Jeffrey Green

Jeffrey is a historian
based south of London

198 : William G. Allen, American refugee teacher (c. 1826-1888)

This article relies heavily on information supplied by Bob Fairchild. Many thanks


In January 1851 both the Newcastle Courant and the Hull Advertiser and Exchange Gazette noted the appoint of a ‘coloured young man’ to lecture in Greek and German in a small college in New York state (nearer Lake Erie than New York City). The college – McGrawville’s New York-Central College – had male and female students, both black and white. The new lecturer was William Gustavus Allen, who had been born in or near Norfolk, Virginia to a black mother and white father. Their deaths led him to be raised by a black family – he was a ‘free person of color’. Why English newspapers thought the college post was worthy of note is not clear, but from 1853 Allen’s name was to be found in many British and Irish newspapers, for he had married Mary Elizabeth King, a white student, and they experienced murderous critics and an every-present threat of violence, which led the pair to cross the Atlantic in April 1853. They were advised to contact Liverpool resident William Powell, and they spent two weeks there, no doubt receiving advice and contact details from William and Mercy Powell who had brought their seven children from New York to escape American racial restriction (see page 081 of this website).

Other African Americans in the British Isles published pamphlets (slavery narratives) which were sold at meetings, providing some financial support and always describing the nature of the American attitude of towards black people. Such first-hand account of slavery, combined with the immensely popular novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, had a widespread readership. Allen’s The American Prejudice against Color was published in 1853 by W. and F. G. Cash in London. Allen gave lectures, generally on American slavery and colour prejudice (‘colourphobia’) and tried ‘to keep the wolf from the door’ as he advised the monthly Anti-Slavery Advocate (1 July 1853). He met and sometimes worked with other black speakers, such as William Wells Brown whose Three Years in Great Britain was published by the Cash brothers in 1852. On 16 May 1853 he was on a London anti-slavery society platform with Samuel Ringgold Ward and William Craft (both escaped slaves). Allen was employed by the Leeds Anti-Slavery Association to give three lectures (Leeds Times, and Leeds Inte