MIDDLEPORT — Samuel Blaine Allen was born into slavery on a plantation in Lewisburg, Greenbrier County, Virginia on Nov. 26, 1841, and died as a free man and successful entrepreneur in Middleport, Ohio, June 2, 1915.
Allen’s story begins in 1861, early in the American Civil War, when armies from both sides had established camps near Fayetteville, Virginia. Seeing an opportunity for escape, Samuel Allen, his wife, and at least one child, became part of a “party of contraband” that started for Ohio in December, according to a letter signed by Union commanders Rutherford Birchard Hayes (Ohio, later the nineteenth president of the United States), and his uncle Silas Birchard.
The letter begins Dear Uncle, and recommends Allen, his wife, and another couple for employment:
“These people gave themselves up to me, and I let them go to Ohio. The Rule is, I believe, that slaves coming to our line, especially if owned by Rebels, are free.”
The letter also stated that Allen had given them “valuable information about the enemy.”
Also indicative of the concern over the status of the escaping people, Hayes and Birchard indicate that they would prefer to go to the country rather than a city like Cincinnati, fearing they might be captured and taken back into Southern territory and their previous owners’.
Allen made it safely to Ohio and settled in Rutland where he worked on a farm before moving to Gallipolis where he worked in a government hospital. Next, Allen became a porter “following steamboats on the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers.”
Allen left river work and married Rhoda Hogg of Cheshire/Pomeroy, Ohio in 1861and purchased a home in Middleport; there is no mention of his being married previously.
In 1881, he relocated to Rendville, Ohio, a prosperous mining town, known for its economic opportunities and inclusiveness. These traits had attracted many black entrepreneurs and professionals to the town, and Allen quickly became part of the growing community, and acquiring property, a hotel, and a barber shop, serving as councilman and then mayor.
The town of Rendville had been founded by Union Army Colonel William P. Rend. Born in Ireland, Rend was hands on and pro labor, accepting workers from numerous ethnic backgrounds. An early example of the integration of black citizens, the town’s economy was founded around the coal industry, and with the depletion of the coal seams came the gradual decline of the community, and migration dispersed this once multicultural population.
In 1893, Allen sold his restaurant and moved to nearby Corning, where he again purchased property and opened a restaurant that flourished. He sold the restaurant in 1902 and returned to Middleport, establishing a restaurant and a barber shop, and beginning work on the Allen Hotel.
A newspaper article dated April 18, 1902, notes, “Samuel B. Allen of Corning arrived in Middleport Wednesday to look after the building of his fine hotel on Second Street.”
The hotel would become well known to travelers and was one of the most successful hotels in Middleport.
Allen and his wife became a well respected member of the community, and lived with their son Edward Isaac and daughter Blanche Mabelle in a home on the corner of Walnut and Third.
His obituary reads: “Mr. Allen began life under the most adverse circumstances but being possessed of more than ordinary intelligence and business ability, and having as a helpmate, a most devoted and industrious woman, he built up a name and a business credible to his family and the communities in which he resided. His family devotion, Christian zeal, practical wisdom, business tact and honest dealing with all won for him the respect and admiration of all who knew him.”
Samuel B. Allen’s legacy continued with his grandson, Samuel C. Allen, whose story will be told in next week’s Tales of Black History in Meigs County.
Editor’s Note: Special thanks to Shannon Scott and Michael Gerlach for their contributions to this story.
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Lorna Hart is a freelance writer for Ohio Valley Publishing, email her at L.Faudree.Hart@gmail.com.