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 Elizabeth Hopkins <I>Arnold</I> Poe

Elizabeth Hopkins Arnold Poe

London, City of London, Greater London, England
Death 8 Dec 1811 (aged 23–24)
Richmond, Richmond City, Virginia, USA
Burial Richmond, Richmond City, Virginia, USA
Memorial ID 4074 · View Source
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Actress, Literary Folk Figure. A noted thespian of her day, she is better remembered as the mother of Edgar Allan Poe. Raised in a London theatrical family, she left for America with her mother in 1795, her father having died in 1789, arriving in Boston on January 3, 1796. Eliza made her stage debut at nine in David Garrick's "Miss in Her Teens"; she and Mrs. Arnold joined a traveling theater troup called the Charleston Comedians, Eliza remaining with the group after her mother died in 1798. Over the course of her short career she was to perform around 300 roles including Shakespeare's Juliet and Ophelia. In 1802 Eliza married actor Charles Hopkins who died in 1805, then six months later in 1806 wed David Poe, Jr., a sometime-lawyer with acting ambitions. According to legend Poe had seen Eliza perform in Norfolk, Virginia, become attracted to her, and joined the company. The couple played in the major theaters of the eastern United States bringing along their expanding family; William Henry Leonard Poe was born in January 1807, followed by Edgar, born in Boston January 19, 1809. (Eliza was to have a third child, Rosalie, in December 1810 by a father unknown; one of the oft mentioned candidates for paternity is the famed portraitist Thomas Sully and it is interesting to note that while Rosalie was remarked to be 'slow' she did have a fair modicum of artistic talent). While Eliza was routinely given high praise for her performances such was far from the case for her husband who was, according to stories of the time, a hot-tempered alcoholic with severe stage fright. David abandoned the theater and his family shortly after arriving in New York in 1809, leaving Eliza to bear Edgar alone. Some sources state that David died in Norfolk in the fall of 1811, but there is no proof. Eliza became ill with tuberculosis shortly after arriving in Richmond in the fall of 1811. She gave her last performance in "The Stranger" on October 11, 1811, and spent her final two months boarding with a family named Usher and attempting to arrange care for her children. After her death William was sent to his grandparents in Baltimore, Rosalie was taken-in by the Mackenzie (sometimes rendered 'MacKenzie') family who ran a Richmond school and thereafter known as Rosalie Mackenzie Poe, and Edgar was cared for by wealthy Richmond lady Mrs. Frances Allan in the face of much protest from her husband John. (How much real resistance there could have been is questionable as Frances had proof that John was paying child support for at least one indiscretion). Burial for Eliza presented a problem: "actress" was a pejorative term, virtually synonymous with "prostitute", even among theater-goers and thus there was resistance to placing her remains in consecrated ground. St. John's Church which then had the only cemetery in Richmond refused her but John Allan, though a Scottish Presbyterian, was able to arrange interment there. In deference to the sensitivities of the time, however, the graveside service was held at midnight. There is no definite evidence of Eliza in any of her son's writings; Poe of course used the name "Usher" in a short story and did produce one poem titled "To My Mother", but it is quite certain that it was for his aunt Maria Poe Clemm.

Bio by: Bob Hufford

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  • Maintained by: Find A Grave
  • Added: 29 Nov 1998
  • Find A Grave Memorial 4074
  • Find A Grave, database and images ( : accessed ), memorial page for Elizabeth Hopkins Arnold Poe (1787–8 Dec 1811), Find A Grave Memorial no. 4074, citing Saint Johns Episcopal Churchyard, Richmond, Richmond City, Virginia, USA ; Maintained by Find A Grave .