The articles, images and photographs on this page have been gleaned from the internet, public and university libraries, old newspapers and other sources. You should not be surprised to find that some of the information is contradictory or disputed. Much of Poe's life, like the characters in his stories, is shrouded in mystery. Even the cause of his death is a subject of much disagreement among scholars and historians. I hope you find this archive about one of America's Master Writers, entertaining and informative.


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    Edgar Poe was born in 1809 in Boston, but he considered Richmond his home, and called himself "a Virginian." It was in Richmond that Poe grew up, married, and first gained a national literary reputation. Many of the places in Richmond associated with Poe have been lost, but several still remain.

    Poe's natural parents, David and Elizabeth Arnold Poe, both actors, were employed by Mr. Placide's Theatre Company in Boston. They had been married in Richmond while on tour here in 1806. On December 8, 1811, while again in Richmond, Elizabeth Arnold Poe died. The two children who were with her Edgar, not quite three, and Rosalie, only eleven months old, were taken in by Richmond families - Edgar by John and Frances Valentine Allan and Rosalie by William and Jane Scott MacKenzie. Mr. Allan was a partner in the merchant firm Ellis and Allan. At this time, Allan and his wife were living in quarters located above the firm's offices at Thirteenth and East Main Streets. Poe adopted the middle name "Allan" from his Richmond family.

    Poe's mother, Elizabeth, was buried in the churchyard of St. John's Episcopal Church where her memorial stone may be seen. St. John's is the oldest church in Richmond and is famous as the site of Patrick Henry's rousing "liberty or death" oration shortly before the Revolutionary War.

    The Richmond Theatre where Edgar Poe's mother had performed burned to the ground on December 26,1811, only eighteen days after her death. The fire took the lives of many Richmonders including the Governor of Virginia, George Smith and his wife. At the site of the tragedy on East Broad Street, Monumental Episcopal Church was erected as a memorial to the victims. The Allans maintained pew number 80 in the church where young Edgar worshipped with his Richmond family. Today, Monumental Church is owned by the Historic Richmond Foundation.

    All of the Allan homes where Poe grew up have now disappeared; however, a photograph of Moldavia, his last home in Richmond, does exist. It shows a fine, large home with a double portico. John Allan bought the house in 1825, and Edgar lived there before entering the University of Virginia in 1826. Moldavia was located at Fifth and Main Streets. Across the street lived the Royster family with their daughter Elmira.

    Elmira was Edgar's teenage sweetheart; however, their relationship was broken off by disapproving parents. She subsequently married a Mr. Shelton, whose prospects seemed, at least to her parents, more promising than those of Poe. Their romance blossomed again, however, in the last years of Poe's life, when he, after his wife's death, found himself once more in Richmond. The Elmira Shelton house, where Poe visited in 1848 and 1849, still stands at 2407 East Grace Street. It is privately owned.

    Poe's boyhood in Richmond can be recalled in one of his finest poems, "To Helen," which was inspired by Jane Stith Craig Stanard, the mother of his schoolmate, Robert Stanard. It was she who praised and encouraged Poe's first literary efforts, and he repaid her in full with his stirring lines: "To the glory that was Greece And the grandeur that was Rome." Her girlhood home, the Stith house still stands at the corner of Nineteenth and East Grace Streets.

    After a quarrel with John Allan in 1826, Poe left the University of Virginia and Richmond and headed north to Boston, where in 1827, he published his first book, Tamerlane and Other Poems. The poems reflect his rift with his Richmond family and, in part at least, must have been composed while he was still in Virginia. After a two-year stint in the army, a few months at the Military Academy at West Point, and the publication in 1829 of a second volume of poems, Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane and Minor Poems, Poe moved to Baltimore to live with his aunt Maria Clemm and her son and daughter, Virginia. Here, Poe published a number of short stories and won first prize in a literary contest with one titled "MS Found in a Bottle." His success in the contest led to a job opportunity which brought him back to Richmond in 1835 as an assistant editor on the Southern Literary Messenger.

    The Southern Literary Messenger had its offices at Fifteenth and Main Streets; the building was demolished in 1915, but materials from it were used to construct the first memorial to Poe in Richmond, the Poe Shrine and garden, which along with the Old Stone House form the central portion of the present Poe Museum complex at 1914-16 East Main Street. While Poe worked at the Messenger from August 1835 to January 1837, he lived at Mrs. Yarrington's boarding house on Bank Street near Capitol Square. Mrs. Clemm and Virginia lived with him there, and it was at Mrs. Yarrington's that Poe and his young cousin Virginia were married on May 16,1836.

