Allen, Eliza (Combatants/Military Personnel)

(b. 1826)

Female volunteer who, disguised as a man, fought with the U.S. Army in the Mexican War of 1846-1848. Eliza Allen was born on January 27, 1826, in Eastport, Maine, where she enjoyed a life of comfort on the family estate. Trouble between Allen and her parents began after a man named Billings moved from Canada into the vicinity of Eastport. Billings was a poor man who worked as a day laborer to support his large family. His eldest son, William, also a day laborer, was frequently employed by Allen’s father. Eliza and William Billings fell in love. After many secret meetings, Eliza pledged her troth to William despite knowing her parents would not approve of marriage to a man beneath their social status. Informed of the couple’s intentions, the Allens forbade Eliza to see William. Eliza was told that if she pursued the relationship, she would be disinherited and turned out of the family mansion.

Allen received word that Billings was leaving Maine to restore harmony to the Allen family. Billings joined a volunteer company to fight in the Mexican War. Allen had read accounts of Deborah Sampson in the American Revolution and Lucy Brewer in the War of 1812 disguising themselves as men. Thanks to family wealth, she had enough personal money to go in search of Billings. She left home, cut her hair, dressed in men’s clothing, and caught a ship to Portland. Using the name George Mead as her alias, she found an officer who would muster her without any formal examination. Allen then sailed with her company to join General Zachary Taylor’s forces in Texas.

In March 1847, Allen participated in General Winfield Scott’s spectacular landing of nearly 10,000 troops in the Mexican port city of Veracruz. Scott successfully carried out the largest amphibious attack in history to that date, but Mexican guerrilla fighters consistently harassed his troops as they advanced toward Mexico City. Allen received a severe cut to her left arm from a Mexican sword at the battle of Cerro Gordo. There she was also reunited with her beloved Billings, who was also wounded in the battle. Remaining behind with the sick and wounded, Allen and Billings entered the Mexican capital after Scott had taken possession of it. Allen, who did not reveal herself to Billings, was quartered with him in a private house during the U.S. occupation. After a peace treaty was signed, Allen and her fellow Americans sailed to New York City, where they were discharged.

Billings and his mates soon lost their military pay gambling. They took work as crewmembers aboard a ship to California, where they would pay off their passage prospecting for gold. In pursuit of Billings, Allen also boarded a ship bound for California. In the Strait of Magellan, Allen’s ship rescued Billings and his shipwrecked companions. Still disguised as a man, Allen panned for gold in California. After regaining funds, the group of former volunteers sailed from San Francisco to Boston, arriving in September 1849. Allen then revealed her true identity to Billings, and the couple was eventually married with the consent of Allen’s parents. Allen described her experiences in her 1851 memoir, The Female Volunteer; or the Life, and Wonderful Adventures of Miss Eliza Allen, A Young Lady of Eastport, Maine, a highly emotional plea and warning to parents to allow children to choose their own spouses.

Next post:

Previous post: