Address of Hon. Edgar Allan, Republican Candidate for Congress, At the Election, Nov. 6, 1900.

Edgar Allan (1842–1904)

Edgar Allan was one of Virginia's leading Republicans from 1867 until 1902. A native of England who fought with George A. Custer's cavalry during the American Civil War (1861–1865), Allan settled in Prince Edward County as a farmer in 1865. He then taught himself law and established a Farmville practice. The region's African American voters elected him to the Constitutional Convention of 1867–1868. Though mocked as "Yankee" Allan, he spent twelve years as Prince Edward's commonwealth's attorney and three years in the Senate of Virginia. In 1883 he moved to Richmond, becoming a prosperous lawyer. In 1892 he helped Bettie Thomas Lewis, daughter of a former slave and a wealthy white man, claim her inheritance. Eight years later he lost a bid for Congress, and Republicans aligned with U.S. president Theodore Roosevelt took control of the state party from Allan's group in 1902. Sickly, in pain, and emotionally devastated by the loss of political power, Allan committed suicide in 1904. MORE...

 

Allan was born in Birmingham, England, on February 26, 1842, the son of John Allan and Ann Allan. He attended parochial schools and received training as a typesetter in Birmingham. In 1863 he immigrated to the United States, and on June 17, just six weeks after his arrival, enlisted as a private in George Armstrong Custer's 7th Michigan Cavalry. He was wounded at Shepherdstown on August 24, 1864, and discharged from the army in Washington, D.C., in the summer of 1865.

Allan bought a small farm in Prince Edward County, where he studied law by himself. In December 1867 he was admitted to the bar and afterward moved to Farmville. He unsuccessfully applied for a position with the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands and soon became active in the local Republican Party and as a statewide leader of the Union League of Virginia. On October 22, 1867, Allan and James W. D. Bland were elected to represent Appomattox and Prince Edward counties in the constitutional convention that met in Richmond from December 3, 1867, to April 17, 1868. Of the 2,306 votes Allan received, only one was cast by a white man, the rest by African Americans, many of whom had recently been slaves. Allan served on the Committee on County and Corporation Courts and County Organizations and chaired the Committee on Printing and was prominent at the convention despite his youth, the brevity of his residence in Virginia, and his inexperience in politics. He criticized the constitution that the convention produced because he feared that it would not sufficiently protect the rights of the former slaves and would prolong hard feelings by virtue of its clauses imposing political restrictions on former Confederates. Out of party loyalty, he nevertheless supported the constitution at the referendum that ratified it in 1869.

Allan backed the conservative Republican, Gilbert Carlton Walker, in the 1869 campaign for governor. Although called a carpetbagger and nicknamed "Yankee" Allan because of his Union army service, he became a popular and effective campaigner and was one of the best-known Republicans in Virginia for the next three and a half decades. From 1871 to 1883 he was commonwealth's attorney of Prince Edward County, and he also served as clerk of the Farmville Town Council. From 1874 to 1877 he represented the district of Amelia, Cumberland, and Prince Edward counties in the Senate of Virginia, and he allied himself with the Readjusters during the long and bitter political conflict over the payment of the state's debt.

In 1883 Allan moved to Richmond, where he enlarged his increasingly lucrative law practice and continued his political career. He seldom missed a Republican state convention or failed to make a speaking tour during campaign season and perennially sat on the city, county, and district Republican executive committees. He was also active in the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR). He served as commander of the Philip Kearney Post in Richmond in 1885–1886, was junior vice-commander of the national GAR in 1886, and was commander-in-chief of the GAR Constitutional Centennial in 1887. Thereafter he was more often referred to as General Allan than as Yankee Allan.

Allan married Mary Edna Land, a native Kentuckian, in Prince Edward County on February 6, 1867. They had three daughters and a son, Edgar Allan Jr., who eventually joined his father in the Richmond law firm of Allan and Allan. In 1892 Allan added to his stature among the state's African American population by serving as one of the attorneys for Bettie Thomas Lewis, a young Richmond woman. She was the daughter of William A. Thomas, a wealthy and reclusive white man, and one of his former slaves. Thomas had frequently declared his intention to leave the bulk of his fortune of about $220,000 to Lewis, but he never executed a valid will. Lewis's attorneys persuaded the Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals to honor Thomas's often-stated intention, making Bettie Lewis one of the wealthiest women in Richmond.

