The Crooked Lake Review

Summer 2005

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Rochester's Romantic Rogue

The Life and Times of Ebenezer Allan


Donovan A. Shilling

There are many stories written in the world of fiction that are absolutely incredible. Certainly, no tale however tall, can match the real-life escapades of the pioneer rogue, blood brother in the Senecas, notorious guerrilla warrior and irascible lover, Ebenezer "Indian" Allan. The tale becomes bizarre. Many of the facts come from Mary Jemison, long-time friend of Allan, and perhaps the only white person who was thoroughly acquainted with both the Senecas as well as the early settlers of Genesee Country. One must read on to decide for oneself.

Indian Allan's Mill

Ebenezer Allan's exact birth date and birthplace is unknown but to his parents. We do know that he probably was born and grew up somewhere in New Jersey. As an adult he developed a sympathy for the Tory cause and took up arms against his patriot neighbors. Joining Colonel John Butler about 1780, he became one of the Rangers who marauded their way from the Susquehana Valley to the Genesee Valley. Even the Rangers, made up of loyalists and Indians, were astonished at the savage zeal with which Allan pursued the burning of property and scalping of the settlers. His enthusiasm earned him an officer's commisssion and later, his association with the British would give him another commission with the British Indian Department.

Allan could sense the Revolution's outcome and undertook a wild scheme to bring about peace between the Iroquois and the Americans. Using the cunning of the wild he slipped into a major Indian village and stealthfully worked his way into the chief's longhouse. There he stole a highly-prized wampum belt. Using the belt as a sign of peace, he presented it to the American Indian Commissioner and won the new Nation's pledge of peaceful coexistence with his blood brothers, the Iroquois. Once the treaty was sealed, the Indians' honor was such that they would not break the accord produced by the sacred wampum. For this triumph alone, modern times would have bestowed the Nobel Peace Prize on Ebenezer. Alas, the impressive deed seemed to go unnoticed but to the British who sent out a search party of soldiers and Indians to hunt the peace-maker down.

Allan sought refuge with Mary Jemison near her Gardeau Flats location on the Genesee River at present Mount Morris. There, the search party captured him and unceremoniously dragged and carried him off to Fort Niagara. It could be likened to a television scenario. While imprisoned, he met another inmate, Joseph Bull, a Moravian missionary, who bore a Congressional invitation to the Iroquois to attend a Philadelphia peace council. Shortly after learning this vital news the building in which Allan was being held somehow caught fire. In the confusion Indian Allan made his way to freedom. For the British the conflagration seemed very suspicious, but for Allan, most fortuitous.

Many men, dealing with the daily pressures of living in wilderness conditions, would not have followed through on a mission given to someone else. Not so with Indian Allan. He had been named "Genushio" meaning Genesee by his Indian brothers. And it was Genushio who now talked peace with the Iroquois chiefs and then literally risked his neck to take that message of peace to Philadelphia. A mob of angry Fort Wilkes-Barre residents, remembering the raids in which Allan had participated, nearly lynched him. Even while fleeing from this neck-tie party he composed a highly literate letter addressed to the American Congress. It expressed his sentiments and hopes for peace rather than war.

Allan's original letter may be found in the archives of the Library of Congress. It implores:

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…if the United States resolves to conquer their lands, yet as they have been the aggressors they will readily give up a part of their country, and will engage nevermore to make war or join the enemies of the United States…. It is my honest opinion that if Congress adopts this system and directs honest, wise conduct to be observed toward the Nations it will save thousands of lives and much money.

No sooner had he returned to Allan's Hill (Mount Morris), than Ebenezer was recaptured by British agents and this time, taken hundreds of miles overland and by canoe to Montreal, Quebec, for trial. Following a year-long incarceration he was finally brought to trial and, acquitted! The British, however, would not free Allan until the Treaty of Fort Stanwix was signed in October, 1784.

Once again Indian Allan made the long trek back to Genesee country and his home by the river for which he was named. It was there that he first began his long romantic odyssey. One account stated that it was "polygamy reduced to a fine art with a successful audacity that might excite the admiration of a Mormon elder." Another early historian was less complimentary, reporting that the amorous Allan "conbined the lasciviousness of a Turk with the bloodthirstiness of a savage."

His first female companion was Sally, an Indian maiden, whom he lived with without benefit of clergy, but with the sanction and blessing of his Indian brothers. Sally bore Allan two daughters, Chloe and Mary.

Shortly after this in 1789, Indian Allan left Allan's Hill with Sally and his new family and canoed down river to a 474-acre farmstead in what is now Scottsville. The large parcel of land some claim, was presented to him by the Senecas. Other sources report that he paid 200 pounds in Massachusetts currency to Israel Chapin for the property. A deed, dated September 10, 1793, suggests this. However, indications show that Allan lived on the land long before the deed was filed. It was there that Mr. Chapman and his attractive daughter Lucy, who were on their way to Niagara, encountered Ebenezer. It was said that he much impresed the father and charmed the daughter. Apparently Mr. Chapman gave Allan his consent to let him marry Lucy. The father then resumed his westward journey alone.

