The Story of Betty Allen
Lollie S. Corbin - Registrar - 1954
Betty Allen Chapter, National Society Daughters of the American Revolution
Betty Allen Chapter, National Society Daughters of the American Revolution
On March 13, 1716, a little daughters was born in the home of Noah and Mindwell Edwards Parsons standing somewhere in t he present Conz or Fruit Street section of Northampton. She was the third arrival in their family that was eventually to number thirteen and was given the good old Biblical name of Elisabeth - spelled with an "s" as in the Good Book itself, instead of with a "z" that crept into it in later years. It must have given the parents a thrill to have a baby born on New Year's Day, for the Julian calendar was still in use in the English-speaking countries, and fantastic as it seems to us now, the new year then began on March 25. So Elisabeth was born on the first day of the New Year 1716.
Little Betty had a fine, sturdy New England ancestry, and from these pioneer ancestors, who with their capable wives helped to lay such a firm foundation in this new world, she inherited a faith, courage, strength of character and integrity that she, in turn, transmitted to her children and grandchildren, so that they became persons of usefulness and prominence, highly respected by their fellowmen.
On November 22, 1733, Elisabeth Parsons, then a maid of seventeen, became the bride of Joseph Allen, a youth of twenty-one, of whom it was said in later years that he was remarkable for the strength of his intellect and his religious character. They were well mated. The ceremony was performed by the pastor of the First Church, a rising young clergyman by the name Reverend Jonathan Edwards. Joseph took his young bride to his home on King Street near the present site of the armory. There he lived until his death in 1779 at the age of sixty-six, and Betty continued to reside there until the year before her death, which occurred in the home of her daughter next door on January 10, 1800, at the age of eighty-three.
Here Betty lived the usual life of a housewife of her day, baking, brewing, spinning, weaving, knitting - busy from early dawn to candlelight, for nearly everything from food and clothing to soap and candles was then homemade. Here her thirteen children were born, eleven who lived to maturity, although Phinehas died at the age of twenty. Good substantial Bible names she gave them, Joseph, Jonathan, Sarah, Thomas, Phinehas, Moses, Solomon, Elisha, Elijah, Elisabeth, and Eunice - for Joseph and Betty were devout Christians and staunch supporters of Jonathan Edwards, and this was the period of the Great Awakening when religious fervor ran high.
Betty's day would seem to have been very full indeed, yet she was never too busy to lend a helping hand at the "blessed events" that occurred with frequency and regularity in those days when every child was welcomed as a valuable economic asses and large families were customary. Her usefulness in the community may be measured by the fact that when her passing was recorded on the church books, this tribute was added: "She was a mid-wife above fifty years, and assisted in bringing 3000 children into the world." That would average about one a week. In those days, the care of women in childbirth was considered a task exclusively for women, and midwifery was a vital and honored profession. Betty seems to have taken the work seriously. Although midwives were often untrained and some even unable to read, she made it a study, and when she died, willed her books on the subject to her youngest daughter. In her will, she also mentions books on religion of a profundity that seems appalling in these days of popular light fiction. And, incidentally, she left $29 "toward Christianizing the heathen," the heathen, of course, being the Indians.
Neither was Betty Allen too busy to carry on when her husband answered his country's call during the French and Indian War, for her served in 1755 in the expedition to Lake George, and again in 1758 and 1759 as a sergeant in the expedition to Ticonderoga and Crown Point in the attempt to put an end to the ever-present threat of Indian attack, for Western Massachusetts was still frontier.
Then came the War of the Revolution. Mothers of today may perhaps comprehend the feelings of Betty Allen when her sons went to the defense of their country. What though two of them were ordained ministers in charge of parishes? Their county needed them, they answered the call. Two were chaplains, wo were majors and one a lieutenant in the Continental Army, yet their war records were but episodes in their long and useful lives.
Jonathan Allen, the second son, was captain of the Northampton band of Minutemen. According to Judd's Manuscript he and his hands were at work on a barn when the bells rang and guns were fired for the Lexington Alarm. Says Judd: "They came down in a moment, were over the fence like deer, and were soon ready to march to Boston." In the war that followed, Jonathan served first as captain in 1776, then in 1778 as major with an honorable record. In 1780, after his return from war, he was accidentally shot by a friend while hunting deer in the woods at the foot of Round Hill near what is now Bright Street, and died a few hours later. He left a widow and one son.
