Tuesday, December 8, 2009

In Memoriam: Eliza Poe

Elizabeth Arnold Hopkins Poe, known today mostly as "Eliza Poe," died on December 8, 1811 in Richmond, VA. She was 24 years old and left behind three children.

Eliza Arnold was born in London, England in 1787. After her father's death, she sailed with her mother, an actress, to Boston in 1795. There, a nine-year-old Eliza debuted on stage, playing a character named Biddy Blair. That year, her mother re-married and the couple became founding members of a new acting troupe. Though her mother died in 1798, Eliza stayed with the group of traveling actors. Throughout her stage career, Eliza played over 300 characters, including a few singing roles.

In the summer of 1802, at age 15, Eliza married Charles Hopkins, though he died three years later. An 18-year old widow and orphan, she soon met David Poe, Jr. in Virginia. He joined the acting troupe, despite his family's intentions for him to become a lawyer. Eliza and David married in 1806. As it turned out, he was a poor actor, and soon turned to drinking.

Nine months into marriage, the couple's first son was born in Boston. They named him William Henry Leonard Poe. Two years later, their second son was born in that same city (Eliza performed up until 10 days before his birth), on January 19, 1809. They named him Edgar Poe.

David Poe disappeared before Eliza's third child, a daughter named Rosalie, was born. Abandoned by her husband, Eliza did her best to support the small, struggling family. In 1811, however, while in Richmond, she began spitting blood. She performed for the last time on October 11 of that year. Shortly after, advertisements were printed about a benefit performance on Eliza's behalf.

Surrounded by her children, Eliza died (likely of tuberculosis) on December 8, 1811. Her three orphaned children were split up. She was buried in an unmarked grave at St. John's Episcopal Church in Richmond (the same church where Patrick Henry had once asked, "Give me liberty, or give me death!"). Years later, a memorial marker was placed there in her honor (seen at right).

The only likeness of Eliza Poe was a small, watercolor miniature that eventually came into the possession of Edgar, who likely remembered little of his mother. She also left him a watercolor painting of Boston Harbor. On the back, she asked Edgar to "always remember Boston," the city of his birth.

RIP, Eliza.

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