Alexander Barrett Shelton died of pneumonia at the age of 37 on July 12, 1844 in Richmond, Virginia. He left behind his widow, Sarah Elmira Shelton, and two children — as well as an estate valued at $100,000 (in 1844 dollars, equal to about $2.2 million today). He made his fortune in the transportation industry as the co-owner of a substantial boat route along the James River.
Poe met the widow when she was still Sarah Elmira Royster. At age 15/16, Poe and Elmira (as he called her) spent much of their free time together in Richmond, becoming childhood sweethearts. In 1825, the couple seems to have gotten secretly engaged right before Poe entered the University of Virginia. While at school, Poe sent several letters to his beloved and got more and more anxious when she never responded to any of them. In reality, her father had intercepted the letters and destroyed them before they could be read. Elmira thought Poe had forgotten her and, in 1827, she married Alexander Shelton instead.
The loss of Poe's first relationship inspired several fictionalizations. Baltimore author Lamber A. Wilmer wrote a dramatic poem called Merlin on the relationship. Poe's older brother William Henry Leonard Poe (who seems to have made off with all the middle names while his two younger siblings received none) also fictionalized the romance in a short story called "The Pirate." Poe himself seems to express his emotions in his poems "The Happiest Day" and "Song." The latter seems to make a direct reference to Elmira's marriage to Alexander Shelton; the poem begins: "I saw thee on thy bridal day."
Years later, in 1848, Poe and Elmira met in Richmond again. By then, both were widows (Poe lost his wife Virginia three years after the death of Mr. Shelton). They seem to have almost instantly rekindled their relationship and Poe proposed marriage (again). Elmira carefully considered this; according to Shelton's will, re-marrying would strip her of one-third of her $100,000 inheritance. Her children also clearly did not approve, just as her father had not approved decades earlier. Yet, she clearly was drawn to Poe...
What happens next is a bit unclear. But, that is a discussion for a later date, perhaps a day in September?