History - The First Generation of United States Marshals
Marshal of Delaware: Allan McLane
Allan McLane did not want to be a United States Marshal. Having suffered
financially during the Revolution, McLane sought a better paying
in the new government. Unfortunately, Washington had already filled
offices, so he offered McLane the job of Marshal with the promise that
something more "productive" came open, McLane would be appointed to it.
In the interim, McLane continued to suffer financially.
Source: J. Thomas Scharf, History of Delaware:
1609-1888. Philadelphia: L. Richards & Co., 1888.
Deeply in debt, he wrote Washington on June 9, 1794, to reiterate his
request for a better paying office. McLane complained to the President
that his commission as Marshal was "an office of considerable trust, but
not profit." Nevertheless, McLane remained as Marshal until 1797, when
the President fulfilled his promise by appointing McLane Collector of
the Port of Wilmington.
In many ways, McLane typified Washington's Marshals. Born in
on August 8, 1746, he moved to Kent County, Delaware, in 1774. At the
time of his appointment as Marshal on September 26, 1789, he was 43
years old and had lived in his District fifteen years. At various times,
he earned his living as a farmer, soldier, member and speaker of the
Delaware legislature, privy counselor to the governor, and judge of the
Court of Common Pleas. McLane was also a member of the Society of the
Cincinnati, an avid abolitionist, and a supporter of the Federalist
party. As a delegate to Delaware's ratifying convention in
1787, he voted for the new national Constitution. During the
election of 1800, McLane campaigned actively for John Adams. Although
Jefferson moved quickly to purge the government of Federalists and
them with his own Democratic Republicans, he did not remove McLane from
his job as collector.
A hero of the Revolutionary War, McLane earned a reputation for his
"daring and intrepidity." He enlisted as a Lieutenant in 1775 in Caesar
Rodney's Delaware Regiment. The following year, he joined Washington's
Continental Army. McLane distinguished himself in the battles of Long
Island, White Plains, and Trenton. His gallantry at the battle of
Princeton earned him promotion to captain in 1777. Washington put him in
charge of the outposts around Philadelphia, and, in July 1779, McLane
was promoted to Major in "Light-Horse Harry" Lee's Legion. The new Major
took a prominent part in the battles of Paulies Hook, Stony Point, and
the siege of Yorktown. By war's end, he wore the rank of Colonel.
McLane earned these promotions through the skill and bravery he showed
in fighting the British. On one occasion, he and four of his men ran
into a large group of redcoats. His men fled, leaving McLane alone
before the British troops. After a brief exchange of gunfire, McLane
also retreated, only to encounter an even larger number of enemy
soldiers. He managed to outrun all but two of these
redcoats before turning to take his stand. McLane shot one of his
and then fought hand-to hand with the second. This one, too, he managed
kill, but not before the British soldier struck him in the hand with a
inflicting a severe wound that bled profusely. Exhausted by the running
and fighting and weakened by loss of blood, McLane sought refuge in a
mill pond. He stripped naked and hid in the freezing water until the
the bleeding and the British gave up their search for him.
On another occasion, McLane, riding alone, chanced upon a dozen British
soldiers. Rather than turning and fleeing, he spurred his horse to the
attack, charged through the startled redcoats, and made good his escape.
McLane also showed a sense of humor fighting the British. On many
occasions, he dressed his men as farmers and sent them behind enemy
lines to spy on the enemy. He also provisioned British troops with
"beef," which he sold them at market rates.
He used the profits to supply his own men. Since the "beef" was actually
the meat from British horses killed in battle, his margin of profit was
McLane served as the first Marshal of Delaware for eight years. His
appointment as Collector of the Port of Wilmington in 1797 began a new
phase of his career. He remained in that office until his death on May
22, 1829, at the age of 83.