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Dictionary of Virginia Biography


Elizabeth Bray Allen (ca. 1692–by 22 February 1774), planter, was christened Elizabeth Bray. She was one of two daughters and at least four children of Mourning Burgh Pettus Bray and her second husband, James Bray, who were married about 1691. She was probably born at the Bray family estate at Middle Plantation, where Williamsburg was founded during her childhood, or at the nearby plantation of Littleton in James City County.

On 27 November 1711 Elizabeth Bray married Arthur Allen, the owner of a large plantation and resident of the brick house in Surry County that became known as Bacon's Castle early in the nineteenth century. They had one son and one daughter. Arthur Allen died intestate in 1727, leaving an estate valued at about £900, including twenty-three slaves on two large properties. Elizabeth Allen took over management of the extensive Allen estate, and she augmented her own wealth by the sale of some of the valuable James City County lands and Williamsburg town lots that she inherited from her father, who died in 1725. On 28 February 1728 William Byrd (1674–1744) stopped at "the Widdow Allen's" house in Surry County on his way to survey the boundary between North Carolina and Virginia, noting with approval her elegant entertainment and well-ordered household.

On 17 February 1729 she executed a marriage contract with Arthur Smith, a prosperous Isle of Wight County planter and proprietor of much of the town of Smithfield. By the marriage contract she secured for herself and her children the property that she owned and had inherited. Even though Allen owned more property than Smith, the contract bound Smith to pay each of her children the £300 that was their share of their father's estate and Elizabeth Allen was to receive £300 as compensation for her dower claim to Allen's estate. Thus the marriage contract converted property in which she had a life interest to ready money over which she retained full control. Their one son drowned in a swimming accident in 1743, and the following year her son by Arthur Allen also died.

Elizabeth Bray Allen Smith established a £140 trust fund in 1753 to create a free school for poor boys and girls in Smithfield. She reserved to herself the right to name the trustees, and she gave precise directions for the building that the trustees erected. She specified that the boys were to study reading, writing, and arithmetic for three years, and the girls were to study reading and writing for two years. The boys were then to be bound out as apprentices to learn a trade or craft, and the girls were to be bound "to some Honest Woman to be taught Household affairs."

After Arthur Smith died in 1754, his widow undertook to administer his large estate in addition to managing her own property. Sometime between September 1761 and April 1763 she married a third time. If she executed a marriage contract before her third wedding as she had done before her second, no record of it has been found, but none of the relevant family records and only some of the pertinent county records survive. Her third husband was surnamed Stith, but his first name is not known. Her failure to mention her third husband when she wrote her will sometime before 1769 suggests that by then she was a widow for the third time. In her will she set aside money for the education of several grandchildren and godchildren, gave valuable personal property to her granddaughters, and provided for the purchase of portraits of Moses and Aaron to be donated to the church she attended in Southwark Parish. She also left £120 and the residue of her estate to her Smithfield school.

Although the date and place of her death are not precisely known, Elizabeth Bray Allen Smith Stith probably died at her home in Surry County about the middle of February 1774. Her will was proved in the Surry County Court on 22 February 1774, and a brief report of her death appeared two days later in a Williamsburg newspaper.


Sources Consulted:
Stephenson B. Andrews, ed., Bacon's Castle (1984), 7–8, contains several errors; family relationships in Waverly K. Winfree, comp., The Laws of Virginia: Being a Supplement to Hening's The Statutes at Large, 1700–1750 (1971), 381–384; first marriage in Louis B. Wright and Marion Tinling, eds., The Secret Diary of William Byrd of Westover, 1709–1712 (1941), 444; marriage contract with second husband and first husband's estate records in Surry Co. Deeds, Wills, Etc., 5:396–400, 7:807–810, 841; Louis B. Wright, ed., The Prose Works of William Byrd of Westover: Narratives of a Colonial Virginian (1966), 49–50; founding of school in Isle of Wight Co. Deed Book, 9:78–84, and Segar Cofer Dashiell, Smithfield: A Pictorial History (1977), 66; second husband's estate papers in Isle of Wight Co. Will Book, 6:108–109, 144–154, 235A–240, 526–528; misdated copy of her will and estate inventory in Surry Co. Wills and Deeds, 10A:361–372; will printed in William and Mary Quarterly, 1st ser., 5 (1896), 114–117; undated death notice in Williamsburg Virginia Gazette (Purdie and Dixon), 24 Feb. 1774.


Written for the Dictionary of Virginia Biography by Joan R. Gundersen.

How to cite this page:
Joan R. Gundersen,"Elizabeth Bray Allen (ca. 1692–1774)," Dictionary of Virginia Biography, Library of Virginia (1998– ), published 1998 (http://www.lva.virginia.gov/public/dvb/bio.asp?b=Allen_Elizabeth_Bray, accessed [today's date]).


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