Rochester's Romantic Rogue
The Life and Times of Ebenezer Allan
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,
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.
This article appeared in the Spring 1996 issue of Genesee Country
"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.
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..