In a young nation hungry for legends, Allan McLane was primed to go down in history for his bravery and service during the American Revolution.
Allan McLane was born on August 8, 1746 in Philadelphia, the son of a Scottish merchant who had immigrated to America in 1738. After gallivanting through Europe in his early 20s, Allan settled in Delaware to break into the trading business.
He fought as a volunteer at Great Bridge, Virginia in December of 1775, then enlisted in Caesar Rodney’s Delaware Regiment as a lieutenant. Earlier that year, Allan officially changed the spelling of his last name from its customary “McLean” or “Maclean” to “McLane”, in order, quote, “to avoid confusion with that renegade Scot serving the Hanoverian King.” He established himself in the Continental Army during the Battle of Long Island by capturing a British patrol, and further during the battles of White Plains and Trenton. For his performance during the Battle of Princeton, he was promoted to captain by George Washington on January 3rd, 1777. He founded his own company in Delaware, returning to the field with nearly 100 soldiers whom he paid and equipped out of his own pocket.
McLane led foraging parties during the harsh winter at Valley Forge in 1778. Clad in beaver hats, hunting shirts, and breeches made from his wife’s linen tablecloths, Allan and his men diverted supplies from British forces to feed the Continental Army, on one expedition rounding up “1500 fat hogs, 500 head of cattle, [and] 200 head of horses.”
McLane was one of the first to question Benedict Arnold’s loyalty to the Revolution. He was about a year premature, though, and his concerns were rebuked by Washington. Still, he was greatly valued by the general. Washington once remarked of McLane, “I could not do without him in the light corps- no, not for a thousand pounds.”
In 1779, McLane was sent to serve with Major Henry “Light-Horse-Harry” Lee, under whom he fought gallantly during the Battles of Stoney Point and Paulus Hook. Though McLane is credited as showing great bravery on the front lines of Paulus Hook, official praise went to Lee, with the Continental Congress refusing to pass a resolution recognizing the contributions of Lee’s fellow officers. McLane continued to butt heads with Lee until he appealed to Washington and was transferred south to aid General Benjamin Lincoln. After Lincoln’s surrender during the siege of Charleston, McLane served under Baron Von Steuben, where he was promoted to Major.
In 1781, he was sent to the West Indies to accompany messages from Washington to convince the Comte de Grasse to bring his French fleet to the Chesapeake Bay. On his return voyage, McLane took command of the privateer Congress, which captured British sloop-of-war, the HMS Savage, while en route to New Jersey.
Once back on land, McLane wasted no time in joining Washington’s troops for the Virginia Campaign, fighting in the siege of Yorktown to close out his military career.
McLane retired from the army at the end of 1781, but his service to his country did not end there. He was a delegate at the Delaware convention of 1787, where he voted to ratify the new United States Constitution on December 7th. Allan also served as a judge for the Delaware Court of Common Pleas and as privy counselor to the governor. Furthermore, he was an avid Federalist and abolitionist. McLane was appointed by Washington as the first United States Marshal of Delaware in 1789, a position he accepted with some trepidation given his financial situation. He had spent most of his personal fortune during the Revolution, and had hoped for a more profitable position in the new government. Still, he took on the role for nearly a decade, while also serving as Speaker of the 16th Delaware General Assembly from 1791 to 1793.
Finally in 1797, Washington came through with a higher paying position for McLean. He was appointed the Customs Collector of the Port of Wilmington, an office he held until his death on May 22, 1829. He was 83 years old.
Of the fourteen children Allan had with his wife Rebecca, only three lived to adulthood. His son, Louis (named for King Louis XVI of France), would carry on his father’s commitment to the American experiment by serving as a member of President Andrew Jackson’s Cabinet.