Friday, February 18, 2011

Captain Humphrey Choate Allen, Mystery Man!

Captain Humphrey Choate Allen (1825 – 1881) is a mystery to me. He was the brother to my Great Great Grandfather, Joseph Gilman Allen. I often wondered about both brothers middle names, since they were not maiden names of any grandmothers or other ancestors, which was the pattern of everyone else in the family, before and after. In fact, there has been a Joseph Gilman Allen in the next four generations and no one has questioned where the “Gilman” came from- they just chalk it up to tradition. I have a first cousin named Joseph Gilman Allen!

I don’t know where the Choate came from, although there was a Choate family in Essex. John Choate (1624 – 1695) was my 9x great grandfather, and he lived in Ipswich and his descendants in Essex. However, unless my Allen forebears were also genealogists, I doubt that they even knew they had Choate ancestors. This line daughtered-out right away. There were many, many “Humphrey Choates” in the Essex records. Perhaps he was just named for a good neighbor?

Another mystery is that Captain Humphrey Choate Allen died on the Isthmus of Panama. It states this right on his gravestone. I haven’t found a death record in Massachusetts to confirm this, nor a newspaper story about the incident. Most of the seafaring men in this generation were “coasters”, meaning they sailed the coast of New England and the maritime provinces of Canada. Some of the earlier Allens and other Essex residents sailed further away, whaling or in the war of 1812, or even earlier they went to the Caribbean. What was he doing in Panama, and what killed him? Was he laid low by the lowly mosquito? Was he digging the canal? Or did he die at sea?


Just for fun, I found this Londonderry connection to the Choate family:

From the book The heroes of the American Revolution and their descendants by Henry Whittemore, 1897 (via Google Books), page 164

“William Choate (2), son of Capt. William and Mary (Gedding) Choate, was born Aug. 10, 1759; died January 4, 1835. He sold half his farm on Hog Island to George Choate and removed, August 30, 1785, to Londonderry, NH. He was selectman six years and representative to the legislature, 1796-7. He married Susannah, daughter of Humphrey Choate. They had a son, William (3).

Capt. William Choate (3), son of William (2) and Susannah Choate, was born in Chebacco, Ipswich, April 18, 1785. At the age of twenty he made a voyage of three years on the ship Reserve, and afterwards commanded the same vessel. The War of 1812 so endangered his business that he sold his ship in a foreign port and returned home on a French vessel. The ship was shortly afterward captured by a British privateer and burned. He represented the town of Londonderry two years in the legislature. He was moderator of the town meeting in Londonderry for four years and fifteen in Derry. He was five years director of the Derry Bank and forty three years trustee of the Pinkerton Academy. He was a man of kind and generous impulses and Christian character. He married Mary Burnett Pinkerton, daughter of James and Elizabeth (Nesmith) Pinkerton. They had six children…”

There is a Humphrey Choate, died on 29 April 1838, buried at Derry’s Forest Hill Cemetery, no doubt he is probably the son of William Choate, Jr. See this entry at FindAGrave


Humphrey Choate Allen, son of Joseph Allen and Orpha Andrews, 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.

UPDATE 22 April 2013 - Part of this mystery was solved!  Read this link:

Copyright 2011, Heather Wilkinson Rojo


  1. While this won't solve the mystery, the first thing I thought of when I read this was that his date of death was during the same time period that Ferdinand de Lesseps (of Suez Canal fame) was also promoting the idea of a canal across the Isthmus. His US agent, Bostonian Nathan Appleton, Jr., was actively lobbying in New England and Washington for this. There was a kind of "canal fever" along the east coast. Possible connection, perhaps?

  2. I thought of this several years ago when I read David McCullough's book. In fact, my Dad asked David this queston directly, but unfortunately David just writes the books and didn't do his own research. I think perhaps Capt. Allen was still "coasting", he was just further away from home than usual. I'd like to know what his mission was down there. I'm still hoping to find an answer in a news article, or obituary.

  3. The time of promoting a canal might have been politically fraught, and maybe Capt. Allen was caught up in some sort of clash. If you don't know the cause of death, and I guess there's no record, you can't guess whether it was just bad luck or pressure from outside forces.