Monday, November 23, 2009

Ellis partners with Allan

John Allan, who would become Poe's foster-father, joined into a partnership with Charles Ellis on November 23, 1800. It was nearly nine years before Poe's birth in Boston. Their mercantile business, which would take the name "Ellis & Allan," was started with a contribution of £1,000 sterling from each.

The Richmond-based company mainly focused on tobacco, though they also dealt in cloths and clothing, agricultural tools and hardware. They also sold wheat, corn meal, grains, teas and coffees, and wines. Some sources even suggest that Ellis & Allan traded slaves. By 1812, the company listed its assets as worth $223,113 (equal to well over $2 million today).

Three years later, John Allan married Frances Valentine. She was unable to have children and, about eight years after their marriage, she insisted the couple take in a boy who hard recently been orphaned in Richmond. More on that next month.

Ellis & Allan did fairly well — well enough that the partners attempted to establish an overseas branch in England. It was Allan who was sent to manage that branch (the experience would later inspire his ward to write a story set there). During their five years abroad, John Allan met the first American man of letters Washington Irving, but the company was suffering. They gave up on the venture and the Allans returned to the United States after about five years. In fact, John Allan would become a millionaire not because of his role as a merchant, but through other fortuitous means.

By mutual consent, the successful firm was dissolved in 1824. Six years later, Charles Ellis's brother Powhatan Ellis (by then a U.S. Senator from Mississippi) provided a recommendation letter to grant Poe admission to the Military Academy at West Point.

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