By Richard Gwynallen
George Benjamin Allen & Mary Fleming Thompson
1808 – 1884 and 1813 – 1901
Relationship to Fawn: 3rd great grandparents
This branch of the Allen family arrived in the American Colonies sometime between 1760 and 1774, hailing from Aberdeenshire, Scotland on the paternal (Allen) side and Wales on the maternal (Gwynne) side. The Allens left Scotland in the aftermath of the Scottish defeat at Culloden. We do not know the origin of Mary’s family.
In 1832, their descendant, George Benjamin Allen married Mary Fleming Thompson in North Carolina. The below Marriage Bond shows that George pledged 500 pounds declaring their intention to marry and that no legal reason existed to prevent marriage. Sound odd to our modern ears? The pledge was usually to the Governor of the State (or colony if earlier, or to the Crown if in Canada), and paid only if it actually turned out that there was some reason the marriage wasn’t legal.
The Marriage Bond was the successor to Reading the Banns. Marriage Banns were read from the pulpit or posted at the door of the local church. Usually, banns were read on three consecutive Sundays or posted for three weeks.
That notice that two people were going to marry had one purpose only: to make sure folks knew there was a wedding in the offing so that they had a chance to come forward and object if there was some legal reason why the marriage couldn’t take place. However, as populations moved around, and couples married some distance away from where they were known, there wasn’t the same opportunity in advance to have folks “speak up or forever hold their peace.” The bond provided that mechanism.
The use of marriage bonds was common, particularly in southern and mid-Atlantic states, well into the 19th century, when most jurisdictions started relying on what the couple said in a written application for a marriage license. [The Legal Genealogist website]
In The Origins of the Southern Middle Class, 1800-1861, Jonathan Daniel Wells describes conditions as follows: North Carolina in the antebellum period was mostly a land of yeoman farmers rather than large planation planters, of free blacks as well as slaves, and of corn and livestock in addition to tobacco and cotton. Yeoman farmers were what we think of as small family farms. Such farms of the Piedmont contrasted sharply with the plantation economy of the coastal region, where wealthy planters had established a slave society, growing tobacco and rice with slave labor. Though there were some 300 plantations of 1,000 acres or more in the state in 1860, there were more than 46,000 farms of less than 100 acres.
George and Mary’s family were part of that class of yeomen farmers and skilled labor. This was the largest white class in North Carolina. It constituted about 60 to 65 percent of the white population. The yeoman farmers were smaller land owners who farmed their land independently. They generally did not own slaves and grew crops or raised livestock for their own use, using most of the surplus to settle debts, barter for goods, pay taxes, and buy necessities. Miners, mechanics, artisans, and tradesmen were amongst this class. . [Charles C. Bolton, Poor Whites of the Antebellum South] Unlike larger planters, George and Mary would simply not have had the capital to invest in more fertile land, technologically advanced implements and machinery, or improved agricultural techniques that could increase efficiency and thereby lower production costs. But they would have preferred getting by without the technological advancements to being in greater debt.
During the mid-19th century, the term “middle class” became in use to describe this class between large landowners or industrialists on the one hand and landless poor on the other hand. This “middle class”, matured in the Old South during the economic boom that preceded the Civil War.
The 1850 Federal Census shows George and Mary’s real estate valued at $1,665. By the 1860 census their real estate was valued at $14,420 and their personal property at $8,250. They were comfortable family farmers by the standards of the time.
As this class expanded and gained better political footing, it viewed itself in opposition to both wealthy planters and poorer whites. An analysis of industrial strikes during the late antebellum period, showed how southern capitalists unabashedly used slave labor to undercut workers’ demands for better wages. Disillusioned with large slave-owners who seemed decadent and reactionary, and sympathetic with the needs of industrial workers, a lot that many yeoman farmers could see themselves or their children ending up in, but simultaneously impatient with workers who valued wages over the factory output needed by the middle class, middle-class southerners became a force of their own. [Wells, Jonathon Daniel, The Origins of the Southern Middle Class, 1800-1861]
Undoubtedly the most important bond among those who composed the rural community was their common interest in cultivating the land. Agriculture was their way of life, and it informed their every thought and action. The farm, whether 10 acres or 10,000, was where the vast majority of Carolinians could be found—working their fields, preparing their meals, rearing their children, enjoying comforts, and living out their lives. Economic andsociallife centered around the small farms.
Then war comes. The 1870 census shows George and Mary’s real estate value all the way down to $1,300 and their personal property at $5,000. Did they sell off land or did it simply have dramatically less value? We do not know yet, but what is clear is that the war was devastating for George and Mary’s household, and for small family farms throughout the south. Land was ruined, land value had dropped while prices of goods rose, capital was hard to come by, and markets were weakened by the inability of people to buy.
By the 1880 Census, the family was still on the land, George had retired, but more of the children were employed in labor off the land in addition to farming. George died in 1884, still on the land.
By the 1900 census George and Mary’s son, Alonzo Lafayette, the son that is our direct ancestor, was no longer farming, but was a carpenter living in Franklin, North Carolina. The yeoman farmers were leaving the land to become artisans. For many, family farm life offered a transition to this new world. Farm life had required the development of skills such as carpentry, mechanics, and blacksmithing. And Alonzo was not the only one. His sister, Susie, became a seed analyst with the North Carolina Department of Agriculture in Raleigh, perhaps linking her farming childhood with her new urban life.
George’s son, Sidney was still a farmer, and their daughter, Carrie, married Richard Holland, and maintained a separate farm. Mary was now living with Carrie and her family. Farming continued in the family, but now the land was rented. Possibly the family land had been sold to allow the children to finance their own ways in the world.
In the emerging industrial quarter of Raleigh, Alonzo and some of his children, including our direct descendant from Alonzo, Worth, built Allen Forge & Welding Company at 409 W. Martin Street in 1910.
Allen Forge & Welding moved in 1925 to a building at 417 South Dawson Street. Here the business remained into the early 1950s when Worth and his family partners retired and closed the business.
Worth ended up running a motel in Western North Carolina, and his son, Worth, Jr. graduated from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and entered a career in the Army.
But Allen Forge & Welding isn’t completely gone. The original building, expanded in 1927 by another business has a new life as Raleigh’s Contemporary Art Museum.
The shop on Dawson Street is now the offices of an architectural firm, which retained the historic character of the building, and the Allen Forge Gallery hosts art displays and music.