Poe's Life

Poe in Richmond

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 Espicopal 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.

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