Select Allen Surname Genealogy

Alan was originally a Breton name. St. Alan was a 5th century bishop in Quimper who had become a cult figure in medieval Brittany; and St. Alan was a 6th century Breton saint in Cornwall. The name Alamnus was found on 10th century Breton coins.  Alan was already a popular Celtic-Breton name and was thought to have derived from the Celtic word aluinn meaning “fair” or “handsome.” Another meaning in Scotland was from the Gaelic word ailin, a diminutive of ail meaning “rock,” and possibly described someone who lived by a rock.

Allen is the principal surname spelling today. Spelling variants are Alleyne and (in Scotland) Allan.

Select Allen Resources on The Internet

England. The Bretons who came with William the Conqueror spread the name in England. Many of those who spelt their name that way were descended from the soldiers who settled as farmers. The name was being widely used in Lincolnshire in the late 12th century.

One Allen branch, originating with Alanus de Buckenhall in Staffordshire, included the 16th century mathematician Thomas Allen from Staffordshire and was later to be found in Portugal. The line was also thought to have gone to Suffolk and Wiltshire (as Alleine). Two Alleine brothers were Puritan ministers in Somerset in the 1640’s.

Thomas Allen or Aleyn was appointed High Sheriff of London in 1414 and Sir John Allen and William Allen were Lord Mayors of London in the following century. Edward Alleyn, born in London, was an Elizabethan actor at the time of Shakespeare and later went on to found Dulwich College and Alleyn’s School. Later Alleyns, and there were many of them, were masters at Dulwich. His endowment to Dulwich College in fact stipulated that the master and secretary should always bear the name of Allen.

The Allen name was also to be found in the west country. The Domesday Book showed an Alyn holding land in Somerset. Allens from Bridgewater sailed for America in the 1630’s, but there was a notable Allen family that remained. The forebear of this family was Dr. John Allen of Bridgewater, said to have been from an old west country family. He was a much respected physician with many scientific interests. Later Allens of his family, local gentry, held Lyngford House near Bridgewater from 1830 to 1937.

By the time of the 1881 census there appeared three main areas for the Allen name:

  • in London and the southeast
  • in the west midlands, primarily Staffordshire and Warwickshire
  • and in Lancashire and, to a lesser extent, Yorkshire.

Wales.  According to family lore, the Allens had come to Pembrokeshire in the early 17th century when a certain Thomas Allen had been washed up on their shores after a shipwreck. Later
Allens were one of the dominant gentry families in the county for the next three centuries. Their early home was Gelliswick House.

There were two main Allen lines, those of Cresselly (after a propitious marriage in 1728) and those of Rickeston. The diplomat Sir Roger Allen, who died in 1972, was a descendant.

Scotland. Allan is the Scottish variant form of Allen, from the Gaelic MacAileain. MacAllen was a Gaelic title born by some Highland chiefs. Some MacAllans and Allans settled in Aberdeenshire in the 16th century. Allans in Peterhead date from the mid-1700’s, many of them being involved in the whaling industry. There was also a village in Berwickshire called Allan from which Allans came.

Alexander (Sandy) Allan, born in Ayrshire, was a sea captain who in 1819 started the Allan Shipping Line trading between Scotland and Canada. Under his five sons the Allan line became the largest privately-owned shipping company in the world.

Ireland. Donegal Allens have Scottish ancestry, from the Scottish MacAllens who came to Ireland as Gallowglass mercenaries in the 16th century. Today most Allens in Ireland are in Ulster, with a large proportion of them being of Scottish origin. Allen ranks at eight among the most common surnames in county Armagh.

There have been English Allens in Ireland too. John Allen who had come to Dublin around 1600 as a “bricklayer and architect” was the first of a prosperous line of Dublin Allens. His son Joshua did well as a merchant and became Dublin Mayor in 1673. The last of this line, a man addicted to gambling and nicknamed “King Allen,” died in London in 1845.

America. New England was an early arrival point.

