Governor Henry Watkins Allen


Review: Dorsey's Works Revived
Eric J. Brock, Historian
The Forrm
March 9, 2005
Definitive biography of Gov. Allen brought back by Ritz Publications

Governor Henry Watkins Allen

One of the 19th century South's important writers was Sarah Anne Ellis Dorsey of Mississippi. Mrs. Dorsey's life is itself a fascinating story but it is as a storyteller that she was best known in her day. Unfortunately, today Mrs. Dorsey's name is almost forgotten, except as the mistress of Beauvoir, the mansion near Biloxi, to which she gave ex-Confederate president Jefferson Davis and his wife Varina full use during Davis's late life, ultimately selling it to them.

During the War Between the States, Sarah Dorsey was among the refugees from the Union-occupied Gulf Coast who came in droves to Shreveport. Here she became well acquainted with Louisiana's governor, Gen. Henry Watkins Allen, and here she began making notes for what was to become the first and decidedly the definitive biography of this important military and political leader -- a hero of the Mexican War and the War Between the States, governor of Louisiana, and the nation's first handicapped governor (he had been wounded at the battles of Shiloh and Baton Rouge).

Allen's Caddo Parish plantation, "Allendale," lent its name to the neighborhood developed (partly due to his efforts) on its site, and Shreveport's Allen Avenue and Gov. Allen Park (now locally but informally known as Allendale Park) honor his name today, as do Allen Parish and the city of Port Allen.

For the record, Gov. Allen's house stood at the northwest corner of Allen Avenue and Myrtle Street, his wartime office in the middle of the 700 block of Texas Street, north side, Gov. Allen, who fled to Mexico at the war's end rather than concede to a Union victory, unfortunately did not live long in exile.

There, in Mexico City in the spring of 1866 the Virginia native and distinguished Louisiana statesman died a week prior to his 46th birthday. His remains were returned to Louisiana, where they rest today on the grounds of the old state capital building in Baton Rouge. Only a few months after his death Sarah Dorsey published her landmark biography of Gov. Allen, a book that received great acclaim at the time but never saw republication.

For 138 years, Mrs. Dorsey's Recollections of Henry W. Allen has been out of print, largely unknown, and inaccessible to all but the most dedicated scholars and researchers. The original book is a great rarity and fine copies command hundreds of dollars. In mint condition the book has been known to fetch over $1,000 at auction in recent years.

Fortunately, in 2004, Recollections of Henry W. Allen by Sarah A. E. Dorsey was republished by Ritz Publications of Shreveport. At $79.95, the book is not inexpensive but, compared to the going rate for original 1866 copies, it is a decided bargain. The 2004 printing of Recollections of Henry W. Allen is in not a new edition but rather is a precise facsimile of the original. Reading it, one reads exactly what readers a century and more ago read, even to the typeface and pagination.

Based upon Sarah Dorsey's correspondence and many conversations with Gov. Allen, with whom some at the time alleged she may have been romantically involved, Recollections is a fascinating history of the South in the antebellum and war period, offering not only a valuable perspective (or, perhaps two perspectives, though of like mind: Dorsey's and Allen's) on the politics and military campaigns associated with the War Between the States but also offering a great deal of insight into the lives, psyches, manners and customs of the people of the South - especially of Louisiana and of Shreveport and Baton Rouge during this period. Recollections is far more than a biography only, though it is definitely that and an excellent one. It is also a first-person document of the era, an era which continues to hold great fascination and influence today.

Ritz Publications plans to republish several of Sarah Dorsey's other works in 2005. During her lifetime, which spanned a mere 50 years (1829 to 1879), Mrs. Dorsey published, in addition to the non-fiction Recollections of Henry W. Allen, several novels: Lucia Dare, Agnes Graham, Athalie, Panola, Vivacious Castine and The Vivians. Although a popular author in her era, none of Sarah Dorsey's novels have seen the light of day in some 13 decades. Thanks to Shreveport's Ritz Publications, that is changing.

For more information on Mrs. Dorsey's books or to order the reprint of Recollections of Henry W. Allen, contact Ritz Publications at P 0. Box 29182, Shreveport, LA, 71149 at on the internet or call 318-347-7399.

Article by
Eric J. Brock, Historian
March 9, 2005
The Forum

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