John Allen was born in Rockbridge County, Virginia, on December 30, 1771, the son of James Allen and Mary Kelsey. The Allen family moved to Kentucky before 1779, where Allen received a basic education. After studying law with Archibald Stuart in Virginia from 1791-1795, Allen settled in Shelby County, Kentucky, where he had a successful legal practice. He served in the state legislature (1800, 1803-1813) and was lieutenant colonel of the 1st Kentucky Rifle Regiment during the War of 1812. Allen married Jane Logan (d. 1821) on October 19, 1798, and they had four daughters: Ann Maria (1802-1877), Eliza Sarah (1806-1867), Jane Logan (1808-1844), and Mary Kelsey (b. 1829). John Allen died on January 22, 1813, while fighting in the Battle of Frenchtown. Counties are named for him in Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky. Ann Maria Allen married Henry Crittenden and David R. Murray, Eliza Sarah Allen married Martin D. Hardin, Jane Logan Allen married John Todd Parker, and Mary Kelsey Allen married Thomas Willoughby Newton.