Monday, April 22, 2013

Another Mystery Solved!

Nearly a year ago, on 18 February 2011, I wrote a blog post about my my great great grand uncle, Captain Humphrey Choate Allen (1825 – 1881) of Essex, Massachusetts.  You can read that post HERE. His gravestone states that he died on the Isthmus of Panama.  My Mom is an Allen, and her parents are buried in the same cemetery in Essex.  We have all wondered what happened to Humphrey, and what was he doing in Panama in 1881. 

The digging of the Panama Canal was later than 1881, mostly after 1900 under President Theodore Roosevelt’s administration, although there had been attempts to dig a canal earlier.  I know that many Americans died during the construction of the canal, mostly due to disease, and we thought perhaps this would be the reason he was in Central America.  All the family wondered if he was there perhaps as a mariner, but most of our ancestors were “coasters” and didn't travel far from New England.
Then I found this during a Google Search (note that it does not name “Humphrey Choate Allen” in this news clipping, just “Capt. Allan” [sic]).  This was pure luck. 
Knowing that Humphrey Choate Allen died of disease in Panama while he was the master of a schooner is an interesting development.  Not many of the mariners in my family tree traveled so far away, although I do have a few who went as far as China, Japan, Hawaii and all over the Pacific Ocean as whalers.  This news clipping gave me the name of his ship.  It was easy to Google a bit of information on the schooner Bonanza, and the next time I am at a maritime archive (Mystic Seaport, Connecticut or the Peabody Essex Museum’s Phillips Library in Salem,  Massachusetts) I can find more.
Online, from the Tacoma, Washington Public Library:
“The Bonanza, a two - masted schooner of 135 tons, was built at San Francisco in 1875 by J. S. Nichols as a yacht for William Ralston, the speculator who built the Palace Hotel. After his crash she became a trader, with one losing voyage as a codfisher in 1883; in 1890 she was sold to James McKenna., San Francisco, and fitted out as an Arctic whaler. The Bonanza was crushed in the ice while whaling near Herschel Island in the season of 1905. John Lyman, Pacific Coast Built Sailers, 1850-1905, The Marine Digest. Mar. 1, 1941. p. 2. Mr. Lyman later wrote that the Bonanza was crushed at King Point on August 23, 1905 with the crew of fifteen getting to shore safely.    length 102'  Bean 27' Tonnage 135 Draft 9' “
From the article in the New York Times, I can see that Humphrey Allen was interred in Panama, and his gravestone in Essex is just a memorial, or a cenotaph.  His gravestone states he died 7 July 1881.  The article says that the mate F. C. Fullerton died of the same fever on 12 July.  A new captain, “Hohlman” sailed the ship on 19 July.  I can only wonder how Humphrey’s wife and family were notified.  Was there a letter?  Did someone visit from Boston to give the bad news?  The mystery continues…
A little genealogy....
Humphrey Choate Allen was the son of Joseph Allen and Orpha Andrews, and the brother of my Great Great Grandfather, Joseph Gilman Allen (1830 - 1908). He was born 23 September 1825 in Essex, Massachusetts, died 7 July 1881 in San Blas Bay on the Isthmus of Panama; married on 16 November 1847 in Essex to Fanny Larcom Burnham, daughter of Richard Burnham and Thankful Andrews, born 8 September 1825 in Essex, and died on 16 November 1900 in Essex. Five children born at Thompson’s Island, Essex, Massachusetts:

1. Edgar Allen, born 25 July 1848; married on 1 January 1871 in Gloucester to Mary F. Smith

2. Humphrey Choate Allen, born on 20 November 1852, died on 26 December 1904 in Minneapolis, Minnesota

3. Erving Willis Allen, born on 11 March 1859; died between 1920 and 1930 in Beverly; married on 14 January 1885 in Beverly to Mabel Griffin.

4. Clarinda Burnham Allen, born 27 January 1865, (she may be a twin to Cora) and died on 20 December 1924; married on 5 January 1884 in Essex to Lewis Rowe.

5. Cora Fanny Allen, born about 1865, died on 15 July 1885; married on 2 Feb 1884 in Essex to Alva Burnton Reed, as his first wife. She died after giving birth to two twins, Cora and Roy, on 14 July 1885.

My blog post from 18 February 2011 “Captain Humphrey Choate Allen, Mystery Man!”

Copyright 2013, Heather Wilkinson Rojo


  1. Just curious...are Thankful Andrews (Fanny Burnham's mother) and Orpha Andrews (Humphrey Choate Allen's mother) related?

  2. Lisa, yes, they are related. Thankful and Orpha are sisters! Orpha is my 3rd great grandmother, and Thankful is my 3rd great aunt. That makes Captain Humphrey Choate Allen my 2nd great grand uncle. Good question.

  3. Great post Heather! Congrats on the find.

  4. Wow, excellent. I'm wondering what you Googled to get this lucky result -- his full name, Humphrey Choate Allen?

    1. I was so excited I forgot to record what I Googled. But it wasn't his full name. I had tried that many, many times before.

  5. Hi, Heather! Do you happen to know if your Allen family ever had a relation that moved to Hawaii in the early 1800's? My grandson is Hawaiian on his father's side, and his surname is Allen.

  6. Hi Teresa, we had Emerson and Dominis and Holt relatives go to Hawaii in the early 1800s, but I don't know of any of the Allens going, too.