Part IV


More history, and contrition


In further readings about my Allen background, which were available partly because we had a distant relationship by marriage to Andrew Jackson, the notorious racist, and so showed up now and then in history records, I was able to learn more about the Allen’s and their relationship to the slaves who lived with them for decades if not generations. My g-g-g grandfather Robert T. Allen lost a lawsuit about a real estate deal in the mid-1800’s. As payment, the court confiscated the rights to their slaves (“property” for property). My g-g-g grandmother Julia Dickinson Allen then went to court with a counter-suit, claiming that they had no right to take her “property” as settlement, because she had inherited these people. And the court found in her favor; thus, families comprising eighteen slaves were not split up. Some of the girls born after that were named after my grandmother. I don’t mean to imply that these things made supporting the institution of slavery in any way a good thing, but at the time, Julia Dickinson Allen did prevent families from being separated from each other.


My g-g-g grandmother had sailed around Florida from Maryland with the slaves, apparently, and was shipwrecked along the way before they finally settled in Texas, but all the slaves survived and no families had been broken up. My g-g-g grandfather and his son, my g-g-grandfather Robert Dickinson Allen, both fought with the Confederacy in the war, because their residence was in Texas, and, well, because they believed in slavery. I feel sick writing this. At the same time, my g-g-g aunt, Dorothea Allen, the sister of my g-g-g grandfather Allen, married Jay Cooke, the man who financed the Union side of the war. So my ancestors were supporting both sides, and yet stayed in contact with each other. The two Allen men in the Confederacy both contracted yellow fever, and came back to Texas to convalesce. Then, my g-g-g grandparents ran a hospital in Bastrop, TX, where both Confederate and Union soldiers were sent to convalesce. My grandmother was referred to as “the angel of the battlefield” by the Union soldiers, even though she was recently a southern woman, and the Confederate soldiers complained that she and my grandfather should just let the Yankees die. But with family on both sides, and having seen the horrors of war close up, their greater nature held sway.


After the war, the Allen slaves were legally free, but they all went back to Maryland together. There, my g-g-g grandmother assisted the slave families in purchasing homes. Each “house” had a value comparable to $500 today, so it’s clear that these either were shacks or Julia sold the houses, possibly on the Allen property, cheaply. I thought, well, she could have just given them away… and then I thought, it’s possible that the deeds would have been contested at some point if the former slaves didn’t pay for them. So in any case, somehow, the slaves who had been part of the Allen “property” now had property of their own, and were paid for their labor. Maybe they traded labor for home ownership.


I was somewhat relieved to read this. Does it make up for the oppression these people endured while living with my Allen ancestors? No. I am ashamed that they participated in this disgusting institution and I sometimes feel the same nausea and sadness, even tearfulness, I felt when I learned all this over twenty years ago, that this is part of my heritage. I would like to think that my grandmother was kind and generous and doing the best she could with an established system she didn’t set up. But she helped perpetrate it. She could have freed them after the property lawsuit, or sooner. Maybe they supported the confederacy as a matter of states’ rights. (But, they had slaves, so, unlikely that’s all it was.) Perhaps the devastation of the war had Julia, and possibly my g-g-g grandfather Robert as well, see the light. Of course I would love to believe this… but I continue to see my ancestors as part of the problem, and having only given a trifling contribution to the solution. Property ownership, as I mentioned in part I of this blog, is integral in being a financially respected member of society, and at least Julia supplied that to her former slaves.


Next: Seeking forgiveness and acting for change