Kurt's Historic Sites

Philip Allen

Philip Allen

Interment LocationVisited 
Providence, RIDecember 17, 2021 

Photographed December 17, 2021.

Seven governors of the State of Rhode Island are laid to rest at Providence’s North Burial Ground. Two are buried in a circular plot near the confluence of the cemetery streets of Dusky Avenue and Pine Avenue. One is Henry Smith, a member of the short-lived Country Party who served from 1805 to 1806. The other is Philip Allen, who entered the governor’s office 46 years later, as a Democrat. Allen was Rhode Island’s chief magistrate from 1851 to 1853. He resigned from the job in the midst of his third one-year term in order to fill a vacant seat in the U.S. Senate.

Allen is interred beneath the chest tomb shown in the center of this image. Allen was an 1803 graduate of Rhode Island College (now named Brown University, and not to be conflated with the state school currently known as RIC). He followed in his father’s footsteps as a merchant. His business interests included the growth of cotton and its manufacture into the textile calico. Allen was also a banker and a member of Rhode Island’s state legislature prior to his election as governor. In that post he supported several reform measures, such as the abolition of capital punishment and the adoption of the secret ballot method of voting. In the U.S. Senate he generally aligned with the policies of the presidents of the time, fellow Democrats Franklin Pierce and James Buchanan. One substantive difference was that he opposed the repeal of the Missouri Compromise, which Pierce facilitated by signing the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854.

Photographed December 17, 2021.
Photographed December 17, 2021.

Governor Allen’s grave bears an inscription that lists him as the son of Zachariah and Ann Allen. One relative not mentioned in the epitaph is his younger brother — named Zachariah after their father — who was an inventor and co-founder of the Rhode Island Historical Society. The most remembered of Allen’s kin is Thomas Wilson Dorr, his nephew. In the early 1840s, Dorr led a rebellion to expand the franchise in Rhode Island and served as its extralegal governor. The Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame describes Allen’s relationship with his nephew as “tense and tenuous,” and remarks that Allen “vigorously opposed Dorr’s resort to force in 1842 during the Dorr Rebellion, but achieved a degree of reconciliation with him by the early 1850s, when Allen became the titular leader of the reform-oriented urban wing of the Democratic [P]arty.” Allen’s relation to Dorr, whom he outlived by eleven years, is also not included in his gravestone’s inscription.

A revenue cutter for the U.S. Coast Guard was named after Allen and launched in 1856. The Philip Allen was stationed in the Chesapeake Bay during much of the Civil War, and was present during action that occurred at Fort Monroe in Virginia. According to the Coast Guard website, there is no known record of the Philip Allen after 1865. Ironically, it was at the end of that same year that its namesake died. My first visit to the governor’s burial site came one day after the 156th anniversary of his passing.

Photographed December 17, 2021.

Fast Facts

Born: September 1, 1785 in Providence, Rhode Island

Spouse: Phoebe Aborn Allen (m. 1815-1865)

Political Affiliation: Democratic Party

Gubernatorial Term: 1851-1853

Senate Tenure: 1853-1859

Died: December 16, 1865 in Providence, Rhode Island

Age: 80

Interment: North Burial Ground, Providence, Rhode Island

"We were gratified to perceive by comparing a large number of the proclamations issued by the [Governors] of the States calling upon the Citizens to set apart a day for thanksgiving, that a spirit of general piety pervaded a majority of the men now entrusted with the Gubernatorial office. The documents we have seen have with rare exceptions been drawn in a true catholic spirit ; they are not tinctured with that rabid sectarianism which considers none worthy of participating in the Divine mercies except the select few who are professors of the same doctrines—they called upon the citizens generally to return thanks to Almighty God for his graciousness, and promptly and [universally] was such call responded to. Not so with the exceptions to which we have alluded, one of them the production of a man whom before, during his brief term of office, we have had occasion to rebuke for unseemly puritanism, we mean Philip Allen the Governor of Rhode Island ; a man no doubt wise in his own conceit, but poor and imbecile in the opinion of men capable of judging between piety and hypocrisy."
- Robert Lyon
Editor of the Asmonean, criticizing Philip Allen's 1852 Thanksgiving proclamation to Rhode Islanders for its language that excluded adherents of Judaism, who did not believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ

Sources Consulted and Further Reading

Adelman, David C., Esq. “Thanksgiving Day Proclamation.” Rhode Island Jewish Historical Notes 1, no. 4 (1955): 235-236. https://www.rijha.org/wp-content/uploads/RIJH-Notes/Notes%20PDF/Notes%201.4%20December%201955.pdf.

Lyon, Robert. “Thanksgiving Proclamations.” Asmonean 7, no. 11. December 31, 1852. 125. https://www.nli.org.il/en/newspapers/asamon/1852/12/31/01/?&e=——-en-20–1–img-txIN%7ctxTI————–1.

Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame. “Senator Philip Allen.” Accessed December 16, 2022. http://riheritagehalloffame.com/Senator-Philip-Allen/.

Rogers, L.E., ed. The Biographical Cyclopedia of Representative Men of Rhode Island. Providence: National Biographical Publishing Co.,1881. https://books.google.com/books?id=wYUlAQAAMAAJ&vq=Rhode+Island+branch+of+the+United+States+Bank+1827+philip+allen&source=gbs_navlinks_s.

United States Coast Guard. “Philip Allen, 1855.” March 7, 2021. https://www.history.uscg.mil/Browse-by-Topic/Assets/Water/All/Article/2527916/philip-allen-1855/.

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