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Captain Joseph Allen


By Mabel Parker Smith 

Typed by Annette Campbell, July 2009 

Originally published in the Examiner Newspaper of 16 November 1956

Picture of the Joseph Allen home courtesy of Sylvia Hasenkopf

 "He was like Jonah. He went down, but he didn't stay down."  Thus, one of a later generation summed up the seafaring New Englander, Captain Joseph Allen, who "laid up in ordinary" at Catskill after the War of 1812 and whose numerous descendents married into the Salisbury, Dubois, Goetchius and Cooke families of Catskill and the Lawyer and Osterhout families of Schoharie. 

In his fantastic adventures at sea Captain Allen was a little different from Catskill's other storied seafarer of the time, Captain Jacob Dunham.  The difference was that Allen recouped his fortunes after every disaster and wound up a wealthy man while Dunham's losses left him a poor man in the end.   Wars, pestilence and fire, piracy, hair-breadth escapes, capture and imprisonment harassed Captain Allen's life at sea. Yellow fever decemated his crew and took the life of his son on the father's ship in Havana harbor.  The Captain himself survived the disease but it was said to have left him "with a shattered constitution."  Nevertheless, after retiring to Catskill at about sixty years of age, he lived for about 30 years or more to enliven the village with his shrewdness and his salty wit,---

"endeared himself to his fellow citizens by his integrity, affability and moral worth," said his obituary in the Catskill Messenger upon the occasion of his death in 1842. He is buried in Catskill Village Cemetery, Thompson Street.                                                


Descendents of Captain Allen in Catskill today are Mrs. Gordon H. Decker, Liberty Street, and the Misses Helen and Mary Decker. Mrs. Decker owns the framed parchment of 1794, signed by George Washington, bearing the Great Seal of the United States and the seal of the City of New York, commissioning Allen in English, French and Dutch as master of the ship Supply.

Other ship's papers in the Captain's name were issued over signatures of John Adams and James Monroe. His first recorded commission is dated 1778 and names him Lieutenant and Prize officer on the 21-ton Dolphin, described as mounting two three-pounders and three swivel guns, a coast-wise privateer pre-dating the US Navy. In 1804 he was master and owner of the 128-ton Dispatch.

Born in Middletown, Rhode Island, in 1752, he sailed out of Newport in the merchant trade until Rhode Island was occupied by the British early in the Revolution. Then, with other ardent young patriots in whaleboats or other light craft, he lurked in coves and inlets of Naragansett Bay to annoy and plunder British vessels.  Twice captured, he was a prisoner in Halifax, N. S., and in Wallabout Bay, near what is now Brooklyn Navy Yard. Later, in the West Indies trade, he was taken by the Spanish and incarcerated for several months in the old fortress at St. Augustine.

Last Summer, in a few days' research at Providence, Newport and Middletown, R.I., Mrs. Decker and Miss Helen Becker brought to Catskill more data about Captain Allen than has been known probably since his passing. First of the family in the colonies, they found, was Joseph's grandfather, John Allen, and English "Roundhead." who came from  Suffolk in 1633, landed in Ipswich, settled in Portsmouth, then moved to newport in 1651 for freedom of Quaker worship. His son, Samuel, was father of Captain Joseph. The latter married Mary Taggart, of Manx descent, relative of one of the first royal governors of Rhode Island. 


Joseph Allen was one of the ship captains who sought safe harbor up the Hudson during the War of 1812, one of the migrations which accounts for the New England influx among the Dutch on both sides of the river.  At the age of retirement, he still had enough adventure in his blood to start a new life in a small but bustling inland village. He bought land in Jefferson Heights on the Susquehanna Turnpike, major east-west thorofare, and in 1814 built the brick house identified by a State marker, now the property of Mr. & Mrs. Leonard A. Marquoit, previously owned for nearly 20 years by Mr. & Mrs. Ernest W. Smith. Captain Allen, Yankee to the last, capitalized on his investment late in life by cutting the farm up into building lots. He sold the bridge residence to 'an overbearing' Englishman" named William Pullan and moved to a cozy, dormer-windowed house half-way down Jefferson Hill. That house stood near the upper end of the viaduct over Route 9W and, before taken for the highway, was last  occupied by the late Mr. & Mrs. Elmer Davis, parents of Mrs. C. L. Crook of the staff of Catskill Public Library.

Local legend makes the Captain still a hero at 80 when, called a liar by the Purchaser Pullan, the cocky little man threw the tall Englishman off his stoop and justified his revenge with the plea that it was punishment long overdue. "Often," he told the judge, "when beating up the British Channel, I have had to douse my peak to every English vessel in the Channel. Today I have doused an Englishman, peak, hull and all."

Under a photo of P.H.Allen, it says: 

P.H. Allen, portait by Jane Stuart, daughter of famed artist, Gilbert Stuart. Probably painted in Newport, RI ___?__ 1812, when Captain migrated to Hudson River and settled in Catskill.  Portrait owned by descendents, Helen and Mary Becker, and a companion to that of the Captain and other members of his family hanging in the Newport Historical Society Gallery.

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