Blaney Allison; Master’s Mate, Lieutenant

Blaney Allison, Lieutenant. The best information we have concerning Blaney Allison’s family history comes from Philadelphia wills and the matriculation and tuition records archived by the University of Pennsylvania and available for online viewing. The will of his older brother Benjamin Ashley Allison dated 24 March 1772 and proved exactly three months later on 24 June names three brothers Robert, Blaney and Francis- likely by their order of birth. Apparently, Benjamin Allison, “late of the City of Phila[delphia], Mariner” died in the Parish of Westmoreland on the westernmost tip of Jamaica with his affairs there administered by George Douglas of that place. Named executors at home in Philadelphia were his second wife Sarah Read Allison and his cousin and former business associate Captain William Allison. Benjamin Ashley Allison made a number of voyages since his October 1767 loss of the snow Muggy off of Antigua, having first took command of this vessel in late 1765 from William Simpson who succeeded Benjamin’s cousin William as master seven years earlier. The Muggy had been sailing to Antigua under William Allison since 1752. Benjamin Ashley Allison was next master of the ship Molly to Antigua in 1768 and the brig Sally, built in Baltimore and owned with his cousin William, in 1769 to Barbados. The following year Captain Benjamin Allison weathered a rather unpleasant shakedown at Oporto, a coastal city in Northern Portugal, before returning home to Philadelphia from Lisbon on 15 February 1770. In August 1770, he is reported sailing for Jamaica and subsequently also making port at Antigua and Montserrat in the brig Sally. Allison is recorded off the east end of Jamaica in July 1771, on the north side of Cuba in late August and in early September off Cape Hatteras bound for Philadelphia before clearing out again from that city on 14 November 1771 on his presumably last voyage to Jamaica. Nothing is known of the circumstances surrounding Captain Benjamin Ashley Allison’s death, however it can be reasonably speculated that his younger brother Blaney learned the mariner’s trade on the brig Sally and may even have been present at his end. Sadly, Benjamin’s second wife and widow Sarah Read Allison of Philadelphia would follow her husband in death one year later, her will written on 17 February and proved one month later on 15 March 1773. Twenty-eight year old Sarah Alison died on 26 February and was buried in the Gilpin Family Cemetery at Elkton, MD. Nothing is known concerning Benjamin’s first wife Elizabeth Anderson to whom he was married in the First Presbyterian Church at Philadelphia on 7 January 1768.

Prior to Benjamin Ashley Allison’s seafaring career, he was on several occasions enrolled in the College and Academy of Philadelphia, later to become the University of Pennsylvania. University archives note that he first attended during the 1759-1760 school year. He returned for the 1762-1763 school year but “left the academy in a few days”. The oldest of the Allison brothers returned to the college a final time on 19 January 1764 but is noted as “gone” before the end of the 1764-1765 school year. On 14 March 1768, Blaney Allison is recorded as matriculated at the College and Academy of Philadelphia, his tuition “paid by his father Capt. Alison”. Another 1767-1768 school year ledger notation indicates the college “got paid 14 March” by Robert Alison. These records, as well as other tuition payment notations for his brothers Benjamin and Robert, clearly identify the Allison brothers’ father as Captain Robert Allison, brother of celebrated colonial Classics scholar Dr. Francis Alison, Vice-Provost and Professor of Moral Philosophy at the college attended by his nephews. Like his older brother and perhaps because he may have been sailing with his older brother, Blaney’s college attendance record is sporadic and abbreviated. His tuition for the 1768-1769 school year paid, Blaney is reported “gone”. He is noted as returned on 13 July 1769 only to be “gone” again on 17 August. Blaney’s final stint at the College of Philadelphia came almost two years later when he returned on 1 January 1771 making his tuition payment with wood. On 1 November 1771, Blaney Allison is last recorded as having “paid 1 quar[ter] & 9 days, gone”. A third brother Robert Allison was also entered at the college on 6 July 1768, attending during the same period as Blaney, his tuition also paid for by their father Robert. A mortuary notice published in the 9 March 1772 edition of the “Pennsylvania Chronicle” reports the death of “Mr. Robert Alison, A.B. Student of Physic, from Charlestown, Maryland.” This notice both explains the absence of Blaney Allison’s brother Robert in history and also confirms the brothers original hometown. Charlestown was established in 1742 at “a place called Long Point on the west side of North East River in Cecil County.” For at least a short time, the Allison boys lived in a “good commodious dwelling house” on a “Water lot…seventh from the publick warehouse and wharff” there as their father advertised the place for let in the Pennsylvania Gazette edition of 17 February 1756. Later during the War for Independence, Charlestown was a major supply depot for the Continental Army. The town’s demise was soon provoked by a 1786 hurricane which altered Chesapeake Bay ship channels in favor of Baltimore and Havre de Grace.

