|Strangers to Us All||Lawyers and Poetry|
Lawyer, poet, and Connecticut Congressman
"John Allen was born in Great Barrington, Mass., sometime, I believe, in 1762, of respectable parents, though not distinguished in society, as I remember to have heard him say that he was the son of a joiner. There were but two children in the family, a son and a daughter . . . . Their father died during the minority of both children. Mr. Allen, having an excellent common school education, though not a classic education, became a teacher, and being impelled by a spirit of adventure, somewhat romantic as he was thought in those days, went suddenly, and without the knowledge of his friends, and while yet a minor, to Germantown near Philadelphia, where he obtained a place as instructor of the young classes of an academic establishment of some note at the time. . . . [S]oon after leaving the place, and I believe almost immediately, he came to New Milford, and taught a school for some six months, and from here went immediately into Mr. Reeve's law school, and after the accustomed period of study was admitted to the bar, and immediately settled in practice in Litchfield, where he spent his life. He confined himself almost entirely to the practice of Litchfield County, though occasionally when called, in consequence of the eminence to which he soon attained in the profession, he practiced in other counties, in some cases of importance, and especially in the Federal Circuit Court, in which, for a few years after the formation of the present Constitution of the United States, some considerable business was done. Mr. Allen, however never went abroad in quest of business, thinking that the very great share of Attorney business which he acquired in being always found in his office, equal, at least in point of profit, to what counsellor business he might obtain by attending Courts in other counties, considering that all the counsellor business flowing from the attorney business which he did, he was sure to be engaged in. [The author of the biographical sketch notes that] From the time I entered the law school in the fall of 1793. I occupied a room in his office, and had free access to his ample library and boarded at the same house with him. During all that time, and all the remaining years of his prosperous practice, which indeed lasted till the apparent commencement of his rapid decline, soon followed by death, he was engaged in almost every case of any importance in the Superior and County Court. He was certainly, a very successful and powerful advocate, equally with the Jury as with the Court, a thoroughly read lawyer, equal in point of legal science to any one at our bar during the fore part of the time I am speaking of, except Tapping Reeve, who had no rival, and in the latter part of the period, James Gould, of whom I need say nothing as you knew him in his meridian light. Mr. Allen always made diligent and faithful preparation of all cases committed to his care, and made himself fully acquainted with every point of law and every accessible point of evidence which could arise in the case, and was therefore usually successful when the case deserved success.
[Allen] was six feet four or five inches high, very erect and with an attitude and walk well calculated to set off his full stature, and though quite lean, weighed full 230 pounds. His countenance was strongly marked and truly formidable, his eyes and eye brows dark, his hair dark, what little he had for he was quite bald, far back, even before middle age, and indeed his whole appearance was calculated to inspire dread, rather than affection. His manner and conversation were, however, such as to inspire confidence and respect, though little calculated to invite familiarity, except with his intimates, of whom he had a few, and those, knowing the generous and hearty friendship of which he was capable, were usually, much attached to him and ready to overlook all his harsh sallies, imputing them to the 'rough humor which his mother gave him.' His feelings were not refined, but ardent, generous and hearty. His friendships were strong and his aversions equally so—and as I used to say of him, speaking to others, 'his feelings were all of the great sort.' He neither enjoyed nor suffered any thing from many of those little incidents which so often affect, either pleasingly or painfully, minds of a more refined texture. As he had no taste for such things, nor, as it would seem, any faculty of perceiving, so he knew no language appropriate to their description, but in respect to those things and principles which he thought worthy of his regard, he lacked no power of language to make himself fully and forcibly understood. For neutral ground, either in morals or politics, he had no taste, and but little less than absolute abhorrence. As a specimen of his feelings and language, better than I can describe, I will give you the laconic answer to an enquiry of him, why he took the Aurora the leading democratic paper in the county, then under the guidance of that arch democrat, Duane; he replied it was because he wanted to know what they were about in the infernal regions. And after giving this specimen I need make no fuller attempt to give you an idea of his humor, manners and language.
After Mr. Allen was married, which was not till he was towards forty years old. and went to house keeping, I boarded at his house at his express solicitation for many years while attending Court; though he took no other one, nor ever named to me any price, nor would he count the money I handed to him when leaving for home, seeming to receive it only because I refused to stay on any other terms. I therefore saw much of him in his family, where his conduct was always dignified, proper and kind. He was proud, very proud, and justly so, of his wife, who was a woman of much personal beauty, polished manners, and great and even singular discretion, and for whom he entertained, I believe, an ardent affection.
"John W. Allen came to the village from Litchfield, Conn., in 1825. His father, also John Allen, was a lawyer, poet, and a Connecticut congressman. On account of his height, and perhaps to differentiate him from other Allens of the same family, he was designated as 'Long John Allen.' He died at 42 years of age, and when his son John was but a lad of ten years. His wife was Ursula McCurdy, and related by blood and connection with many noted New England families. Her death followed closely that of her husband, so that John was an orphan at the age of seventeen.
The fame of Judge Samuel Cowles as a jurist must have reached Connecticut, for John W. Allen chose to come to Cleveland and study law under him than acquire the same knowledge nearer home. Upon finishing the study previous to the examination, he became a member of the Cleveland bar, and within five years was president of the village council, and the last one to hold that position. In turn he was Mayor and postmaster of the city, state senator, congressional representative, banker, railroad director, and filled other positions of civic and commercial trust. With it all, he was ever the city's most unselfish champion and promoter.
A fine portrait of him is in the possession of his only daughter, Mrs. Louise Allen Fuller. The face is a noble one, full of refinement and dignity. Like most men of good family, he was simple-mannered, and no one, even the humblest stranger, left his presence with a sense of unmerited humiliation.
Soon after entering the bar, he rode away, one day, to Warren, Ohio, and returned with a bride, Anna Maria, the young daughter of Gen. Simeon Perkins. His domestic happiness, however, was of short duration, for she died within three months' time.
He married secondly, Harriet E. Mather, the 18-year-old daughter of James Mather of Lyme, Conn. She was his cousin, once removed, a descendant of Rev. Cotton Mather, and a relative of the late Samuel L. Mather of this city.
The Allen residence faced the north-east section of the Public Square and stood on the site of the present chamber of commerce. The lot took in the alley now opened for a passage-way, and extended through to St. Clair Street. There were but four houses on that part of the Square. Charles M. Giddings' stone residence, afterward occupied by N. E. Crittenden, now the site of the Citizens' Savings Bank, was on one corner, the Allen home on the other, and between them were the residences of James F. Clark and John Irwin.
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John W. Allen lived much in Washington, D. C., in the latter years of his life. Mrs. Allen died in 1887, and four weeks after he followed her to the Better Land."