The next son, Thomas Allen, their fifth child, is famous as the "Fighting Parson." He received a legacy from his great-uncle, Thomas Allen that enabled him to study at Harvard, where he graduated with an enviable reputation for scholarship. Afterwards he studied theology for a time with Reverend John Hooker, and was then ordained the first minister of the Pittsfield Church. An ardent patriot, he was army chaplain at Ticonderoga in 1776 and in Westchester County in 1777. When it was learned that trouble was imminent at Bennington, Parson Allen called his people together in the meeting-house at Pittsfield, made a ringing patriotic speech, called for volunteers to accompany him and started for Bennington. There he mounted a platform of boards laid over drum-heads, and offered a fervent prayer that inspired them all with courage, and then called for a musket which his brother Joseph had loaded for him, and returned the fire of the enemy, continuing throughout the day. After the war, Rev. Thomas Allen was prominent in the political affairs and was highly honored for his noble qualities of heart and mind. He was the father of twelve children, several of whom became outstanding in their respective communities.
Rev. Moses Allen, the eighth child, was a graduate of Princeton, then became pastor of a church at Midway, Georgia. The church was burned by the British in 1778 and he joined the Continental Army as chaplain. He was taken prisoner by the British in December 1778, and he alone of the officers captured was refused parole, for they said he "was the damnedest rebel on the continent." Instead, he was confined in a loathsome prison-ship. He attempted to escape by swimming ashore afterwards, but was drowned, and his fellow prisoners were refused the privilege of making him a coffin. Scraps of a diary, torn, water-soaked, partly obliterated, tell of his life on the prison-ship. In contrast, a letter to is brother-in-law written shortly before his escape contains brave messages of comfort and courage for his wife. He left one son.
The ninth child, Solomon Allen, was a Minuteman in 1775, then a lieutenant, and later a major in the Continental Army. While Lieutenant, he commanded the guard that conveyed the noted say, Major Andre, from the point of capture to West Point, and but for his vigilance and integrity, the prisoner might have been rescued en route. After the war, he assisted in suppressing Shay's Rebellion. Later Solomon Allen entered the ministry, working as an evangelist, and was instrumental in establishing four churches. He was the father of seven children, and has distinguished descendants.
Elisha Allen, the tenth child, lived on the home place. He, too was one of the Northampton band of Minutemen. In 1777, on receipt of the news that a battle was threatening in Bennington, he joined the Northampton volunteers who marched to offer aid. They arrived after the battle had ended, but were assigned to guard the Hessian prisoners, thus aiding in a material way. Elisha was the father of five children.
Their eleventh child, Elijah Allen, is mentioned in the History of Northampton as having served thirty-nine days at Ticonderoga in 1777. He was the father of eight children.
We must not pass over Betty's daughters without a word, for through them, also, were transmitted to future generations the sterling qualities of "that rare and remarkable woman," as she has been called.
Sarah, the oldest daughter and third child, married Pliny Pomeroy, became the mother of eleven children, some of whom went pioneering into Western New York state and Ohio, and helped to open up the great Mid-est. Elisabeth, the twelfth child, was the second to bear her mother's name, for the forth child, a daughter named Elisabeth, died in infancy. The second Elisabeth became the wife of Thomas Craige and was the mother of four children. Eunice, the youngest of the thirteen, married Samuel Breck of Northampton, and became the mother of six children.
Surely, so brilliant a mind as that of Elisabeth Parsons Allen must have rebelled occasionally at the humdrum existence she seemed to be leading, so devoid of any spectacular accomplishments, day after day after day, yet when she reached the sunset of her life and looked back over the long years and noted the universal respect in which she and her children were held, and the budding promise of her sixty grandchildren, who were to include ministers, doctors, lawyers, business men, legislators, authors, educators, including a president of Bowdoin College, and when she thought upon the three thousand men and women who were, in a measure, indebted to her for their existence, she must have felt a deep glow of satisfaction for a full life well-lived.
Sixteen years after Betty's death, a gravestone of white marble with a distinctive design was erected in Bridge Street Cemetery by two grandsons, Solomon and Moses Allen, then very prosperous bankers, to the memory of Joseph Allen and his wife, Elisabeth Parsons, "in respect for their virtues." The inscription also states that "both were exemplary and eminent Christians" and adds the benediction, "The memory of the just is blessed."
Truly, "to life in the hearts we leave behind is not to die". Betty Allen's spirit is still marching on down through the ages!