Blaney Allison first appears in Revolutionary War military records as a Sergeant in Captain Normand Bruce’s Company of Maryland Militia from Frederick County in November 1775. Because it is believed Allison hailed from Charlestown in Cecil County, his service in a Frederick County company is on the surface questionable. Answers lie in Blaney Allison’s connection to Normand Bruce (1733-1811) who was married to Susannah Gardner Key, the daughter of Francis Key and Ann Arnold, also of Charlestown. While the precise nature of the familiar relationship is not yet determined, it is known that Blaney Allison’s father Robert was associated with the Key and Arnold families there. Bruce later moved to developing Frederick County on lands inherited from the Key’s, becoming sheriff in 1768. Within months Blaney Allison was appointed Midshipman in the Pennsylvania Navy on 26 February 1776, probably with the assistance of Thomas Read, a family friend and Commodore of the Pennsylvania Navy since 23 October 1775. The Commodore’s father John Read had been one of the founders of Charlestown before moving his young family to New Castle, DE and the Read sons were educated at the New London Academy operated by Blaney’s uncle Dr. Francis Alison, prior to the educator’s call to Philadelphia. Blaney Allison was subsequently attached to the Pennsylvania Navy ship Montgomery acquired in April of that year.

Allison served on the Montgomery under Commodore Thomas Read until 15 August 1776 when he was discharged to “go with Captain Read” into Continental service, a sign of their intimate relationship. Read resigned from the state navy on 7 June 1776 to take command of the Continental Navy frigate Washington launched the first week of August 1776. Blaney Allison first served on the Washington as Master’s Mate, another confirmation of his familiar relationship with Thomas Read as a warrant officer was typically appointed at the captain’s discretion. His appointment as mate is noted in a 20 August 1776 letter from his uncle Dr. Francis Allison to another of the doctor’s nephews named Robert. The 36-gun frigate Washington was at that time being built at the Philadelphia shipyard of the Eyre brothers- Manuel, Jehu and Benjamin. On 20 December 1776, Blaney Allison was offered a commission as Lieutenant in the Continental Navy and continued to serve on the Washington, presumably in the place of former 3rd Lieutenant Thomas Vaughan since transferred to the brig Andrew Doria. Earlier that month, because the frigate Washington was still unfinished, the Pennsylvania Committee of Safety directed Captain Thomas Read and the ship’s officers along with some of his gunners to join General George Washington for temporary land service. Read and his men supported the famous crossing of the Delaware and at the Battle of Trenton brought a battery of the frigate’s borrowed naval cannon to bear on the stone bridge across Assunpink Creek. It is highly probable that Lieutenant Blaney Allison participated in this engagement which brought Read a personal letter of gratitude from the general officers of Washington’s army on 14 January 1777. The frigate Washington is described as being fitted out “with all possible dispatch” at Philadelphia on 11 April 1777. As British forces advanced on Philadelphia in September 1777, the frigates Washington and Effingham under Captain John Barry were evacuated up the Delaware and docked near to Captain Read’s home White Hill at Fieldsboro near Bordentown where the Washington is noted by 3 October 1777. Both unfinished and threatened Continental Navy frigates were scuttled on 2 November 1777 to prevent their falling into British hands. Shortly thereafter on 25 November 1777, Lieutenant Blaney Allison was called to serve on a courts-martial of the Master’s Mate, Master-of-Arms, Armourer, Quartermaster and a boy of the ship Repulse presided over by Captain John Barry on the ship Lyon. The four warrant officers were unanimously found guilty of desertion and sentenced “to be hung off the Yard Arm of any Continental Vessell” while the boy was designated to “receive Thirty-Six lashes on his bare back with a Cat of Nine tails”. An addendum to the findings of the court including commendations of past service for the convicted officers signed by Alexander Hamilton and Repulse’s commander Captain Peter Brewster suggesting the sentences were subsequently commuted.

Following the loss of the Washington in November 1777, Blaney Allison’s naval record is not known with certainty. It is most likely Allison followed Thomas Read to his new command serving under the captain as he had previously on the Montgomery and Washington. On 13 January 1778, Read was instructed by the Marine Committee of the Continental Congress to take command of the 12-gun brig Baltimore being fitted out as a packet in the city of the same name for conveying dispatches abroad. The Captain’s orders read, “The present situation of the Frigate Washington of which you are Commander rendering it very uncertain at what time she may be brought into service, and the desire you have to be active in the service of your Country having induced you to take the Command of the Continental Brig Baltimore we now direct that you repair immediately to Baltimore where the said Brig lies and as we intend that she shall be fitted out as a packet and under your direction you will without loss of time proceed upon that business and we trust your good judgment will direct the most frugal & beneficial way of manning that vessel.” The Marine Committee adds, “We now authorize you to purchase any materials Cannon or Stores which may be wanted for fitting this Vessel and to engage on the best terms in your power a proper compliment of men for manning her, but we recommend to you to observe the greatest frugality in all cases…We would have you get your officers from those already engaged in the service but at this time unemployed.” This last request suggests strongly that Lieutenant Blaney Allison next served on board the Continental Navy brig Baltimore. On 30 January 1778, the Commerce Committee of the Continental Congress was making plans with Robert Morris to load the packet boat with tobacco to be shipped overseas and by 1 April 1778 some of the ordinance required to arm the vessel had arrived and recruiting activities of the crew were ongoing.

