Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Murder of Edgar Allan Poe

Early Life

Edgar Poe was born into a life of tragedy. He was born in Boston to a pair of itinerant actors on January 19, 1809, the second of three children. Undoubtedly the constant travel of the thespian life of his parents did not provide a stable childhood for Edgar and his siblings.

In December of 1811, when Edgar was not quite three years old, both parents died within days of each other, although, as chronicled by The Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore, it is quite likely that the parents had previously separated, and they did not die from the same cause or illness. As evidence of the split, the Society quotes on their Web site a notice in the July 1811 Norfolk Herald (five months before Poe's mother's death) asking for supporters to make contributions for Mrs. Poe who was "left alone, the only support of herself and several small children." His mother would be the first in a series of women who left their mark on Poe's life by dying after Edgar had formed a loving attachment to them.

Portrait, John Allan

Edgar and his older brother and younger sister were now orphans and were separated, with the brother living with grandparents in Baltimore, and Edgar and his sister taken in by different families in Richmond, Virginia.

Edgar was taken in by John Allan and his wife Frances. John and Frances had no children of their own (the Baltimore Poe Society believes this may be due to Frances's irregular health), and although they never formally adopted him, they raised Edgar as their own and, when Edgar was baptized, he took on "Allan" as his middle name.

Details of Poe's life with the Allans are sketchy. Poe's own letters are often contradictory about his upbringing, particularly in regard to his relationship with his foster-father John. All evidence seems to point to Poe being attached to Frances, but relations with John were apparently cordial but occasionally strained. John saw to it, however, that Edgar had a proper schooling and, as John's fortunes increased over time, Edgar enjoyed more and more privileges.

The first serious rift between John and his foster son occurred in 1827, when John refused to help Poe pay off gambling debts he had accrued while a student at the University of Virginia.

Portrait, Frances &quotFanny" Allan
Portrait, Frances "Fanny"
Allan (Edgar Allan Poe
Society of Baltimore

Soon after, and perhaps as a means for obtaining a "fresh start", Poe joined the Army and eventually attained the rank of Sergeant-Major. In 1829 he was called back to Richmond however, for the burial of his foster-mother Frances, the second treasured woman to leave Poe in mourning.

John remarried the following year, and his new wife, who provided John with three sons, apparently did not replace Frances in Poe's heart. The new Mrs. Allan was not fond of Edgar, either. In March 1834, upon hearing that John was gravely ill, Poe rushed to the bedside of his dying foster father — and the second Mrs. Allan attempted to block Poe from entering the dying man's room. Poe pushed by her only to be confronted with a livid John, who cursed Edgar and insisted that the young man leave at once. After John's death, Poe found that the man who had raised him and whom he had often lovingly addressed as "Pa" had changed his will to remove all mentions of Edgar.

After a period of grief and bitterness, Poe gained perspective and wrote to a friend after John's death:

"I looked forward to the inheritance of a large fortune — and was in receipt of an annuity sufficient for my support — by a gentleman [who] always treated me with the affection of a father. But a second marriage on his part, and I dare say many follies on my own, at length ended in a quarrel between us."

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