    While editing the Southern Literary Messenger, Poe wrote his only novel, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym. The first part of the novel was published in the Messenger in Richmond. Poe also composed the play, Politian in Richmond. He gained recognition as a critic, poet and writer of tales while living in Richmond and editing the young magazine.

    Poe left the Messenger hoping to start his own literary journal. Again, the North beckoned as the most propitious place for such an undertaking. He moved to Philadelphia and then to New York, making his living by editorial work on such publications as Burton's Gentleman's Magazine, Graham's Magazine, the New York Evening Mirror and the Broadway Journal. Unfortunately, Poe never succeeded as owner/editor of his own publication.

    After his wife's death on January 30, 1847, Poe returned to Richmond briefly in 1848 and again in 1849. During the last visit to Richmond, Poe lectured on "The Poetic Principle," and gave readings of "The Raven," the poem which had spread his fame in Europe as well as in America. Poe lived at that time at the Swan Tavern, a boarding house on Broad Street. He lectured at the venerable Exchange Hotel. Poe also visited old friends in Richmond; among them was the MacKenzie family who lived at Duncan Lodge on West Broad Street. Poe also visited the Tally family who lived at Talavera at 2315 West Grace Street. Of the places mentioned here, only Talavera survives, which is privately owned. Tradition says that it was at Talavera that Poe gave his last reading of "The Raven" on September 25, 1849. Two days later, Poe left Richmond for the last time. He died in Baltimore on October 7, 1849.
 


by James Southall Wilson

    Edgar Allan Poe was born January 19, 1809 in Boston, where his mother had been employed as an actress. Elizabeth Arnold Poe died in Richmond on December 8, 1811, and Edgar was taken into the family of John Allan, a member of the firm of Ellis and Allan, tobacco-merchants.

Poe's mother, Elizabeth Arnold Poe, died in Richmond on December 8, 1811.

    After attending schools in England and Richmond, young Poe registered at the University of Virginia on February 14, 1826, the second session of the University. He lived in Room 13, West Range. He became an active member of the Jefferson Literary Society, and passed his courses with good grades at the end of the session in December. Mr. Allan failed to give him enough money for necessary expenses, and Poe made debts of which his so-called father did not approve. When Mr. Allan refused to let him return to the University, a quarrel ensued, and Poe was driven from the Allan home without money. Mr. Allan probably sent him a little money later, and Poe went to Boston. There he published a little volume of poetry, Tamerlane and Other Poems. It is such a rare book now that a single copy has sold for $200,000.00

    In Boston on May 26, 1827, Poe enlisted in The United States Army as a private using the name Edgar A. Perry. After two years of service, during which he was promoted to the rank of Sergeant-major, he secured, with Mr. Allan's aid, a discharge from the Army and went to Baltimore. He lived there with his aunt, Mrs. Maria Poe Clemm, on the small amounts of money sent by Mr. Allan until he received an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

    Meanwhile, Poe published a second book of poetry in 1829: Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane and Minor Poems. After another quarrel with Allan (who had married a second wife in 1830), Poe no longer received aid from his foster father. Poe then took the only method of release from the Academy, and got himself dismissed on March 6, 1831.

    Soon after Poe left West Point, a third volume appeared: Poems by Edgar Allan Poe, Second Edition. While living in Baltimore with his aunt, Mrs. Clemm, young Poe began writing prose tales. Five of these appeared in the Philadelphia Saturday Courier in 1832.

    With the December issue of 1835, Poe began editing the Southern Literary Messenger for Thomas W. White in Richmond; he held this position until January, 1837. During this time, Poe married his young cousin, Virginia Clemm in Richmond on May 16, 1836.

    Poe's slashing reviews and sensational tales made him widely known as an author; however, he failed to find a publisher for a volume of burlesque tales, Tales of the Folio Club. Harpers did, however, print his book-length narrative, Arthur Gordon Pym in July of 1838.

    Little is known about Poe's life after he left the Messenger; however, in 1838 he went to Philadelphia where he lived for six years. He was an editor of Burton's Gentleman's Magazine from July, 1839 to June, 1840, and of Graham's Magazine from April, 1841 to May, 1842. In April, 1844, with barely car fare for his family of three, [including his aunt, Virginia's mother, who lived with them], Poe went to New York where he found work on the New York Evening Mirror.