The happy Allan, now living with two help-mates, was unaware of events transpiring between Oliver Phelps and his Indian brothers at the Buffalo Creek Indian Council. In this 1788 land transaction, Oliver insisted that he must possess the land west of the Genesee River. Phelps had already negotiated, along with his partner Nathaniel Gorham, to obtain a huge parcel of land east of the Genesee. When the Iroquois chiefs explained that the Great Spirit wanted no white men west of the great river, it was a challenge to the wily Phelps to acquire as much of this forbidden land as possible. The crafty Oliver pointed out that the Senecas needed a grist mill to grind their maize just as settlers ground their wheat. Such a mill would relieve their womenfolk of the tiresome grinding work.

When asked how much land would he need for the mill lot, the cagy land agents suggested that a section of property along the river approximately twelve miles wide extending from Avon twenty-four miles to Lake Ontario might be just about enough. The Indian, whose philosophy was stewardship of the land, not ownership, agreed to Oliver's outrageous proposition. Thus, the 288 square miles of land west of the Genesee became the world's largest mill lot.

The 288 square miles west of the Genesee River became the world's largest mill lot.

Therefore the need for a grist mill and its operator became needful. At that time there was only one person in the Genesee Country capable of taking on the task of building such a grist mill and becoming its miller. Thus, Ebenezer Indian Allan was tapped for the task. He was given the 100-acre tract with the understanding that he would build and run the mill. The site, on the south side of present Race Street between Aqueduct and Graves Streets, is now the approximate location of the Lawyer's Cooperative Publishing Company which fronts on Broad Street. A small natural island in the Genesee helped channel water to the mill site. An advantageous series of three and four foot falls in the river provided enough drop in the water level of the mill race to drive water wheels and power a sawmill and a grist mill.

In the summer of 1789, Allan brought in a saw blade and harnessing it to a primitive water wheel, he was then able to saw timbers and lumber necessary to build a grist mill. By fall he was ready to raise the large timber-frame bents needed to support the mill's walls and roof. This task was accomplished with the aid of the crew from a schooner docked at Charlotte and with help from an assortment of Seneca spectators. History is also clear about the two-day firewater party which followed the mill's erection. It is also reported that at least one sizeable keg of rum was consumed by the thirsty celebrants.

Lest we not fully credit Ebenezer for this remarkable accomplishment, it must be remembered that he successfully and almost single-handedly built both the saw and grist mills. The clearing of the land, the cutting and hauling of the logs, the delicate balancing of the two 150-pound millstones from Massachusetts, the installation of the mill irons from Cohocton, the work of constructing two water wheels and the building of three structures would be a Herculean task today for several men. Allan accomplished all this under the severest of frontier conditions, lacking modern tools and with only his native skill, muscle and determination. If history colors him a little testy at times, perhaps it needs to reflect opon the primitive conditions of that era and be a little more understanding of, and charitable to, Mr. Allan.

The third structure built on the 100-acre site was the distant cookhouse and probably the living quarters for Ebenezer, Lucy, Sally and her two young daughters. Distance from the grist mill was important because all fire and chance of sparks had to be kept well away from the explosive flour dust present at grain milling operations.

It is likely that in the "cookhouse" living quarters Lucy gave birth to the first white baby born west of the Genesee, a son who they named Seneca. Henry Clune, newspaper reporter, author and keen observer of life, once asked the following question about the extended family arrangements of Mr. Allan:

How did he manage to put Lucy under the same roof with Sally and preserve between the two a comity that would seem unattainable except in a seraglio?

The answer seems as complex as Allan's personality must have been. Under the rigors of frontier living (no television or other electronic entertainments), lack in the social mores and pressures of an established settlement, there certainly was reason for such a social grouping. Think of the work that could be shared, the loneliness spared, and the needs met, of children who were remarkably healthy because everyone cared for them.

The grist mill's operation was relatively brief. We do know that it was never heavily utilized since there were fewer than 25 families living west of the Genesee at the time. Further, we have no record of how frequently the Senecas might have patronized the mill, nor how they might have transported either their maize to the site or the ground corn meal back to their villages. Thus after just two years, "Rochester's first entrepreneur," sold the area's first business enterprise to Benjamin Barton.Were it not for Ebenezer's crude handiwork in developing the saw and grist mills, the importance of the area's water power might never have caught Colonel Nathaniel Rochester's attention. We really have Allan to thank for sowing the first commercial seeds in a land that would eventually grow to become the Empire State's third largest metropolitan area.

Once again Indian Allan and his growing entourage returned to his happy hunting grounds at Mount Morris. His Indian associates, pleased with their brother's return, gave Sally's daughters four square acres of land as a token of their esteem.

