American History, Allen Family History: Coming to America through WWI — By Jim Allen, Editor NuVoteReach

351st Field Artillery [African American] Troops on the Deck of the “Louisville.” Part of the Squadron “A” 351st Field Artillery, [African American] troops who returned on the Transport Louisville (National Archive). The company of Boston Allen, Jr.


1921 Graduating Class Russell’s School of Beauty Culture (Norfolk, VA) Great Grandmother Gracie May Williams Allen (in lightest colored dress)


Grandmother Rosa May Allen (Woodley)


My first cousin Jordan Woodley (granddaughter of Rosa May Allen Woodley)


My Nice Dana “Day” Allen, Great granddaughter of Rosa May Allen Woodley


My Daughter Khera B. Allen Great granddaughter of Rosa May Allen Woodley

The Allen-Woodley side of my family are descended from a man called Cicero (one record says Caesar) who was enslaved in Sierra Leone (West Africa) in the early 1700’s and transported to America as a slave, landing in Boston, MA.

Cicero eventually bought back his freedom, changed his name to John Williams and married a Native American woman from Nantucket Island, MA called Priscilla. They moved to Prince William County, VA.

For my generation, John Williams Sr. and Priscilla were our 4x great grandparents.
The Williams were free men in America from the 1700’s.

In 1888, John’s grandson, John Williams III, a fishing boat deck hand, married Anna “Annie” Fountain, the daughter of Isaac Fountain and May “Mary” Major of Prince Georges County, MD. They had a daughter, Gracie May Williams, born on October 26, 1889—she was my great-grandmother.

Gracie married Boston Allen Jr. of Fayetteville, NC, (son of Rosa, a Cherokee Indian and Boston, Sr. who was the son of Claude Allen, reportedly of European and West Indian extraction-not sure which island yet) My brother (David) and I and our children are the only related Allen(s) (with that exact name) that we know of – although we know Claude Allen of Fayette, NC had several offspring, according to an old family Bible which names them.

Gracie and Boston had a son, James Isaac Allen, who was a Booker T. Washington High School (Norfolk, VA) football star; and a daughter, Rosa May Allen (Woodley), (named after his mother, Rosa) born on March 23, 1910. She was my father’s mother, “Grandma Ro.”

My father was born James Oliver Isaac Allen Sr., later dropped the Isaac, thus I am James Oliver Allen, Jr.

Great grandpa Boston Allen Jr. was killed in WWI, under the command of General John Joseph “Black Jack” Pershing. Pictured is the US government document from the now defunct “Treasury Department, Bureau of War Risk Insurance” (dated May 4, 1921) that confirms Great Grandpa Boston’s service (C-40 720. Boston Allen, Jr., Private, Battalion D, 351st F.A. [Field Artillery] HHC/sc-12) and the death benefits to our great grandmother Gracie May Williams Allen and her minor children (Grandma Rosa May Allen (Woodley) and Great Uncle James Isaac Allen.

As the story goes, the Armistice (peace deal) was struck, but Pershing sent his black troops into battle anyway.

They same year of the documented veteran’s death-benefit claim, 1921, Great Grandma Gracie Williams Allen graduated (pictured) from Russell’s School of Beauty Culture in Norfolk, VA.

The death-benefits claim from Great Grandpa Boston was still active through August 7, 1978 (per the attached document). The War Risk Department became the modern day Veterans Administration. Grandma Gracie, who moved into my parents’ home, into my bedroom, when I moved out, died in 1985, shortly before her 96th birthday

So far, no picture of Boston Allen Jr. survives in the family “archives,” but I found a picture of his regiment. Pictured above are soldiers of the 351st Field Artillery. Perhaps my Great Grandpa Boston Allen Jr. is among these men.

The original photo caption reads: “351st Field Artillery [African American] Troops on the Deck of the “Louisville.” Part of the Squadron “A” 351st Field Artillery, [African American] troops who returned on the Transport Louisville. These men are mostly from Pennsylvania.”

The family resemblance is striking to my Grandma Rosa May Allen Woodley (1910-1958),by three of her descendants (R-L) Khera Allen (my eldest daughter), DAY Allen (Dana-my niece) and Jordan Woodley (my first cousin of Tampa, FL).

Grandma Rosa’s hair was halfway down her back (but curled tightly in this photo) — perhaps passed down by her 2x great grandmother Priscilla, a Nantucket Native America woman, who married the former slave Cicero (John Williams Sr. – who purchased his freedom in Boston, MA the mid 1700s).


About Jim Allen, Founder/Editor, NuVote Reach

Currently serving as Chief Operating Officer of Alejo Media, emerging as one of Washington, D.C.’s most artistic and innovative video production and post-production media companies. Previously, as Director of News and Media Services at the American Institute of Physics, he led the creation of the news platform, which includes Inside Science TV. He also previously served as Media Director, Energy NOW! and Clean Skies TV and as Special Reports Editor/Media Relations Director at The Hill newspaper. Jim has served in various executive, business development and/or programming roles for a number of media concerns including CBS Radio/Television, Radio One Inc. and the Los Angeles Times. Since 1995, he has been a contributor to the Reporters Notebook news roundtable program on NBC 4 TV, DC. He earned a music scholarship to Delaware State University, a Bachelor of Arts in English/Television Production at Virginia State University and, from 2003-2007, attended Concord University School of Law. His commendations include the Washington, DC Teachers' Union Media Relations Award and shared an American Academy of Nursing National Media Award. Jim also chairs a development task force for the faith-based, non-profit House of Help/City of Hope, founded and led by Bishop Dr. Shirley Holloway, which has provided substance abuse, mental health and continuing education programs and transitional housing for tens of thousands of homeless (and battered) women, families and men (including ex-offenders) at its shelter and treatment facilities in Washington, DC and Prince George’s and Charles Counties, MD.
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6 Responses to American History, Allen Family History: Coming to America through WWI — By Jim Allen, Editor NuVoteReach

  1. I loved reading this! Having embarked on my own family research I can appreciate the time, work and dedication that you’ve put in to this. Actually, the fact that you were able to go back to the 1700’s is remarkable to me. I still can’t find my grandparents Naturalization records.
    Your grandma “Ro” was a beautiful woman, it’s clear she passed that beauty on. You have been blessed with wonderful gifts from the past. Thanks for sharing your family history, I think it’s very cool and interesting.

  2. Dan says:

    My father was in the 351st Field Artillery in WWI. He never spoke a lot about it; because as most men have seen what they saw. It has a lot of memories that I am sure that they would have liked to have blocked out; but some not to forget. It’s that way with most everybody who has fought in a war. The ones who saw the action always say the real heros didn’t make it back. They caught hell!!
    I went to see him in the hospital as a young man. He said do you see that fellow over in the corner. I said yes. He said he’s still suffering from the gas from WWI. This was some thirty years later.
    Well take care.

    I have heard of Battery’s; but not Squadrons when it comes to the Artillery. I am not saying you are wrong. I just never heard of them. I will have to check it out. Well take care and good luck in your search and God Bless and God Speed.

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