In 1900 Allan ran for the House of Representatives from the Third Congressional District but lost to the incumbent Democrat, John Lamb. In 1901 President William McKinley appointed Allan United States attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, but the following year President Theodore Roosevelt, siding with a segment of the Virginia Republican Party that opposed Allan's faction, failed to reappoint him. Suffering from Bright's disease and a chronic back condition resulting from his Civil War wound, and bitter with disappointment at this withdrawal of recognition to which he believed his long service to the Republican Party entitled him, Allan wrote a short suicide note, purchased a pistol and one cartridge, and shot himself to death in Richmond on October 28, 1904. He was buried in Glenwood Cemetery, Washington, D.C.

Time Line

  • February 26, 1842 - Edgar Allan is born in Birmingham, England, the son of John Allan and Ann Allan.
  • June 17, 1863 - Six weeks after immigrating to the United States from England, Edgar Allan enlists as a private in George Armstrong Custer's 7th Michigan Cavalry.
  • August 24, 1864 - Edgar Allan of the 7th Michigan Cavalry is wounded in fighting at Shepherdstown.
  • Summer 1865 - Edgar Allan of the 7th Michigan Cavalry is discharged from the Union army at Washington, D.C.
  • December 3, 1867–April 17, 1868 - Edgar Allan, a representative from Prince Edward County to the constitutional convention, serves on the Committee on County and Corporation Courts and County Organizations and chairs the Committee on Printing. He supports the new constitution despite fears that it will not adequately protect the rights of former slaves.
  • 1869 - Edgar Allan backs Gilbert Carlton Walker, a conservative Republican, in his successful run for governor.
  • 1871–1883 - Edgar Allan serves as commonwealth's attorney of Prince Edward County and clerk of the Farmville Town Council.
  • 1874–1877 - Edgar Allan represents the district of Amelia, Cumberland, and Prince Edward counties in the Senate of Virginia, and allies himself with the Readjuster Party during the bitter conflict over payment of the state's debt.
  • 1883 - Edgar Allan, of Prince Edward County, moves to Richmond, where he enlarges his increasingly lucrative law practice and continues his political career.
  • 1885–1886 - In Richmond, Edgar Allan serves as commander of the Philip Kearney Post of the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization for Union army veterans.
  • 1886 - Edgar Allan serves as national vice-commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization for Union army veterans.
  • 1887 - Edgar Allan serves as national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization for Union army veterans.
  • 1892 - Edgar Allan serves as one of the attorneys for Bettie Thomas Lewis, a former slave and the daughter of William A. Thomas, her recently deceased former master. Allan helps persuade the Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals to honor Thomas's oft-stated intention to leave Lewis the bulk of his fortune.
  • 1900 - Edgar Allan, a Republican, loses to the incumbent Democrat, John Lamb, in an election to represent the Third Congressional District in the House of Representatives.
  • 1901 - U.S. president William McKinley appoints Edgar Allan United States attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia.
  • 1902 - U.S. president Theodore Roosevelt does not reappoint Edgar Allan United States attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia.
  • October 28, 1904 - Edgar Allan writes a short suicide note and shoots himself to death in Richmond. He is buried in Glenwood Cemetery, Washington, D.C.
Further Reading
Lowe, Richard G. "Virginia's Reconstruction Convention: General Schofield Rates the Delegates." Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 80 (July 1972): 341–360.
Lowe, Richard. Republicans and Reconstruction in Virginia, 1856–70. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1991.
Moger, Allen W. Virginia: Bourbonism to Byrd, 1870–1925. Charlottesville: The University Press of Virginia, 1968.
Moore, James Tice. Two Paths to the New South: The Virginia Debt Controversy, 1870–1883. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1974.
Tunnell, Ted. "Allan, Edgar." In the Dictionary of Virginia Biography, Vol. 1, edited by John T. Kneebone, et al., 68–69. Richmond: Library of Virginia, 1998.
Cite This Entry
  • APA Citation:

    Tunnell, T., & the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. Edgar Allan (1842–1904). (2014, February 26). In Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved from http://www.EncyclopediaVirginia.org/Allan_Edgar_1842-1904.

  • MLA Citation:

    Tunnell, Ted and the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. "Edgar Allan (1842–1904)." Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 26 Feb. 2014. Web. READ_DATE.

First published: May 2, 2013 | Last modified: February 26, 2014


Contributed by Ted Tunnell and the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. Ted Tunnell is a professor of history at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond.