Sunday, May 20, 2018

Poe in Richmond

The Early Years

Edgar Allan Poe has long been recognized world wide as one of the forefathers of American literature. There are a variety of interesting biographical elements about the poet and his connection to Richmond Va. The key to understanding Poe's biography elements here in Richmond is his mother, Elizabeth Arnold Hopkins Poe, or Eliza Poe, who died here in Richmond in November, 1811. She is buried in the graveyard outside St. John's church.

Eliza Poe was named after her mother, Edgar's grandmother, Elizabeth Arnold, who was as an experienced London stage actress who sailed across the Atlantic from England to Boston with her eight year old daughter Eliza in November, 1795 and arrived in Boston in January 1796.
Eliza (mother)

Eliza grew up traveling annual circuits from town to town on the east coast from Charleston to Boston with her mother, gradually learning her craft and earning her apprenticeship over the years to eventually become a popular and highly respected stage actress in her own right, only to be sadly struck down by either pneumonia, malaria or tuberculosis, no one knows for sure, just as her career was starting to bloom around the age of 24. After her mother's death around 1798-99, Eliza, now in her early teens, continued to travel and perform in the theater troupe.

In 1802, at the age of fifteen, Eliza married another member of the troupe named Charles Hopkins. They were married three years before Hopkins death in 1805, probably from yellow fever. It was sometime during her first marriage to Hopkins that David Poe joined the troupe in Richmond and later furthered his acquaintance with Eliza after Hopkins death. They were married several months later. Eliza would bear three children, William (Henry), Edgar and Rosalie.

Rosalie (sister)
The Richmond theater scenario in those years was very active. Prior to the disastrous 1811 Theater fire on Broad street, one month after Eliza's death, which killed 72 people, including the governor, George W. Smith, there had been a previous theatre that had burned down on the same location around 1798 but with no casualties.

This building, built in 1786 was originally "Quesnay's Academy" on "Academy Square". It was a school established by a former French military officer named Chevalier Quesnay de Beaurepaire, but it closed when he returned to France.

After the school closed, the spacious building was used for multiple assembly purposes, including the historic 1788 Constitution Ratification Convention and was later renovated into a theatre. It was during the interim between the two theatre fires (1798-1806) that local theatre professionals (or thespians) had to utilize temporary accommodations while the next theatre was being built. One of these locations was in a building on the northwest corner of 7th and Cary streets, which is a parking deck today. This building, which had previously housed "Quarrier's Carriage Shop" which had gone out of business, was where David Poe joined the troupe.

Poe would have practiced and performed with the troupe with both Charles and Eliza Hopkins prior to Charles's death. After Hopkins death, Poe and Eliza, who originally met in Norfolk, furthered their acquaintance, married and started a family. David Poe, who lacked the same level of talent and suffered from stage fright, was also an alcoholic with a bad temper and vanished from theatre records after abandoning his family at some point after Edgar's birth (1809) and during Eliza's pregnancy with Rosalie (1810).

The children, orphaned after her death, went separate ways.

Henry (William Henry Leonard Poe) was sent to Baltimore to live with David Poe's family, where he grew up to be a sailor and author, but died young at the age of 24, the same as his mother.

Edgar Poe was taken in by John and Frances Allan but was never officially adopted by his foster parents. Rosalie was taken in and adopted by William and Jane Mackenzie and lived with the family in a house called Duncan Lodge until the end of the civil war in 1865.

Rosalie, who was "mildly retarded" was cut out of the Mackenzie inheritance after Mrs. Mackenzie died by her Mackenzie siblings. She was passed around to various Poe relatives and inevitably forced to live a life of destitution. She was supposed to receive, but was later denied, any residuals from her brother's publishing royalties.

Duncan Lodge
Pinel Hospital

 Old Sears building at Broad and Allen which still stands today,
 located in front of where Duncan Lodge/Pinel Asylum used to be.

Edgar and Rosalie were very different. Rosalie's personality was dull and bereft of the intelligent qualities that Edgar possessed. Edgar's described his relationship with her as "cold and estranged". In fact, there is some speculation that David Poe was Rosalie's father by name only. The timing of his abandonment before her birth and a generous $2,000 bequest towards her care and upkeep from a wealthy local flour mill merchant, Joseph Gallego, after his death made people quietly wonder and question her paternal origins, sometimes referring to her as Edgar's "half-sister".

Rosalie Mackenzie Poe lived her final years in a Washington DC charity home. She died on July 21, 1874, outliving her legendary brother Edgar by 25 years.

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