Allen McLane of Delaware was one of the most well-known, respected and determined partisan officers of the Continental Army. He performed resolute outpost duty throughout nearly the entire American Revolution.
Allen [or Allan] McLane was born in Philadelphia in 1746. His family had recently arrived from Scotland in 1738. His father was a merchant in Philadelphia, one of the numerous prosperous merchants of what I like to refer to as the “Scottish Mafia” in North America.
He moved to Delaware in 1774 to begin his own merchant business, but had barely established himself when the American Revolution broke out. He fought with the Virginia Militia as a volunteer at Great Bridge, Virginia in December of 1775. He then served in the New York Campaign of 1776, and in 1777 he raised a Company of Delaware Continentals. McLane distinguished himself in the battles of Long Island, White Plains, and Trenton. His gallantry at the battle of Princeton earned him promotion to captain in 1777.
The illustration is a painting done by Charles Wilson Peale: The Ambush of Captain Allan McLane (1803) shows McLane fending off an attack by two British dragoons, during one of his many fights around Philadelphia during the winter of 1777 and 1778. Peale prepared a number of preliminary sketches (at the American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia) for the painting that as far as I know has not been published. The original is at the Utah Museum of Fine Arts, University of Utah. There are actually two similar paintings- both depicting Captain McLane defeating a pair of British dragoons in hand-to-hand fighting at dawn on June 8, 1778 when McLane got cut off during a scout of Philadelphia. An excellent account of one of the many engagements that he participated in is: Edith McLane Edson, “Notes and Documents: A James Peale Puzzle: Captain Allen McLane’s Encounter with British Dragoons “The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. 125, No. 4 (Oct., 2001), pp. 375-392.
McLane commanded Oneida warriors at the Barren Hill skirmish in May, 1778 and was the first American officer to enter Philadelphia as the British were evacuating the city one month later.
McLane operated with Dickinson’s New Jersey militia during the Monmouth Campaign of late June and was on duty with the main army later that summer. Washington put him in charge of the outposts around Philadelphia, and, in July 1779, McLane was promoted to Major in “Light-Horse Harry” Lee’s Legion.
The new Major subsequently took a prominent part in the battles of Paulus Hook, Stony Point, and the siege of Yorktown. By war’s end, he wore the rank of Colonel. As with many other forgotten heroes of the American Revolution that I have discussed, he served quite literally throughout the entire war.
McLane’s father died during the war, and he lost his father’s fortune because he could not adequately manage it from the Continental Army. Following the American Revolution, he returned to mercantile pursuits. He was a distinguished and proud member of the Order of Cincinnati. He was a staunch Federalist, and was a delegate to the ratifying convention and supported the ratification of the US Constitution by Delaware. In 1789 he was appointed a marshal of Delaware and became a collector for the port of Delaware in 1797. He held that post until his death in 1829. He was politically active in Delaware.
During the War of 1812, and at the age of 68, he commanded the defenses of Wilmington. His son, Louis McLane, served as the U.S. Secretary of State for President Andrew Jackson. Alexander Hamilton named one of his sons for Allen McLane (Allen McLane Hamilton).
His extensive papers are at the New York Historical Society. The Delaware Historical Society and the Historical Society of Pennsylvania also hold some of his papers. He was a devout Methodist, and he donated the land for the first Methodist Church in Delaware (old Asbury Methodist Church in Smyrna).
Captain McLane has received one excellent but brief biography in American Heritage.