Macon Bolling Allen (1816-1894)

Macon Bolling Allen

Macon Bolling Allen became the first African-American lawyer (1844) and the Second African-American to become Justice of the Peace (1847) in the United States

In 1844, Macon Bolling Allen excelled in his bar exams which earned him the license to practice law in Maine, United States. By doing so, he became the first American with an African origin to be called to the bar. He went ahead to practice in other states and held respectable positions in America’s judicial system.

A pioneer in the profession, the Indiana-born attorney has rightfully earned his place in the history books. But who was Macon Bolling Allen, and what has made him an historical figure in the United States? The answers to these questions can be found in the article below.

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Who was Macon Bolling Allen?

He was born in 1816 as Allen Macon Bolling. During a period where slavery was predominant in the United States, Allen was fortunate to spend his early years as a free man in Indiana. Like many blacks during that period, he never had the opportunity to step into a classroom when he was young. However, the determined Bolling managed to learn how to write and read on his own.

Sooner than later, he got himself a job as a teacher in a local school. Though his main task was to train his students, Bolling used this opportunity to sharpen his writing and reading skills. In 1844, he moved to Boston and began using the name Macon Bolling Allen.

Determined to become a legal practitioner, he relocated to Portland in Maine to start his training. It was during this period that he came across a local abolitionist named Samuel Fessenden. The latter was also an astute attorney. He saw Allen as a smart and intelligent kid who would excel in the legal space. Fessenden later agreed to take him through some legal training.

With support from his master, Allen tried to work his way to the bar. However, his initial attempt was unsuccessful. He met stiff opposition from the Portland District Court whose main argument was that Allen had not met the necessary requirements to become a citizen of the state (Maine). He later decided to gain his license by writing an exam. Despite facing an unfriendly examination commission, Allen passed his test and was given his license in July 1844.

Legal Career

Though he had earned his documents to practice in the state, Allen was left frustrated in Maine. Despite being an intelligent lawyer, he found it very difficult to make it in a state where most of its people were whites. Racism at that time was very high and blacks were seen as less intelligent. This might be the reason why he was unable to secure contracts in the state.

In order to improve his condition, Allen returned to Boston, Massachusetts in 1845. That same year, he earned his license to operate as a lawyer in the state. His first notable work came in October that year when he argued in front of a jury. Despite his recognition, the Indiana-born lawyer had had to battle against racial discrimination. Boston proved to be no different from Maine as his skin color made it difficult for him to attract clients. This made life very difficult for him in the city.

Driven by his high aspirations, Allen wrote and passed another difficult exam which gave him the opportunity to serve as Middlesex County’s Justice of the Peace. With his new role, he was able to make some money from his profession. He mostly handled small claims and minor crimes.

After the infamous Civil War (1861–1865), he moved to the city of Charleston in South Carolina. With support from Robert Elliott (1842 – 1884) and William Whipper (1834 – 1907), both lawyers, Allen established a law firm in 1868 which was known as Whipper, Elliott, and Allen.

He was named as a judge for South Carolina’s Charleston County in 1876. Until his death in 1894, he worked with the Land and Improvement Association as an attorney.


The much-respected attorney was married to a lady named Emma Levy. They were blessed with seven kids of which five survived childhood. In 1880, a decade after losing his wife, Allen tied the knot with another woman named Hannah Weston. He lived with her until his death.

Some Remarkable Achievements of Macon Bolling Allen

Despite facing some difficulties, Allen recorded some outstanding feats during his active years. It is for this reason that he is regarded as one of the most important people in the judicial service of the United States. Below are some of his successes:

  • First African American to Own a Law Firm

Prior to the Civil War, most of the law companies in the United States, if not all, were owned by whites. This story changed in 1868 when Allen and his partners, who were also blacks, established their law firm. Their organization, Whipper, Elliott, and Allen, was the first law organization in the United States to be fully owned by African Americans.

The trio probably set up their own law firm to refute the notion that blacks weren’t equipped enough to succeed in the judicial sector. It is also possible that their main aim for establishing the office was to help people of their race to fight some legal battles.

Through the firm, Allen defended many members of the black community in the law court, giving him widespread attention in the United States.

  • First African American Lawyer

Of all his legacies, this is what Allen is widely known for. When he was fighting to get admission to the bar in Maine, little did he know that he was about to write his name in the books of history. After a couple of attempts, Allen was finally called to the bar in 1844.

With this milestone, the Indiana-born attorney set the tone for other African American legal practitioners such as Thurgood Marshall (1908-1993), Charlotte E. Ray (1850-1911), and Constance Baker Motley (1921-2005) to succeed in the noble profession.

  • First African American Lawyer to Argue in Front of a Jury

Allen broke another trend in 1845. This time around, he became the first African American attorney to make a case before a United States jury. This happened when he moved to Boston to continue his profession. In October that year, four months after he was named to the state’s bar, Allen was given the opportunity to argue in front of a number of judges.

Though his client lost the contract dispute case, Allen gave a good account of himself. As a result, his client was given lower damages as compared to what the other party wanted.

  • Second African American Judicial Officer

After Wentworth Cheswell (1746 – 1817), Allen became the next black American to hold a position in America’s judicial service. He recorded this achievement in 1847 when he was elected as Middlesex County’s Justice of the Peace. Having worked as a lawyer for a number of years, Allen was seen as the right choice for this position.

During his time in office, he had the opportunity to preside over many criminal cases. His performance played a pivotal role in shaping the country’s judicial system.

  • Elected a Judge at Charleston County

Despite lots of opposition, Allen acquired one of the most important positions in the judicial service. In 1873, the South Carolina state legislature elected him as a judge. For three years, he presided over cases at the Charleston County Criminal Court. For a person who has served as a Justice of the Peace, Allen’s sense of judgment was never questioned.

As if that wasn’t enough, he was also given the opportunity to serve as the county’s probate judge in 1876. This became a historical achievement because his main rival and incumbent was a white person. He had a very successful tenure and settled many estate disputes.

  • Involvement in the Reconstruction Process

After the Civil War, the United States entered into the stage of reconstruction. This was to recover some of their losses during the conflict. It was during this period that slavery was abolished by congress. It also saw the amendment of the constitution.

In order to make the right choices, a number of intelligent brains were consulted. As the first black American lawyer in the United States, Allen’s contribution was as vital as any other high-profile government official. He was widely known for his stance against corruption during that period. He also advocated for a reform to some laws of the land.

Looking at the number of racial discriminations that he went through at the early stages of his career, it is possible that his main agenda was to give blacks in the country an equal platform as their white counterparts. To a large extent, he fought for equality for every American irrespective of race.

Did you know…?

  • Aside from his work as an attorney, Allen was also an active politician. During his time at South Carolina, he contested for the Secretary of State position. Though his bid was unsuccessful, he inspired other people of his race.
  • In 1847, he was offered the opportunity to serve as Liberia’s Attorney General. This would have made him the first person to hold that position. However, he turned down the offer.

How did Allen Die?

Though the cause of his demise isn’t clear, it is believed that the former Charleston County judge died from dementia at the age of 78. The African-American attorney was laid to rest at Charleston, South Carolina.

Read More: Thurgood Marshall – Facts and Major Achievements of the first African-American Supreme Court Justice

Macon Bolling Allen: Fast Facts

African-American lawyers

Macon Bolling Allen was the first black man in the United States to get a license to practice law.

Born: August 4 of 1816 in the US state of Indiana

Died: October 15 of 1894; Washington, D.C., U.S.


  • Emma Allen
  • Hannah Allen


  • Lawyer
  • Judge
  • Politician

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