    In 1840, Poe's Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque was published in two volumes in Philadelphia. In 1845, Poe became famous with the spectacular success of his poem "The Raven," and in March of that year, he joined C. F. Briggs in an effort to publish The Broadway Journal. Also in 1845,Wiley and Putnam issued Tales by Edgar A. Poe and The Raven and Other Poems.

    The year 1846 was a tragic one. Poe rented the little cottage at Fordham, where he lived the last three years of his life. The Broadway Journal failed, and Virginia became very ill and died on January 30, 1847. After his wife's death, Poe perhaps yielded more often to a weakness for drink, which had beset him at intervals since early manhood. He was unable to take even a little alcohol without a change of personality, and any excess was accompanied by physical prostration. Throughout his life those illnesses had interfered with his success as an editor, and had given him a reputation for intemperateness that he scarcely deserved.

    In his latter years, Poe was interested in several women. They included the poetess, Mrs. Sarah Helen Whitman, Mrs. Charles Richmond, and the widow, Mrs. Sarah Elmira Shelton, whom he had known in his boyhood as Miss Royster.

    The circumstances of Poe's death remain a mystery. After a visit to Norfolk and Richmond for lectures, he was found in Baltimore in a pitiable condition and taken unconscious to a hospital where he died on Sunday, October 7, 1849. He was buried in the yard of Westminster Presbyterian Church in Baltimore, Maryland.

    In personal appearance, Poe was a quiet, shy-looking but handsome man; he was slightly built, and was five feet, eight inches in height. His mouth was considered beautiful. His eyes, with long dark lashes, were hazel-gray.

On October 3, 1849, Dr. Joseph E. Snodgrass received the following note:

Baltimore City, Oct. 3, 1849
Dear Sir,

There is a gentleman, rather the worse for wear, at Ryan's 4th ward polls, who goes under the cognomen of Edgar A. Poe, and who appears in great distress, & he says he is acquainted with you, he is in need of immediate assistance.

Yours, in haste,
JOS. W. WALKER
To Dr. J.E. Snodgrass.

    This is the first verifiable evidence available of Poe's whereabouts since departing Richmond in the early morning of September 27. His intended destination had been Philadelphia, where he was to edit a volume of poetry for Mrs. St. Leon Loud. Dr. Snodgrass found Poe semiconscious and dressed in cheap, ill-fitting clothes so unlike Poe's usual mode of dress that many believe that Poe's own clothing had been stolen. Poe was taken to Washington College Hospital on the afternoon of October 3 and did not regain consciousness until the next morning. For days he passed from delirium to unconsciousness, but never recovered well enough to tell how he had arrived in such a condition. For no known reason he started calling loudly for "Reynolds" on the fourth night.

    In the early morning hours of October 7, 1849, Poe calmly breathed a simple prayer, "Lord, help my poor soul," and died. His cause of death was ascribed to "congestion of the brain." He was buried two days later. In dying under such mysterious circumstances, the father of the detective story has left us with a real-life mystery which Poe scholars, medical professionals and others have been trying to solve for over 150 years.

Bibliography: Some theories of the cause of Poe's death.

Beating (1857)
The United States Magazine Vol.II (1857): 268. 

Epilepsy (1875)
Scribner's Monthly Vo1. 10 (1875): 691.

Dipsomania (1921)
Robertson, John W. Edgar A. Poe A Study. Brough, 1921: 134, 379.

Heart (1926)
Allan, Hervey. Israfel. Doubleday, 1926: Chapt. XXVII, 670.

Toxic Disorder (1970)
Studia Philo1ogica Vol. 16 (1970): 41-42.

Hypoglycemia (1979)
Artes Literatus (1979) Vol. 5: 7-19.

Diabetes (1977)
Sinclair, David. Edgar Allan Poe. Roman & Litt1efield, 1977: 151-152.

Alcohol Dehydrogenase (1984)
Arno Karlen. Napo1eon's Glands. Little Brown, 1984: 92.

Porphryia (1989)
JMAMA Feb. 10, 1989: 863-864.

Delerium Tremens (1992)
Meyers, Jeffrey. Edgar A1lan Poe. Charles Scribner, 1992: 255.

Rabies (1996)
Maryland Medical Journal Sept. 1996: 765-769.

Heart (1997)
Scientific Sleuthing Review Summer 1997: 1-4.

Murder (1998)
Walsh, John E., Midnight Dreary. Rutgers Univ. Press, 1998: 119-120.

Epilepsy (1999)
Archives of Neurology June 1999: 646, 740.

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning (1999)

Albert Donnay

 

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