While watching “Many Rivers to Cross” this week, an episode full of stories of resistance, escape and fighting back, this is the family story that came to mind.
It had been a wet spring, that 1861 in Dallas County, Alabama. Dock Allen was 21 years old and already a good carpenter. He was a white man’s son, but the man who now held him in slavery was not his father. His owner was known as a cruel man who kept vicious dogs to instill fear in his slaves. He wanted them to be afraid to run. When Dock made up his mind to escape, he had a plan to throw the dogs off of his track. There was a swampy area where wild ramps grew. He rubbed himself with them, poured the water on himself and rolled around in the field so the strong onion odor would hide his own human smell.
He had been running and running. He was bone tired. He could hear the dogs tracking him in the distance when he came to a small farm near Carlowville. He couldn’t go any further. He climbed up into the hay loft, covered himself with hay and lay there barely breathing. The dogs came into the hay room. He could feel their breath as they walked over him, but they didn’t smell him because of the ramps. Eventually they left.
This was the same place where Eliza and her small daughter Mary, lived. Eliza had been freed several years before. She lived on the farm of Nancy Morgan. Did Eliza hear the dogs and see Dock stumble into the yard? Did she silently direct him to the hide in the hay?
Later Dock decided to give himself up. Nancy sent a message to his master. It wasn’t long before he came to the house. He said that no one had ever out smarted his dogs and that any man who was smart enough to do that deserved to be free and he freed Dock. Dock stayed on that place and he and Eliza married. They stayed together until he died in 1909. He was 69.
Doc Allen in the record.
I found Dock Allen in in the 1867 voter registration database living in Montgomery, AL. He appears with his family in the 1870, 1880 and 1900 census in Montgomery. According to the records he was a carpenter born in Georgia. He owned his own home. In the 1900 census he and Eliza had been married 40 years which puts the beginning around 1860.
I have three addresses for him, 237 Clay street, 216 Holt street and finally 444 S. Ripley street where he lived for the five years before he died March 29, 1909 of “inflammatory bowels” after being ill for several weeks. His mother is named as Matilda Brewster on his death certificate. No father is listed. He is buried in Oakwood Cemetery in Montgomery.
I don’t know if this is exactly how Dock Allan escaped from slavery. This is the oral history that we have. I never knew this story until my cousin Jacqui Vincent and I made contact years ago. Dock and Eliza (Williams) Allen were my 2X Great grandparents. I’ve written more about Eliza’s story in these posts.