Anthony Allen

Portrait depiction of Anthony Allen in old age with grey and wearing a suit,
Anthony D. Allen

Quick Facts
Freedom seeker and Hawaii resident
Place of Birth:
New York
Date of Birth:
Place of Death:
Date of Death:

Anthony Allen was born enslaved in 1774 and spent his early life in or near Schenectady, New York. Much of what we know about him is based on an 1822 letter he wrote to his former enslaver while he was living in Hawaii in which he chronicled his journey as a freedom seeker.

He began the letter by saying, “To begin the story of the wanderings & adventures of your poor unworthy servant, I left Schenectady on the 13th of May 1800 travelled on foot” eventually reaching Hartford after a long overland journey. From there he described a rollicking account of several journeys he made by sea, from Hartford, to Boston, and to South Carolina - working his way on a different ship each time. One of the ships he was on was overtaken by pirates, “overhauled by two privateers belonging to N. Providence, but as they found only ballast they let us go." After a journey to Havana for 14 months, Allen had luck in meeting a certain Dr. Nellis in Norfolk, who told Allen, “This is a difficult place for colored people to be about and if you get into any difficulty apply to me". This advice was prophetic, for shortly thereafter Allen was seized and taken to the local jail and brought before the Mayor. It was Dr. Nellis who vouched on behalf of Allen, which remarkably brought Allen out of jail, and back to sea.

Allen suspected his former Captain turned him in to authorities in Norfolk, and he quickly boarded a different ship, this one “a Cape Cod schooner Betsey and sailed for Boston with Capt. Thompson who gave me a passage”. In Boston Allen re-connected with his father, evidently a free man, and himself a former cook on a ship for three years. His father regaled him about his own adventures overtaken by pirates out at sea. After a brief meeting with his father, Anthony Allen “shipped for the East Indies on Board the ship Catherine, Capt. Wm. Blanchard at 16 doll, a month” and came back to Boston after being out at sea to find out his father had lost the deed to his house (Anthony Allen talked about warning his father about this).In his 1822 letter, Allen recalled nearly being taken and forced back into slavery when arriving back in Boston after over a year at sea: “After leaving Boston, I sailed in the same ship to Batavia, at the same wages, but not getting a cargo there, we went to Bengal & in 15 mo. returned to Boston with a cargo of Muslins & India cottons. Stayed in the same employment till 1806 when I fell in with my old master Kelly”. 

Allen recalls his random encounter with his former enslaver in Boston, who identified Allen and “asked me what I ran away for? I told him, ‘Because you were going to sell me again for six years more to Samuel Street of Genesee.’” This turn of events led Allen’s enslaver taking him to the local jail, and with it, a possible return to slavery. Another fortunate turn of events occurred for Allen: “One of the owners of the Catherine, Mr. Coolege asked him to show his claim upon me, & he produced the Bill of sale in which it appeared that 300 doll, had been paid for me. Coolege told him if he would take 300 doll, and think himself well paid he would give it tho it was a greast price to pay for a man, who might die before he could reach the wharf.” The owner of the ship he was working on, the Catherine, agreed to pay Anthony Allen’s enslaver in exchange for Allen’s future wages on board the Catherine. 

The stipulation of the agreement was that Allen would work his way on one of their ships for a year and they would pay the enslaver for the value of Allen as an enslaved man (or freedom seeker). In effect, Allen would officially become a free man. His journey for the next year took him across the Pacific Ocean to China. As Allen recollected, “I gave my note to the owners of the Catherine for 300 doll. & sailed on her for Canton, & returned in April 1807 twelve months to a day.” Returning to Boston with his debt paid, Allen worked various odd jobs until sailing out again, “on board the Catherine with the same Capt. Blanchard, at 15 doll, and sailed for the N.W. Coast & was on the coast two seasons.” He sailed out on another voyage, and this time he, “took passage on board the Isabella Capt. Wm. H. Davis & came to the Sandwich Islands in 1811 & here came ashore with permission and lived four months with Hevaheva the high Priest of the Islands.” 

With his connections to the High Priest of the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii), Anthony Allen left his old captain for a new one, “as steward in passage from one island to another particularly to wait on the King Tamehameha [Kamehameha I] & his five Queens, as I was a taboo'd man, and they would like my services the better.” With this new employment, Allen developed another powerful connection in King Kamehameha I. Around this time, Allen “applied to Hevaheva, the high priest, for land & Mr. Moxley a white man now residing at Pearl River, on this Island, then the King's Linguister, interpreted my request. The High Priest gave me a piece of land at Waititi containing about six acres, having on it a few cocoanut trees & three small houses or native huts.”Allen made one final ocean journey to China, and came back to Hawaii to celebrate the 4th of July in 1812 with King Kamehameha I himself. After an incredible journey as an enslaved man in New York during the 18th century, Allen was a free man and landowner in Hawaii in 1812, “and came to live on my place with two families the people of the High Priest, belonging to the land.” He even took two wives, and “In 1813 I began to build me small thatched houses.” Missionaries visiting the islands at this time record meeting Anthony Allen, “Among the residents of this Island is a Black man native of Schenectady named Allen.” Allen passed away in Hawaii in 1835, as a landowner and free man. His remarkable journey to freedom defied the conditions he was born into, and it continues to inspire us today.


Anthony D. Allen: A Prosperous American of African Descent in Early 19th Century Hawai'i, Marc Scruggs.

A Place of Freedom: Black History in 19th Century Hawaiʻi (U.S. National Park Service) 

Last updated: May 11, 2023