New England.  Various Allens – from Somerset, Essex and Norfolk in England – came to New England in the period between 1630 and 1640:

  • Samuel Allen who came in 1630 and settled in Braintree, Massachusetts. This line later migrated to Connecticut. Amasa Allen who fought in the Revolutionary War afterwards headed north to New Hampshire. Six Allen brothers from Cornwall, Connecticut – Ethan, Zimri, Heman, Levi, Heber and Ira – were merchants and land speculators in the 1770’s in Vermont.  They were later influential in the creation of the state of Vermont. Ira helped found the University of Vermont in 1791. The Ethan Allen homestead has been preserved as a museum in Burlington.
  • George Allen who was in Sandwich by 1637. Many of his sons became Quakers there and faced persecution and imprisonment from the Puritan authorities. Later Allens of this family were to be found at Dartmouth and Martha’s Vineyard.
  • and William Allen, a carpenter, who came to Salisbury shortly afterwards. This line led to Zachariah Allen, a wealthy merchant in Rhode Island and to his sons – Philip Allen, Governor and Senator for Rhode Island between 1851 and 1859, and Zachariah Allen, the man who invented the cutoff valve for steam engines.

Virginia. Arthur Allen became an agent for English tobacco merchants and arrived in Virginia sometime in the 1640’s. By the 1660’s he had put together one of the largest tobacco plantations in Surry county. There he built a large three-story brick house, Bacon’s Castle, which still stands today.

Then there were the Allens of Carroll county, Virginia:

“Family tradition is that William Allen had come to what is now Carroll county in 1791 and settled on a crest of the Blue Ridge mountains on a tract of 400 acres which had been awarded to his father for his services in the Revolution.”

The Allen clan as they became were prominent landowners in the area, known for their production of moonshine whiskey and also for
their lawlessness and violence. Matters came to a head in 1913 when Floyd Allen was convicted and executed for murder after a sensational courthouse shootout which had left a judge, prosecutor,
sheriff, and two others dead.

Scots Irish Allens had come to America, primarily to Pennsylvania. Among them were:

  • William Allen, a native of Tyrone, who had arrived in Philadelphia around 1700. His son rose to prominence through his ties with William Penn and became a wealthy Philadelphia merchant. The town of Allentown was named after him.
  • and James Allen who had come to Philadelphia from Ireland with his widowed mother in the 1750’s. He migrated to Kentucky in 1780 and built his Allendale farm near the town of Bloomfield. His son John was a colonel during the War of 1812, but was killed during the fighting. Allen county in Kentucky was named in his honor.

Caribbean.  Reynold Alleyne was an early settler in Barbados in 1630. His great grandson Sir John was Speaker at the House of Assembly in 1767.  Many Alleyne descendants remain in Barbados today.

Canada. Ben Allen, of probable Scottish origin, fought under Wolfe in Canada and then married and settled down in New Brunswick. His son Matthew, fighting on the British side in the War of 1812, was press-ganged into an American ship and found himself in the Caribbean. The stories vary. But apparently he did manage to escape and return to New Brunswick three years later.

Wolfe Island, at the start of the St. Lawrence river in Lake Ontario, was named after General Wolfe. In 1847 it became the home of the Rev. Joseph Allen from Ireland who had married into the Grant family of the island. His son Charles Allen who grew up there became an early Canadian crime writer.

Select Allen Miscellany

If you would like to read more, click on the miscellany page for
further stories and accounts:

Select Allen Names

William Allen was an English Catholic priest who conspired with the Spanish to help organize the Spanish Armada.
Thomas Allen was a 16th century mathematician from Staffordshire.
Richard Allen, born a slave, was the founder of the African Methodist Episcopal Church in 1784.
Gracie Allen was an American comedienne who was the zany partner and comic foil for her husband George Burns.
Harry Allen was Britain’s last hangman, officiating from 1941 to 1964.
Woody Allen, born Allan Konigsberg in Jewish Brooklyn, is the well-known American comedian, writer, and film director.
Paul Allen was the co-founder, with Bill Gates, of the computer giant Microsoft.

Select Allens Today

  • 113,000 in the UK (most numerous in Hertfordshire)
  • 175,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 83,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)


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