Friday, November 17, 2017

The Strange and Tragic Tale of Samuel Allcorn

Yeah, it's that weird
Much of the digital ink of this blog is given over to specific historical sites, whether they be houses, schools, churches, mills or other types of buildings. Often, in connection with these structures, we may look at the families associated with them. If a specific person is the subject, he or she is usually an "important" person like a politician or a doctor or a major business owner. This story, however, is about none of those things. It's about a man who should have been a pretty average late-nineteenth century resident of Mill Creek Hundred. So average, in fact, that prior to seeing the first article about him, I didn't even know who he was. I'd mentioned his father once in an old post, but until recently I knew nothing about the strange and sad tale of Samuel Allcorn.

I guess the fact that Samuel Allcorn lived an unusual life should come as no surprise if one first looks at the life of his father, George P. Allcorn. George was born in Cecil County, Maryland in November 1799, but later moved to the Milltown area. He lived there and worked as a shoemaker for the rest of his long and very productive life. In 1823, the 23 year old Allcorn married 18 or 19 year old Elizabeth Montgomery (no, not the TV witch). Elizabeth was the daughter of William Montgomery, whose house still stands on the west side of Old Limestone Road. They then got to work. Over the next 25 years or so, the couple would have ten children, the last (or next to last) being Samuel, born in 1847.

Three years earlier, Allcorn had purchased his late father-in-law's house from Zachariah Derickson, who had married Elizabeth's sister Martha. Samuel was probably born in the William Montgomery House, and grew up there until the age of eight. In 1852 when he was just five, his mother passed away. The elder Allcorn sold the Montgomery House in 1855 and moved a few hundred yards east to a house on Milltown Road just past McKennans Church Road. The death of the first Mrs. Allcorn was not the end of the family, however. In fact, it wasn't even half way.

In 1857, the 57 year old Allcorn remarried to 17 (maybe 18) year old Adeline Foote. She was born in Virginia and lived in Ohio as recently as 1850, but was said to be from a Delaware family. I can't figure out how her father Amos Baldwin Foote connects, but he must be somehow related to the Footes in the area. (Fun fact: George Allcorn was eight years older than his father-in-law Amos.) However Adeline got to MCH, once she was wedded to George, they got to work. Over the next 26 years, she would bear to George P. Allcorn another eleven children. Samuel Allcorn's oldest sibling, sister Margaret, was 23 years older than he. His youngest half-sibling, Joseph, was 36 years younger. Margaret, who would marry George McClear and live on a neighboring property on McKennans Church Road, was nearly 60 when her brother was born. Father George was, as the birth certificate below shows, 83 years, 8 months, and 12 days old at the birth of his 21st child. Other than his shoemaking, George apparently had no other hobbies.

1883 Birth Certificate of Joseph Allcorn

Samuel, then, grew up with his mother for five years, no mother for five years, then the rest of his teens with a step-mother seven years older than he. However, the 1860 Census shows 13 year old Samuel residing with his sister, the aforementioned Margaret McClear, and in 1870 with brother James. James (three years Samuel's elder) married in 1868, bought 30 acres along Limestone Road in 1871, and died three years later. A few months after James did so metaphorically, Samuel literally bought the farm. It would be on this farm, located on the east side of Limestone Road north of the yet-to-be-built railroad tracks (I believe the house was about where the medical center is now), that Samuel would suffer the event mentioned in the headline at the top of the page.

The story that started this whole investigation, seen below and sent to me by Donna Peters, was printed in the February 4, 1895 edition of the Wilmington Morning News. It seems that Samuel had had what he thought was, and what his friends assured him was, simply a case of indigestion. However, and however oddly, Samuel reported that he had strange feelings inside him (but haven't we all), like he thought there was "a living creature of some kind inside him" (OK, maybe not). It got so bad that the doctor gave him an emetic (to make him vomit), and he threw up a dead, five inch lizard. Samuel thought he might have swallowed it the previous summer while drinking out of a spring. Fun.

Not a frog in his throat

As odd and slightly (or maybe more than slightly) disturbing as this story was, it was not the last noteworthy, bizarre and/or tragic event in the Allcorns' lives. The more I looked into Samuel Allcorn, the more I found. Sometime in the 1870's, Samuel married Margaret "Maggie" Bennett. They had no children of their own (aside from a child who died in infancy), but around 1884 the couple adopted a one year old girl named Katie. Try as I might, I couldn't figure out who Katie's biological parents were. Regardless, the Allcorns raised Katie as their own on their Stanton farm. The girl may have played not far from where I did as a child. Tragically though, Katie died in April 1901 of a kidney ailment, at the age of 18. Judging from the record (and from common sense), this seems to have had a profound effect upon the couple.

November 11, 1901

Later that very year, Samuel and Maggie sold their farm and bought property a couple miles away in the brand new community of the Cedars, near Brandywine Springs. As a matter of fact, as the snippet above shows, Samuel had the first house built in the Cedars. He had purchased lots 119 and 120, the third and fourth ones in from Harrison Ave., on the east side of Maple Avenue. I don't, however, think the Allcorns lived there. On the same day they purchased the Maple Ave. lots, the Allcorns bought five acres of land on the south side of Milltown Road, a few hundred feet from Newport Gap Pike. They built a house there, too, and I believe this is where they lived. Sadly, though, Samuel would not live very long in his beautiful new home.

What I believe was the Allcorn's home on Milltown Rd

In retrospect, it seems that Samuel was fighting some very serious depression. Whether it was due to the death of his daughter, some other event, or just general depression, we'll never know. In February 1903, it apparently became too much for the 54 year old butcher to bear. One morning, before he was to come down for breakfast, Samuel Allcorn slit his own throat with a razor. Maggie sent a neighboring boy to climb through the window of the bedroom, and Samuel's body was found in his bed. There were several newspaper accounts of the tragedy, but the one below was the most comprehensive. From the sounds of it there were many indications of trouble, and I would like to think that nowadays someone could have gotten Samuel some help.

Feb 13, 1903

Maggie Allcorn continued to reside at her home on Milltown Road, and was even eventually joined in the area by some family. If you happened to click on the link to the original Cedars post, or if you have a really good memory, you'll see that John W. Bennett ran the general store located at the corner of Newport Gap Pike and Jackson Avenue, within sight of Maggie's front porch. John was Maggie's brother. In 1908 he bought Lot #24, where the structure housing his store still stands. The final tragedy would befall the family only two years later.

While not as dramatic a death as her husband's, Maggie Allcorn's passing was still enough to make the paper. On the evening of August 17, 1910, she was waiting at 7th and Poplar Streets in Wilmington to catch the trolley home, after visiting a friend. She said she felt funny, and was carried to the steps of a nearby house. It seems likely to me that she suffered a heart attack, and was dead before the doctors could arrive. And as a final note of (tangential) family drama, the article seen below notes that Maggie's sister Hetty had survived the San Francisco earthquake in 1906. Everyone knows that every family has its own stories and drama, but if any MCH families didn't at the time, the Allcorns certainly had plenty to spare.

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