When people think of the founders of Houston, they often think of John Kirby Allen and his brother, Augustus Chapman Allen. However, Augustus’s wife, Charlotte, also played a vital role in the city’s creation and development.
Charlotte Marie Baldwin was born July 14, 1805, in Baldwinsville, Onondaga County, New York. Her father, Dr. Jonas Cutler Baldwin, was the founder and mayor of Baldwinsville. She and Augustus Chapman Allen married in 1831, in New York State. A year later, the Allen brothers went to Texas and settled first in San Augustine, then moved to Nacogdoches. Charlotte likely joined them in 1834, bringing her inheritance of approximately $2,310 from her father with her.
Most likely, with the help of Charlotte’s money, Augustus and John paid $5,000 for a half league of land (6,642 acres) along the banks of Buffalo Bayou. Just four days later, the less-than-honest brothers began advertising the mosquito-infested swampland as an oceanfront paradise. Historians believe Charlotte suggested the town be named Houston in honor of Sam Houston, their next-door neighbor. Sam Houston was the hero of the Battle of San Jacinto and the first president of the Republic of Texas.
John Kirby Allen, unmarried and without a will, died in 1838 of a fever, most likely malaria or yellow fever. Augustus and Charlotte had an argument over the estate settlement and separated around 1850, but never divorced. Augustus deeded everything he owned in Texas to Charlotte and moved to Mexico to serve as a consul for the Republic of Texas. He later moved to Washington, D.C., where he died in 1864. Charlotte remained in Houston.
Before Charlotte and Augustus began having their difficulties, they served as Houston’s first philanthropists. They helped finance the Texas Navy. They paid for the construction of the Capitol building in Houston. The Allens also donated land for the Methodist Church and the First Presbyterian Church, of which Charlotte was a charter member.
Charlotte proved to be a savvy businesswoman. She raised cattle and registered her own cattle brand. Charlotte also purchased and developed land. She owned a significant amount of property. In 1857, for $12,000, she sold the Capitol Hotel, which was built on the site of the former Capitol of the Republic of Texas from 1837-1839. The hotel later became the Rice Hotel. In 1895, she gave the City of Houston land, now called Market Square, for a city hall and marketplace.
Charlotte entertained many dignitaries who visited Houston. After the Civil War, the commanding general of the federal troops in Houston used the Allen home as his headquarters. The Allens considered their hospitality to be an investment in the growth and development of Houston. William R. Baker, their bookkeeper, estimated that the Allens spent approximately $3,000 a year entertaining dignitaries and guests.
Charlotte and Augustus had four children but only one survived to adulthood. At the age of ninety, Charlotte Marie Baldwin Allen died on August 3, 1895, and was buried in Glenwood Cemetery. Her home was demolished in 1911 to provide a site for the Gulf Building.
While a great support for her husband, Charlotte was a leader and pioneer in the development and growth of Houston in her own right. Some have called her the Mother of Houston.