The Cabin on the Battleground

P1020620AllenHousetrees copy

In 2012, my folks and I made our first trip to Randolph County, North Carolina to explore the area where my paternal ancestors lived. Specifically, we were looking for the old Millikan family homestead. (It would take two more visits before we were able to pin that down.) One of the things we did was stop in at a used bookstore. I was looking for books on the history of the region and came across a book titled, An Independent People: The Way We Lived in North Carolina, 1770-1820 (by Harry L. Watson). As I flipped through the pages I saw references to the John Allen family and in particular, John’s mother, Phoebe. Now I realize that “Allen” is not a very unique name, but Phoebe stuck in my head. I knew we had Allen ancestors & checked our genealogy to see that Phoebe Scarlet married John Allen. John & Phoebe had a son, John. This had to be the same family. So I bought the book and read the section on the Allen family.

The book tells how the Allens ended up in North Carolina in the time before the Revolution. John Allen (1749-1826) was the first son of John Allen (1721-1754) & Phoebe Scarlet Allen (ca 1721-1815). He was born in Pennsylvania and moved with his widowed mother and 4 siblings to the Snow Camp community of Orange County, North Carolina when he was about 13 years old. They had 600 acres of land in North Carolina that the elder John Allen had purchased but never settled. The book states that John Allen the younger took responsibility for the land when he came of age, as his mother had remarried and moved to neighboring Randolph County, NC.

John went back to Pennsylvania in1779 and married Rachel Stout (1760-1840) and returned to North Carolina to raise his family on the farm. According to the book, the Allens had 12 children, with 10 who lived to adulthood. Essentially, the few pages described the Allens as a typical “yeoman” family. They lived in a cabin with a single main room and a loft. They farmed wheat, oats & corn and provided for their large family as well as the community. They also had sheep cattle and hogs on the farm. John Allen was a merchant and had a small store that stocked “silk, satin, calico, buttons, pins, pencils, shoes & hardware.” They had vegetable and herb gardens. Rachel Allen was known as a “healer” in the community and “grew very skilled in the uses of roots, herbs and the traditional folk medicine of her neighborhood.” John also was a teacher, and “regularly contracted with his neighbors to instruct their children in reading, writing, spelling and arithmetic.”

The main focus of the section on the Allen family was their cabin and how their home life related to it. Why the cabin? Well, turns out that cabin was moved from Snow Camp to the Alamance Battleground Historic Park in the 1960’s. So wait, some ancestors of mine had a cabin that was built about 1780 that was still standing and preserved at a Battleground? What was that all about?

According to information at the cabin site, “Allen family descendants lived in the house until 1929.” The Daily Times-News of Burlington, NC chronicled the project from the first documentation of the donation in the December 28, 1965 edition. The fund-raising article stated that the house was “donated to the state provided it is relocated at the Alamance Battleground.” The estimated cost of moving and restoring the house was $22,000. The house was moved the 13 miles from Snow Camp to Alamance on a flat bed truck mostly in two pieces, the main house and the roof. On June 11, the newspaper tells of the need for donations of large oak logs to be used in the restoration process. This restoration involved replacing much of the structure due to the deterioration of the wood. The dedication ceremony for the restored cabin took place on Sunday, May 28, 1967. Along with speeches from local dignitaries, there was a presentation by the Alamance Long Rifles organization which demonstrated the use of the old muzzle loaders that would have been used at the time of the Revolution.

Unfortunately, just as I found out about this cabin, I had to go home, so I couldn’t visit the site on that visit. But my folks were able to and they took some pictures. The book, An Independent People… provided more context to the photos.

First, looking at the exterior of the house: It is “a simple box of hand-hewn timbers.” Mud and grass seals the cracks between the logs. There are no windows, only 2 doors, so during the day, having the doors open would provide light & ventilation. Incidentally, the door openings were only about 6 ft high, so anyone taller than that would have to stoop to enter. “Wide eaves of the shingle roof extend over each entrance to form substantial porches.” The porches would have allowed space to do some of the daily work during the day. The back porch has a small enclosed room which could have served as a storage room or even John’s store. They would have kept the area surrounding the cabin clear of grass and vegetation to help cut down on insects and the potential of fire.

The interior of the cabin was one large room with a loft. The fireplace and hearth take up almost the entire side wall of the cabin. The stairs to the loft were accessed to the left of the fireplace. There would have been corn husk mattresses on the floor of the loft for the children.

Allen family heirlooms dating to the time of the Revolution were also donated along with the cabin. The grandfather’s clock and the walnut Chippendale desk were mentioned in John Allen’s will. Also, a walnut Chippendale blanket chest was donated. Prior to the move, these objects were on display to help raise money for the project. The trundle bed provided sleeping area for the parents and small children.

Hard to imagine, but a large loom takes up one corner of the room. It was a necessity and the wool from the sheep was processed and woven to make the homespun utilitarian cloth. Out the back door, another necessity, the smokehouse. Although I didn’t see a privy, I expect there was something of that sort at one time.

I did manage to visit the battleground and the cabin on our next visit to North Carolina and I find it quite interesting to think that something that is connected to my ancestors still stands and is being preserved for future generations to get a glimpse of how the early settlers lived before and during the time this new republic was being formed.

The direct connection to me comes through two of John’s siblings. It took a while to figure these links, and I’m not fully confident of the dates, but here goes:

His sister, Hannah (1741-1834) married Nicholas Barker (1737-1826), their son, Enoch (1776-1848) married Elizabeth Davis (1782-1834), their son, Elihu (1822-1910) married Hannah Jane Allen (1825-1899).

His brother, Samuel (1751-1834) married Hannah Cox (1751-1823); their son, John (1782-1867) married Martha Clark (1793-1866); their daughter, Hannah Jane Allen (1825-1899) married Elihu Barker (1822-1910).

Elihu and Hannah Jane Barker had a daughter, Martha Ellen (1858-1932) who married Lewis Elwood Millikan (1855-1949). Their son, Arza Millikan (1883-1964) was my great-grandfather.

So, to sum it up, John Allen was my 6Great Uncle, his sister Hannah my 5Great Grandmother and his brother Samuel my 5Great Grandfather.

Next time, the Allen family connection to the Alamance Battleground…

© MJM 2021

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