Allen, Peter (ca. 1805-1836) – Free man, Texas Revolution flutist

Peter Allen, a free black who participated in the Texas Revolution, was among the troops of Colonel James
Walker Fannin’s command who were executed on Palm Sunday, March 27, 1836, at the Goliad massacre.  

Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania ca. 1805, Allen was the son of
Richard Allen (1760-1831), founder and
first Bishop of the
African Methodist Episcopal Church, and his wife, Sarah Bass (1764-1849). Richard Allen
was born a slave into the household of
Benjamin Chew, Pennsylvanis’s attorney general, on February 14,
1760, purchased his freedom on August 27, 1783, and went on to become one of the preeminent black leaders
in Colonial America. An accomplished writer, Richard Allen published books, tracts, and sermons, while
serving as a minister and educator up until the time of his death in Philadelphia on March 26, 1831.

Sarah Bass, who was born into slavery in
Isle of Wight, Virginia in 1764, came to Philadelphia as a slave at the
age of eight, obtained her freedom prior to marrying Richard Allen on March 11, 1801, and was active in
reform activities up until the time of her death in Philadelphia on July 16, 1849.

In 1835, Peter Allen moved from the secure environs of Philadelphia, a city whose entire black population of
approximately 15,000 was free, to Huntsville, county seat of Madison County, Alabama, where only one
percent of the state’s black population enjoyed freedom. The reasons for his emigration are unclear; however,
it was an extraordinary move considering the threat of seizure and sale into slavery for any free black from the
north venturing into the Deep South. That danger became more poignant with his marriage to an enslaved
woman, Mary (ca. 1807-1885), shortly after his arrival in Huntsville. Despite the inherent danger, the events
that unfolded in October 1835 suggest Peter Allen was accepted by the white community in Huntsville.  

Beginning in late October 1835m, appeals were published in several Alabama newspapers, including the
Huntsville Southern Advocate, urging Alabamians to come to the aid of their “brothers in Texas.”  On the night
of October 31, 1835 an organizational meeting was held in Huntsville and a volunteer company formed by
Captain Peyton S. Wyatt.  Although he was a free black who had only recently arrived in the city, Allen, a
flutist, was welcomed into the company as a musician as it departed Huntsville for the west on Sunday,
November 8, 1835.  

A steamboat transported the twenty volunteers, including Peter Allen, up the Tennessee River and into the
Ohio River before stopping at Paducah, Kentucky for two days. There, the men marched through the streets
playing music, making speeches, and exhorting the local men to join them before continuing their journey down
the Mississippi to Natchez and overland to Nacogdoches. Arriving in Texas in early December, Wyatt’s
company was mustered into service on December 25, 1835.  

On January 12, 1836 they were dispatched to
Goliad and then joined the volunteers at Refugio about January
22, 1836. With Wyatt on furlough, the Huntsville volunteers were commanded by Lieutenant B. T. Bradford
and participated in the
Battle of Coleto Creek under Fannin before their surrender on March 20th and
imprisonment at Goliad.

The night before the massacre,
Captain Jack Shackelford, commander of the Alabama Red Rovers, recalled
that the musicians of the troop, which would have included Peter Allen, played the tune "Home Sweet Home"
on their flutes as tears “rolled down many a manly cheek.”  The next morning, Palm Sunday, March 27th, the
men were awakened at dawn by their Mexican guards, split into four divisions and marched outside the fort,
each group proceeding in a different direction. Some minutes later, Shackelford heard shots and the screams of
men as they were being executed. Later that day, the mangled corpses of his comrades were burned by the

Peter Allen’s siblings in Philadelphia, John Allen, Sarah Wilkins, and Mary Adams, claiming to be his only
heirs, obtained title to 4,036 acres of land in Texas as a result of Peter’s service. When Peter’s wife, Mary,
proved her marriage and filed a claim as well, the Philadelphia heirs objected and a protracted court battle
ensued that ended in the Texas Supreme Court. Mary Allen’s claim was confirmed by the Texas Supreme
Court and the suit to deny her claim by the Philadelphia heirs was dismissed.

Peter’s widow, lived the remainder of her life in Huntsville, Alabama, and died there on June 23, 1885. Her
second husband, John Cook, preceded her in death. Mary’s obituary recounted Peter’s service in the Texas
Revolution and his refusal to save his own life when offered his freedom in return for playing "Home Sweet
Home" on his flute for the Mexican commander. The
Huntsville Independent recalled Peter Allen’s
determination to remain with his comrades and share their fate when he replied to the Mexican commander,
“No, I’ll not play, but I’ll just go along with the rest of the boys.”

Contributed by Stephen E. Taylor, Sam Houston State University


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