I was born near La Grange, Oldham county, Ky., March 7, 1836. My father, Francis Myers Allen, was born in Brown county, Ohio, December 7, 1807. He was the son of Thomas Allen, who, in 1812, when my father was only five years old, moved from Brown county, O., to Shelby county, Ky., and lived on Little Bullskin, a few miles west of Shelbyville.
My mother, Sarah A. Gibbs, was a daughter of James L. Gibbs and Mary Ashby, and was born in Loudoun county, Va., April 6, 1808. The family moved from Virginia to Kentucky in 1810, and lived in Shelbyville.
My grandparents on both sides reared large families of industrious, thrifty children, and both grandfathers lived to be quite aged, my mother's father living to be nearly one hundred years old.
My parents were married near Simpsonville, in Shelby county, April 9, 1829, and to them were born thirteen children -- five boys and eight girls -- ten of whom lived to be grown. I was the fifth child -- two boys and two girls being older. The oldest child, a boy, died in infancy. Being poor, both parents and children had to work hard and use strict economy to make ends meet. We all knew much of the toils and hardships of life, little of its luxuries. Both parents were blessed with good constitutions, and had fine native intellects, but they were uneducated save in the mere rudiments of the common school. They thought that "to read, write and cipher" as far as the single rule of three, was all the learning one needed for this life, unless he was going to teach. If my father's mind had been trained, it would have been one of vast power. He was philosophical, a good reasoner, and possessed of unusual discrimination. He had also great coolness and self-possession in emergencies.
In illustration of the latter statement, there recurs an incident in my father's life that will bear recital. In those old-fashioned days of "fist and skull" entertainments on public occasions, it was common for each county to have its bully. Oldham at different times had several -- men of great muscular build and power, whose chief idea of fame was that they could "whip anything in the county." My father was a small man, weighing only one hundred and thirty pounds, and of a peaceable disposition. Indeed, it was hard to provoke him to pugilistic measures. But circumstances caused one of these bullies to force a fight upon him at La Grange, in which the man was whipped so quickly and so badly that no one knew how it was done. The man himself accounted for it on the ground that "Mr. Allen came at me smiling." This caused one or two others, at different times, to seek to immortalize themselves by doing what the first had failed to accomplish; but with the same result.
Being a farmer, my father was never without occupation, and he always had plenty for his boys to do; hence I knew nothing but hard work on the farm, except a few school days in winter, from the time I could pull a weed out of a hill of corn till I reached my majority.
In the fall after I was born my parents moved from the farm near La Grange to Brown county, O., not far from Hamersville. There they remained a year; but my mother being much dissatisfied, they moved to Floydsburg, Ky., and in the following spring, when I was two years old, returned to the old place where I was born. Here the memories of life begin. The incidents of daily life from this time forward are fresh in my memory to-day. Here I had my first and last fight with my mother. When I was three years old, my father, one day in June, was plowing corn in a field not far from the house. When he went out, after noon, I wanted to go with him. He took me behind him on the horse to the field. When we got there I wanted to come back. He brought me back. I then wanted to go to the field. He took me to the field. I then wanted to come back. He brought me back. I then wanted to go to the field, but he left me, telling my mother to take me in charge. Because she attempted to control me I began fighting her. She whipped me with a small switch, and I fought till I fell. Being completely exhausted, I begged my oldest sister to fight for me, and when she refused and I had recovered a little, I got up and went at it again. But when I fell the second time, I lay till they took me and put me to bed, and there I remained several days. Though I did not surrender, I never afterwards felt disposed to renew the engagement. It was almost death to my mother, for she did not chastise me in anger; her firmness, however, saved me.
In the spring of 1840 we moved to a farm some two miles south of La Grange, on the road leading from that place to Ballardsville. Here we lived one year. Only one event worth naming occurred while we lived here. My mother took myself, an older sister, and a younger brother to visit a sister she had living in La Grange. It was a beautiful summer day, the roads were good, and we walked. My mother stopped at the house of a neighbor on the road side for a few minutes, and told us to go on, and be sure not to leave the road. With childish perversity we thought the green fields better than the dusty road, and were soon into them. It was not long till we were completely lost, and naturally wandered the wrong way, not thinking to observe the sun and consider our course. So, when we did not put in an appearance, the whole neighborhood was aroused, and several hours of excitement followed before we were found. My sister Bettie, two years my senior, was captain of this expedition.
In the spring of 1841 my father bought a farm of one hundred and twenty acres, lying about three miles southwest from La Grange. Most of the land was poor, and the "improvements" equally so. The house was a hewed log cabin about 18x20 feet, with clap-board roof held down by weight poles, and the walls "chinked" with mud. It had a large fire-place at one end, and a chimney made of slats and mortar, familiarly known as a "stick" chimney. The only window was paneless, with a solid shutter hung on leather hinges, propped up with a stick, except when it was wanted down. The floors above and below, were of broad lumber, and laid loose. The door, when closed, was fastened with a big pin. A narrow porch ran along the front, connecting with another at one end of the house, between it and the kitchen. This was large and of the same style of architecture as the house, but what that style was would puzzle any one to tell. These two rooms and porches, with the smoke-house and hen-house, constituted the "improvements" in that line. The out-buildings were stables and a crib, of round logs. The fences were all of rails, and inferior in kind. "Bars" and "slip-gaps" supplied the place of gates in some places, and in others the fences had to be often pulled down for lack of such conveniences. A fine spring gushed from the foot of a hill, one hundred yards in front of this humble abode. The location of dwellings, in that age and country, was determined almost exclusively by springs. Every other consideration yielded to this.
Here we took up our abode in a home of our own in the spring of 1841, as above stated. The farm was afterwards enlarged by other purchases, and the original still remains in the family. The poverty of the soil, its tendency to produce briars, its large amount of heavy timber, with the clearing necessary to be done, made it a place specially favorable for the cultivation of industry. My father was one of those men who never ran short of work; he always had plenty of it for himself and the whole family. Recreation was almost unknown, and we had hardly rest enough to secure good health. We were not of those who had to resort to base-ball and foot-ball for exercise; it was ours to combine pleasure with profit, only the profit was more than the pleasure. There is no doubt that employment contributes to health of both body and mind. Good blood, good thought and good morals are born of industry, provided it be not pushed to the extreme of exhaustion. Children and young people must have relaxation from toil, that both the physical and mental powers may recuperate; but not much attention was paid to this beneficent philosophy in my father's family. Had there been, it might have been better for at least some of his children in after years. There is a golden mean in this, as in other things, which parents sometimes miss in their blind adhesion to a false theory. Rest and labor are both appointments of God's benevolence.