The Van Allens vs. the Allens

Even during his lifetime, it was common knowledge in New York City that the real name of dive owner John Allen (“The Wickedest Man in New York”) was E. E. Van Allen. He could even be found under his real name in city directories. Over the decades, though, E. E. Van Allen’s pedigree has been erroneously confused with the family of dive owner Theodore “The.” Allen proprietor of the infamous American Mabille.

Herbert Asbury devoted several pages in Chapter III of The Gangs of New York to a sketch of John Allen and the circumstances of the staged 1868 Water Street revivalist meetings that Allen participated in. Asbury doesn’t explicitly confuse this “John Allen” with the family of The. Allen in The Gangs of New York, but he is guilty of doing so in his sequel, All Around the Town.

Conflating the two families would be entirely detrimental to the Van Allens: Evert Ellis Van Allen, though fully immersed in vice, had a father and four brothers who were ministers. Moreover, he descended from a Dutch family that had been in New York since the 1600s, and included a Congressman and a namesake who surveyed much of the city of Albany.

On the other side, the criminal antics and depredations of “The.” Allen and his brothers, and the marital discord between his parents, is a subject I’ve explored in an earlier blog project. Sibling Westley Allen was one of the dishonorable profiles in Thomas Byrnes’s book, Professional Criminals of America.

Perhaps a major source of the confusion is that the oldest of the Allen Brothers (Theodore, Jesse, Martin, Charles Wesley “Wes”) was John Allen (1831-1896). Moreover, this John Allen was also a dive owner, as evidenced by his obituary:

This John Allen lived 26 years beyond death of Evert E. Van Allen in 1870, and operated his dives much further north and in later decades.

The current (September 2020) Wikipedia entry for “John Allen (saloon keeper)” relies heavily on Asbury as a source, and repeats many of the erroneous statements Asbury made in All Around the Town.