Council of Maryland minutes for Friday 10 April 1778 provide the best evidence that Blaney Allison followed Read to the brig Baltimore when they “Ordered That the Western shore Treasurer Pay to Lieut Allison three hundred and sixty Dollars out of the money sent by Congress so far as it will go and the residue out of any other Money he may have making up the Order and charging the same to the third Regiment for the Recruiting Service.” The very next day the Council ordered an end to Lieutenant Allison’s recruiting efforts as the $360 dollars expended all of the available Continental funds, paying only the bounty for six recruits, leaving the Maryland government to conclude “we do not see how it will be possible to carry on the Business.” Less than two weeks earlier on 31 March, the 30-gun Continental frigate Virginia under the command of Captain James Nicholson was taken without a fight by British frigates Emerald and Richmond after losing her rudder and running aground in the Chesapeake Bay while attempting to evade the enemy. Over a dozen men in Continental service were left behind on the Virginia’s tender when the frigate left Annapolis on her doomed cruise, including Lieutenant John Fanning and Captain of Marines Thomas Plunkett. In addition, the nine men who rowed Captain James Nicholson to safety in the ship’s barge just before Virginia’s capture were now available to join the brig Baltimore. The Marine Committee wrote to Captain Thomas Read on 22 April 1778, “We have directed Mr. [Continental agent Stephen] Steward to pay the wages due to the Seamen belonging to the Virginia and trust that Captain Nicholson will co-operate with you in getting such a number of those Seamen to enter on board the Baltimore as you may want.”

Little more is recorded concerning the brig Baltimore’s activities in late 1778 and early 1779 except it is suggested that in addition to providing the required dispatch service, she was used in the defense of both Chesapeake and Delaware Bays. Blaney Allison probably served on the vessel as 2nd Lieutenant behind 1st Lieutenant John Fanning, formerly of the frigate Virginia. She next appears in orders from the Marine Committee to Captain Samuel Tucker in command of the frigate Boston on 2 June 1779 instructing Tucker to sail in concert with Captain Seth Harding and the frigate Confederacy with their “first object to frustrate the designs of the enemy by Capturing or destroying their Vessels and to afford every aid & assistance in their power to the inward bound Merchantmen, particularly the Brig Baltimore Capt. Read which is ladened with Continental stores (and) daily expected.” It is presumed that after the packet boat Baltimore’s arrival at Philadelphia in the Summer of 1779, Read did not return to the Chesapeake with the vessel. Prior to the brig Baltimore’s loss off Cape Henry on 29 January 1780, Thomas Read was appointed Captain of the Continental Navy frigate Bourbon building at Middleton, CT on 12 October 1779. Lieutenant Blaney Allison most likely remained with the Baltimore until her capture as William Bell Clark notes in “The First Saratoga” that Allison was “at one time a prisoner in New York and apparently had been exchanged shortly before joining the Saratoga.” Blaney Allison was entered on Captain John Young’s sloop-of-war Saratoga as 2nd Lieutenant in July 1780, about the same time his former commander and friend Captain Thomas Read was taking leave of Continental Navy service to carry the Pennsylvania privateer brig Patty on a trans-Atlantic crossing to France. Blaney Allison probably had an opportunity to leave Continental service at this time and ship once again with his old family friend and mentor in the far more lucrative privateer business but made a fateful decision to continue in the naval war effort. In late November of 1780 Allison was promoted to 1st Lieutenant in the room of Joshua Barney who was captured by the British while in command of the prize Charming Molly taken earlier on 8 October, being replaced himself as 2nd Lieutenant by James Pyne from South Carolina. Continental Navy Lieutenant Blaney Allison’s five years of naval service came to an end with the loss of his life, no doubt shouting orders to frantic crewmen desperate in their futile attempts to reverse the tragic circumstances engulfing the sloop Saratoga on 18 March 1781. Almost eight decades later, the “Law Times” publication of unclaimed chancery dividends in the case of Hamilton vs. Allen indicates the affairs of Blaney’s only surviving younger brother Francis Allison “in his own right” and “as administrator of Blaney Allison, deceased” have not yet at that time been fully concluded.

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