardeau Flats.
Ebenezer was captured and once again dragged off to Fort Niagara for trial in December 1783. His crime was meddling in the peace treaty process. Imprisoned for ten months, his jail time was split between Fort Niagara and Montreal. He was acquitted, and upon his release returned to the Genesee Valley where he built a saw mill in the Gibsonville area. From there he moved up the river to what is now Scottsville and then Rochester, New York. He built a grist mill and saw mill at the three-falls area in 1789, but sold the property after a couple of years because the population was sparse and he couldn’t make a profit.
By now he had another “wife,” a young white woman, Lucy Chapman. She’d been left with Allan by her father who had no idea Ebenezer had Sally at home. Imagine Lucy’s surprise at this arrangement. A short while later he obtained another Seneca woman, whose husband was elderly. Ebenezer went for a walk by the river with the old man and shoved him in the water. Despite the sly, attempted murder by Allan, the victim didn’t drown, but survived for a few days before succumbing to the assault. With the husband out of the way Allan took the woman for himself, and then “married” another white woman, Milly Gregory after her.
Ebenezer Allan was never satisfied with his lot, as his polygamy and business affairs prove. He wrangled for several years over land titles in New York without success, so he turned his attention northward. He maintained that the British still owed him 2,000 acres for his military service, deciding to force the issue in Upper Canada. In May 1794, he petitioned the Canadian government for land and was granted his 2,000 acres which was located in Delaware Township near the Thames River in Ontario. He continued his wily ways, initiating lawsuits against neighbors for perceived injustices, and business associates sued him for fraud. He was charged with counterfeiting, assault, and all manner of crimes, but seemed to avoid any long-term prison sentences. He had several children by his various wives, and Sally’s daughters lived on the Tonawanda Reservation in the mid-1800s according to a Jemison descendant.
Ebenezer became an American sympathizer during the War of 1812, stirring up trouble in Ontario. This led to his arrest and imprisonment by authorities at Niagara-on-the-Lake. He was released in early 1813, but died on April 13th that year. He left all his wives destitute, except for Milly, who inherited the entire estate. Violent, cruel, inconstant husband, entrepreneur, a founding citizen of Rochester, NY, clever, and bad tempered all describe Ebenezer Allen, a man of the Genesee Valley frontier.
A Narrative of the Life of Mrs. Mary Jemison by James E. Seaver
Genesee Echoes by Mildred Lee Hills Anderson
The White Woman and Her Valley by Arch Merrill
U.S. Dept. of State, Page 433, Vol. 1, No. 78 Letters from 1776 to 1789
Dictionary of Canadian Biography
Turpin and Osgood Historical Records compiled on Ebenezer “Indian” Allan
Wheatland Historical Association Records
The Life and Times of Major Moses Van Campen by J. Niles Hubbard
Rochester’s Romantic Rogue, The Life and Times of Ebenezer Allan by Donovan Shilling, Crooked Lake Review