William Allen

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William Allen

Birthdate: (76)
Birthplace: Philadelphia, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania, United States
Death: 1780 (76)
Mount Airy, Wyoming County, Pennsylvania, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of William Allen and Mary Allen
Husband of Margaret Allen
Father of Andrew Allen; James Allen and Anne Penn

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Immediate Family

About William Allen


William Allen (August 5, 1704 – September 6, 1780) was a wealthy merchant, Chief Justice of the Province of Pennsylvania, and mayor of Philadelphia. At the time of the American Revolution, Allen was one of the wealthiest and most powerful men in Philadelphia. A loyalist, Allen agreed that the colonies should seek to redress their grievances with British Parliament through constitutional means, but he disapproved of the movement towards independence.

Life and career

Born in Philadelphia in 1704, Allen was the son of William Allen, sr., a successful Philadelphia merchant of Scotch-Irish descent who had immigrated to America from Dungannon, County Tyrone, Ireland with his brother John and father. The elder Allen had risen to prominence through close ties to William Penn, proprietor of Pennsylvania. As a youth, Allen spent much of his time in England. In 1720, he was admitted to the Middle Temple in London to study law, and at the same time became a pensioner at Clare College, Cambridge.

Upon his father's death in 1725, Allen returned to Philadelphia to manage the family's business interests. In the spring of 1729, Allen was named alongside lawyer Andrew Hamilton as a trustee for the purchasing and building fund for the Philadelphia state house. Both men were authorized to buy the land on which the project was to be built. By October of the next year, 1730, Allen and Hamilton began the purchase of lots on Chestnut Street at their own expense, the property on which the Pennsylvania State House, later known as Independence Hall, was to be erected. He was made mayor of the city of Philadelphia in 1735, and celebrated the opening of the nearly complete State House the following year by having a feast for all citizens and guests of the city—a celebration that was described as "the most grand, the most elegant entertainment that has been made in these parts of America."

By the will of his father-in-law Andrew Hamilton, dated July 31 – August 1, 1741, Allen was left all the land of the Yard for the state house and its surrounding public grounds. They were to be managed by him and his brother-in-law James Hamilton. On September 13, 1761 Allen and James Hamilton conveyed Lot no. 1 and the other pieces of land acquired by Allen and Hamilton to Isaac Norris II and the other trustees of the province. This completed the Yard that the state house was built on and the surrounding public space.

Allen served as Chief Justice of the colony's Supreme Court from 1750 to 1774, at which time he resigned due to increasing tensions resulting from his loyalist beliefs and health concerns. He was succeeded by Benjamin Chew.

In 1760, encouraged by William Smith, Allen sponsored the young painter Benjamin West's trip to Italy, establishing a £100 line of credit on which West could rely and, in a letter of introduction in 1760, calling him "a young ingenious Painter of this City, who is desirous to improve himself in that Science, by visiting Florence & Rome." A year later Allen and his brother-in-law, the Governor James Hamilton, provided more money for West, who would turn out to be one of the century's most important painters and, from 1792 until his death in 1820, the president of Britain's Royal Academy. West referred to Allen as "the principal of my patrons."

Allen was a Freemason, a member of St. John's Lodge No. 1, "Moderns," Philadelphia, known as the Tun Tavern Lodge. He was appointed Provincial Grand Master of Pennsylvania, "Moderns" on June 24, 1731, and is recognized not only as the first Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania, but also the youngest (only 26 years old when installed). Allen served two terms as Grand Master, the first from 1731–32, the second from 1747–61.

A loyalist, he went in 1774 to England, where he published The American Crisis: A Letter, Addressed by Permission of the Earl Gower, Lord President of the Council, on the present alarming Disturbances in the Colonies, which proposed a plan for restoring the American colonies to crown rule. Allen returned to Philadelphia in 1779, and died at Mount Airy, his mansion outside Philadelphia, the following year.


Main article: Family of William Allen (loyalist)


On February 16, 1734, Allen married Margaret Hamilton, daughter of Andrew Hamilton, famed defense lawyer in the 1735 Zenger case, and sister of James Hamilton. William and Margaret had six children: John, Andrew, James, William, Anne, and Margaret. Like their father, Allen's sons became loyalists in the American Revolution.


Founding of Allentown, Pennsylvania

Main article: Allentown, Pennsylvania


Allentown, Pennsylvania was laid out as Northampton Town in 1762 by Allen. The property was part of a 5,000-acre (20 km2) plot Allen purchased in 1735 from his business partner Joseph Turner, who had acquired the land from Thomas Penn, son of William Penn. Allen hoped that Northampton Town would displace Easton as the seat of Northampton County and also become a commercial center due to its location along the Lehigh River and its proximity to Philadelphia. Allen gave the property to his son James in 1767. Three years later, in 1770, James built a summer residence, Trout Hall, in the new town, near the site of his father's former hunting lodge.

On March 18, 1811, the town was formally incorporated as a borough. On March 6, 1812, Lehigh County was formed from the western half of Northampton County, and Northampton Town was selected as the county seat. The town was officially renamed "Allentown" in 1838 after years of popular usage. Allentown was formally incorporated as a city on March 12, 1867. Today, Allentown is the third largest city in Pennsylvania.

Allentown's William Allen High School, Pennsylvania's third largest public high school, is named in his honor.

Mount Airy, Pennsylvania

Main article: Mount Airy, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Allen built a mansion and country estate on Germantown Avenue in 1750, and the area eventually took the estate's name, Mount Airy, as its own. The estate stood on what is today the campus of the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia. Allens Lane, a street in Mount Airy, is also named in his honor.


William Allen (August 5, 1704 – September 6, 1780) was a wealthy merchant, attorney and Chief Justice of the Province of Pennsylvania, and mayor of Philadelphia during the colonial period. At the time of the American Revolution, Allen was one of the wealthiest and most powerful men in Philadelphia. A Loyalist, Allen agreed that the colonies should seek to redress their grievances with British Parliament through constitutional means, and he disapproved of the movement toward independence.[1]

He built a manor and country estate, known as Mount Airy, in 1750 outside Philadelphia; the neighborhood became known by his estate's name and is now part of the city. In 1762 he founded what became Allentown, Pennsylvania, and had a hunting lodge there.

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William Allen's Timeline

Philadelphia, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania, United States
Age 36
Age 38
Philadelphia, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania, United States
Age 76
Wyoming County, Pennsylvania, United States