Place Category: Parks and Playgrounds
This Parks property and the underlying street are named for Navy Captain William Henry Allen (1784-1813). Allen was born in Providence, Rhode Island, to Sarah and Major William Allen. Major William Allen had served in the Continental Army throughout the Revolutionary War, and at age 15, William Henry Allen also joined the military. William Henry Allen joined the United States Navy, and during the first twelve years of his career, traveled throughout Europe and the Mediterranean. When the War of 1812 erupted, the Navy made Allen a Lieutenant on the Chesapeake under the celebrated Captain Stephen Decatur. On New Year’s Day, 1813, the crew of the Chesapeake brought the captured British ship Macedonian into New York Harbor and received a hero’s welcome.
The New York victory earned Allen the command of the Argus, thereby making him the youngest Navy skipper during the War of 1812. The Argus patrolled the coast of Brazil with a mixed degree of success. In April of 1813, the Argus left Brazil to transport the American diplomat William H. Crawford. After arriving in Europe, the Argus prowled the English Channel in search of enemy vessels. The ship’s new campaign was extremely successful, capturing 20 English ships in one month. On August 14, 1813, the British brig Pelican, captained by John Fordyce Maples, engaged the Argus. The Pelican’s opening cannon blast severed one of Allen’s legs. The gallant captain refused to surrender and continued to give orders until his death four days later on August 18. Six American sailors died during battle and another six died as a result of wounds received in battle. This death rate of 8 percent was the highest on any ship during the War of 1812.
After such remarkable success, the Argus’ rapid defeat startled many. The U.S. Navy blamed the defeat on Captain Allen’s injury and the crew’s general fatigue. The Navy also noted that the Pelican was a larger vessel, its crew was equally well trained, and its captain was skilled. Former President Theodore Roosevelt offered a different explanation for the defeat. Roosevelt claimed that, while performing operations in St. George’s Channel on the previous day, the Argus sank a vessel from Oporto laden with wine. Many of Allen’s crew succeeded in repossessing the cargo and were unfit to fight the following morning. The truth may well lie somewhere in between.
Allen Malls extend along Allen Street between East Houston and East Broadway and pass through the Lower East Side, the Bowery, and Chinatown. The City of New York named this street after William Henry Allen in 1817. Since August 1929, Parks has maintained the property as the result of an agreement with the Manhattan Borough President Julius Miller. The City of New York legally acquired the title to this parcel in May 1930 through condemnation. The malls are divided into eight sections, each containing a walkway and assigned a number one through eight. A comfort station stands at the intersection of Allen and Delancey Street, and benches and trees flank the full extension of the malls.
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