by Barb Chapman, Wheatland Town Historian
Ebenezer “Indian” Allan was the first, and probably the most famous and fascinating character in Wheatland history. In 1786, when he was about 42 years old, he relocated from Gardeau, near present Mt. Morris, NY, where he had been staying with Mary Jemison, the “White Woman of the Genesee.” He built a log cabin on the flats near the confluence of Oatka Creek and the Genesee River just east of the present village of Scottsville. He had acquired 170 acres of land, horses and cattle, and he began clearing and cultivating property for his homestead here.
In 1789, when Peter Sheffer and his sons, Peter Jr. and Jacob, were making their way north from Pennsylvania and looking for land in the Genesee Country, they came upon Ebenezer Allan’s cabin where he was living with his Indian wife, Sally, their two daughters, Mary and Chloe, and his other wife Lucy Chapman Allan. Since winter was fast approaching, the Sheffers were invited to stay on. In the spring of 1790, a deal was made, and the Sheffers became the owners of the homestead and the first permanent settlers in the town. The Allans moved to the present site of Rochester.
The Phelps and Gorham Purchase included over two million acres east of the Genesee River and the 100 Acre Tract on the west side of the river that became the location of the City of Rochester. As part of their agreement, Phelps and Gorham had promised the Senecas that mills would be built to satisfy the needs of both the anticipated settlers and the natives. They chose “Indian” Allan for the job. He built a sawmill and a flourmill on the Genesee River, but with the population increasing very slowly, he had very few customers. In 1794 he moved back to Mt. Morris and from there to Upper Canada where he died in 1816.
Allan was not a popular man. Originally from New Jersey, he had been a British soldier and a member of Butler’s Rangers, an army that, along with their Indian allies, attacked and massacred settlers. Local history author Arch Merrill described Allan as “violent, audacious, lawless and sometimes cruel.” Besides his Indian wife Sally and white wife Lucy Chapman, Allan took as wives, at various times, the widow of a man who had died in Allan’s home; Millie Gregory, who bore him six children; and the daughter of an escaping slave who had taken shelter at his home. Rochester historian Donovan Shilling named him a pioneer rogue, Seneca blood brother, guerilla warrior and irascible lover. Peter Sheffer Jr. remembered Allan as tall, erect, energetic and usually courteous and affable. As far as he knew, Allan’s chief offense against society was “his insane passion for matrimony.” E.H.T. Miller, a Scottsville chronicler of history, wrote that, in spite of his distaste for civilization “Ebenezer Allan stands conspicuous on the pedestal of our first white settler in the lower Genesee River country.”
There are accounts of Allan’s life that credit him with improving relations between the native tribes and the colonies. At one time he stole a wampum belt from an Indian chief and presented it to the Indian Commissioner as a pledge of peace. In 1783, he carried a message of peace from the Iroquois chiefs to the Continental congress. For this he was captured by British agents and jailed in Montreal. He was released when the Treaty of Stanwix was signed with the tribes the following year.
Morley B. Turpin was a researcher who spent many years during the 1930s and 40s collecting information about Ebenezer “Indian” Allan. He had a kinder, most respectful opinion of the man than most of the others who had recorded his life. He attributed the outrageous tales about Allan to his own bragging or to fabrications of his enemies. Turpin wrote, “although shrewd, and possibly unscrupulous . . . . he was an outstanding personage in the history of Western New York.” Turpin uncovered information about the later lives of Mary and Chloe as well as Seneca Allan, son of Ebenezer and Lucy, who was born in Rochester. Seneca became a respected citizen of Perrysville, Ohio, a surveyor and a member of the Masons and the Episcopal Church.
Many of the original documents that Morley B. Turpin discovered and collected were given to his friend, Scottsville attorney George Skivington, and are now housed in the Wheatland Historical Association library.