While visiting Mary Jemison one day in the early spring he was introduced to an elderly gentleman and his petite, young wife, Christine. Allen welcomed the male companionship and got along unusually well with the newcomer's wife. Misfortune, however, soon struck the old gentleman who slipped and fell into the Genesee River on a chilly April afternoon. It was Allan who heroically pulled him to safety, only to have him pass away from shock and exertion three days later. Naturally it was a compassionate Allan who had to comfort the distraught widow. He proved remarkably attentive over the course of the ensuing year until Christine was fully recovered and felt up to leaving the menage at Allan's Hill.

The cabin must have felt almost lonesome to Ebenezer with the loss of his third help-mate. George E. Slocum, who lived in Scottsville, provided this insightful description of Allan:

" . . . being 45 years of age, tall and erect, quick of movement and energetic, [he] could appear courageous and affable, was at times loquacious and at others uncommmunicative…Allan's chief offense against society was his insane passion for matrimony."

It was this "insane passion" that was to induce him to yet another affair. Through some circumstance he was to make the acquaintance of the attractive daughter of Captain Sunfish, a black man and a run-away slave. His infatuation with the Captain's lovely, dark-skinned daughter lasted only until her inheritance ran out, probably less than two years.

In 1702, perhaps disappointed with this brief courtship, Allan married Millie McGregor (or Morilla Gregory). Millie was the spirited daughter of one of Butler's Rangers who had recently cleared land for a farm at the Genesee Flats. The redheaded and athletic Millie did not get along well with Sally or Lucy. Several major brawls broke out among the help-mates. Lucy and Sally refused to lift a finger around the cabin until something was done about the fiery Millie. A rather amazed Ebenezer was forced to move Millie into her own small cabin some distance from that of his original help-mates. Apparently this arrangment worked out fairly well. History discloses the Millie bore her frontier husband six children.

During that six-year period, Millie's sister also became a frequent visitor to the growing household. She lived as a family member for a number of seasons before leaving the assemblage to pursue other interests. It would appear that Ebenezer was always a most gracious host and went out of his way to make all of his female visitors feel right at home.

Special note must be made that Ebenezer sent both Chloe and Mary to a private school in Trenton, New Jersey, and provided for Lucy's son to attend school in Philadelphia. This he did with his own money and through contacts he'd made in those cities. His daughters may well have been the first part-Indian children ever formally educated in our new nation. In 1821 Seneca, well schooled in legal proceedings, contested the deed to his father's 100-acre mill site. Fortunately for Colonel Rochester, Seneca failed in this legal suit. He then moved to the newly opened lands in Michigan where, according to Henry Clune, he was chosen as warden of the Episcopal Church and later became a worshipful Master in the Masonic Lodge.

Using money from the sale of his sizeable farm in Scottsville, Allan, too, left Genesee Country for good. At age 50 in 1794, taking Lucy and Millie, but leaving Sally, he ventured into Upper Canada. There he struck a deal with Lord Simcoe, the British Lieutenant Governor. As a condition of the agreement he was deeded 3000 acres of land along the River de Trench near present-day London, Ontario. In return for the land he was to construct a mill, a church and a school. Perhaps it was due to poor communication or for clerical reasons that he failed to receive his promised deed. He eventually went bankrupt. Finally in 1816, Indian Allan, one of the frontier's greatest romantic rogues, was to pass away at age 72.

He was Rochester's first miller, its first businessman, and should have been posthumously awarded honorary membership in the Rochester Chamber of Commerce. Or perhaps, awarded the apt title of "Romantic Rogue for the Year 1789…."

Allan's millstones were retrieved from his mill and continued to be useful for a score or more years. Remarkably, they served the various grist mills of Tryon & Adams, Salmon Fuller, Lyman Goff, Isaac Barnes and Enos Blossom. In later years the two stones would once more be put to use. Some local historians had them employed as lamp bases for two ornate Victorian lamps positioned on either side of the front entrance to Rochester's old city hall. Today they are embedded in the second floor wall of the former County Courthouse on West Main Street where they can still be seen, touched and marveled at.

© 1996 , Donovan A. Shilling
This article appeared in the Spring 1996 issue of Genesee Country as
"Indian Allan: Frontiersman, Peacemaker. Ladies Man."
An ode to Allan. No tale of Indian Allan would be complete without including the following poignant ode. Written by Rochester's former poet laureate, Thomas Thackeray Swinburne, it is a tribute to our celebrated rogue and adds a sentimental touch to the frontiersman's life.

Indian Allan

by Thomas Thackeray Swinburne
Old Ebenezer Allan, he
Harnessed the raging Genesee,
And hitched it to a big grist mill
Before our city was a ville.
The redskins heard the rumbling sound
And came to watch the wheels go round;
They munched the wheat, which made them dry,
And then they took a little rye.
An Indian maid, with long black hair,
While gazing at the millstones there,
Became enamored of its power
Was turned into a yellow flour.
Her lover was a mighty chief
Who tried to drown his poignant grief,
But down his face big tears would steal;
Whene'er he ate his Indian meal.
Old Indian Allan, he
Died in a former century;
And when they laid him down to rest
They placed two millstones on his breast..
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