ENTRY

Elizabeth Bray Allen (ca. 1692–by February 22, 1774)

SUMMARY

Elizabeth Bray Allen, born about 1692 at the Bray family estate at Middle Plantation, operated a large plantation in Surry County after the death of her husband Arthur Allen in 1727 that included the brick house that became known as Bacon’s Castle. In February 1729, she married Arthur Smith, a prosperous Isle of Wight County planter and proprietor of much of the town of Smithfield. The marriage contract secured for herself and her children the property that she owned and had inherited. After Arthur Smith died in 1754, his widow administered his large estate in addition to managing her own property. Elizabeth Bray Allen Smith established a £140 trust fund in 1753 to create a free school for poor boys and girls in Smithfield. Sometime between September 1761 and April 1763 she married a third time to a man surnamed Stith, whom she likely survived. Elizabeth Bray Allen Smith Stith probably died at her home in Surry County about the middle of February 1774.

Bray was one of two daughters and at least four children of Mourning Burgh Pettus Bray and her second husband, James Bray, who were married about 1691. She was probably born about 1692 at the Bray family estate at Middle Plantation, where Williamsburg was founded during her childhood, or at the nearby plantation of Littleton in James City County.

On November 27, 1711, Elizabeth Bray married Arthur Allen, son of Arthur Allen (ca. 1652–1710), the owner of a large plantation and resident of the brick house in Surry County that became known as Bacon’s Castle early in the nineteenth century. They had one son and one daughter. Arthur Allen died intestate in 1727, leaving an estate valued at about £900, including twenty-three enslaved people on two large properties. Elizabeth Allen took over management of the extensive Allen estate, and she augmented her own wealth by the sale of some of the valuable James City County lands and Williamsburg town lots that she inherited from her father, who died in 1725. On February 28, 1728, William Byrd stopped at “the Widdow Allen’s” house in Surry County on his way to survey the boundary between North Carolina and Virginia, noting with approval her elegant entertainment and well-ordered household.

On February 17, 1729, she executed a marriage contract with Arthur Smith, a prosperous Isle of Wight County planter and proprietor of much of the town of Smithfield. By the marriage contract she secured for herself and her children the property that she owned and had inherited. Even though Allen owned more property than Smith, the contract bound Smith to pay each of her children the £300 that was their share of their father’s estate and Elizabeth Allen was to receive £300 as compensation for her dower claim to Allen’s estate. Thus the marriage contract converted property in which she had a life interest to ready money over which she retained full control. Their one son drowned in a swimming accident in 1743, and the following year her son by Arthur Allen also died.

Elizabeth Bray Allen Smith established a £140 trust fund in 1753 to create a free school for poor boys and girls in Smithfield. She reserved to herself the right to name the trustees, and she gave precise directions for the building that the trustees erected. She specified that the boys were to study reading, writing, and arithmetic for three years, and the girls were to study reading and writing for two years. The boys were then to be bound out as apprentices to learn a trade or craft, and the girls were to be bound “to some Honest Woman to be taught Household affairs.”

After Arthur Smith died in 1754, his widow undertook to administer his large estate in addition to managing her own property. Sometime between September 1761 and April 1763 she married a third time. If she executed a marriage contract before her third wedding as she had done before her second, no record of it has been found, but none of the relevant family records and only some of the pertinent county records survive. Her third husband was surnamed Stith, but his first name is not known. Her failure to mention her third husband when she wrote her will sometime before 1769 suggests that by then she was a widow for the third time. In her will she set aside money for the education of several grandchildren and godchildren, gave valuable personal property to her granddaughters, and provided for the purchase of portraits of Moses and Aaron to be donated to the church she attended in Southwark Parish. She also left £120 and the residue of her estate to her Smithfield school.

Although the date and place of her death are not precisely known, Elizabeth Bray Allen Smith Stith probably died at her home in Surry County about the middle of February 1774. Her will was proved in the Surry County Court on February 22, 1774, and a brief report of her death appeared two days later in a Williamsburg newspaper.

MAP
TIMELINE
About 1691

The parents of Elizabeth Bray, Mourning Burgh Pettus Bray and James Bray, marry.

About 1692

Elizabeth Bray is born at the Bray family estate at Middle Plantation or at the nearby plantation of Littleton in James City County.

November 27, 1711

Elizabeth Bray marries Arthur Allen.

1725

James Bray dies and one of his daughters, Elizabeth Bray Allen, inherits his James City County lands and Williamsburg town lots.

1727

Arthur Allen, Elizabeth Bray Allen’s husband, dies, leaving an estate valued at about £900, including twenty-three enslaved people on two large properties.

February 28, 1728

William Byrd stops at "the Widdow Allen's" house in Surry County on his way to survey the boundary between North Carolina and Virginia, noting Elizabeth Bray Allen’s elegant entertainment and well-ordered household.

February 1729

Elizabeth Bray Allen marries Arthur Smith.

1743

A son of Elizabeth Bray Allen Smith and Arthur Smith drowns in a swimming accident.

1744

A son of Elizabeth Bray Allen Smith and Arthur Allen dies.

1753

Elizabeth Bray Allen Smith establishes a £140 trust fund to create a free school for poor boys and girls in Smithfield.

1754

Arthur Smith dies and his widow, Elizabeth Bray Allen Smith, administers his large estate.

Before 1769

Elizabeth Bray Allen Smith writes her will, setting aside money for the education of several grandchildren and godchildren.

About the middle of February 1774

Elizabeth Bray Allen Smith Stith probably dies at her home in Surry County.

February 22, 1774

Elizabeth Bray Allen Smith Stith’s will is proved in the Surry County Court.

February 24, 1774

A brief report of Elizabeth Bray Allen Smith Stith’s death appears in Williamsburg’s Virginia Gazette.

CITE THIS ENTRY
APA Citation:
Gundersen, Joan & Dictionary of Virginia Biography. Elizabeth Bray Allen (ca. 1692–by February 22, 1774). (2023, August 08). In Encyclopedia Virginia. https://encyclopediavirginia.org/entries/elizabeth-bray-allen-ca-1692-by-february-22-1774.
MLA Citation:
Gundersen, Joan, and Dictionary of Virginia Biography. "Elizabeth Bray Allen (ca. 1692–by February 22, 1774)" Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Humanities, (08 Aug. 2023). Web. 21 May. 2024
Last updated: 2024, May 03
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