Before being adopted by James H. Allen, (the first Presbyterian Methodist Minister in Alabama), Will was known as William Hellings. He was born in Bristol, England.
His father was deceased and his stepfather, Hellings, worked on the docks as a “Lumper” (unloading of ships.) His stepfather was reported to be a mean sort, drinking and mean to his wife. This is probably why Will chose to run away.
According to the Nautical School for Naughty Boys, William repeatedly ran away. William was charged with “wandering” and was assigned at the age of 11, on October 16, 1884 to the Nautical School for Naughty Boys which was a docked ship the Formidable in Bristol England.
In the school log he is described having “a height, without shoes, 4 feet, 1 inches, eyes -hazel, hair- light, chest measured 23 ½ inches and he had a mole on his right hip. He was a bright little boy who didn’t have fits.”
He left the detention school on July 12, 1889 at the age of sixteen. He signed on to the ship Souvenir as an ordinary seaman for a wage of 25 shillings per month. Captain Collis and his crew were bound for “Buenos Ayres” but had a stopover in Mobile.
William jumped ship in Mobile and lived on the streets of Mobile until Rev. James H. Allen found him and adopted him bringing him home to Allentown. His name was changed to Will Allen. Will was married to Irene Snow. He and his wife are buried in Allentown Cemetery.
Personal Note: As a child my father took me to visit Will and Irene Allen. They lived in a large two story clap board unpainted house. The house was located on Snow Road a short distance from Wulff Road and before you get to Howells Ferry Road. The house is long gone; the land has trees on it where the house stood.
A fond memory was seeing the large size of the kitchen, which was the center of activity of the home, and the fact that there was a hand pump by the sink so you did not have to go outside to pump water to carry in.
Mobile Register April 6, 1997 “Unraveling the English Will Mystery,” by Jay Grelen
Preserving our History