Edgar Allan Poe: A Biography


Early Life

Edgar Poe was born in Boston, Massachusetts on January 19th, 1809, to travelling actors, David Poe, Jr. and Elizabeth Arnold Hopkins Poe. David left the family when Edgar was only a year old, and the following year, Elizabeth succumbed to pulmonary tuberculosis.  John and Frances Valentine Allan, from whom he acquired his middle name, served as his foster parents, though they never formally adopted him.  Due to John Allan’s success as a merchant in Richmond, Virginia, Edgar attended prestigious schools, alternately spoiled and disciplined by his foster father.

When Poe was six, he was sent to school in England, studying both Latin and French. He then returned to America, and ultimately enrolled at the University of Virginia.  Despite receiving a good education, it was during this time that Edgar started to gamble and drink heavily, eventually landing in enough debt that he had to quit school before completing his first year.

In the Army

Due to his foster son’s drinking and gambling problems, John Allan shunned Edgar, leaving him to survive on his own. Seeing that he had neither money nor skills to depend on, he joined the army in 1827 and attained the rank of sergeant major. It was at this point that he decided to enter West Point as a cadet. However, this career path also ended prematurely because his foster father stopped sending him money.  Eventually dismissed from the army, Edgar was also disowned by John Allan.

Writing Career

It was during his stint in the army, however, that Edgar Allan Poe found his true calling in literature. After his brother’s death in 1831, he started pursuing his writing career with great fervor. He travelled to New York and eventually had some of his poetry published. However, It was also a difficult time in American publishing, and Poe often had to plead for money and other assistance.

In 1835, he acquired an editorial job for the Southern Literary Messenger. He successfully managed the paper, increasing circulation from 500 to 3500 copies, but left a year later due to an insufficient salary.  Poe proceeded to Philadelphia, writing and publishing some of his short stories, but did not receive any significant monetary compensation.

Despite much acclaim, Poe barely had enough money to support his family. In 1845, he became an editor for The Broadway Journal, but was soon out of the job due to the Journal’s lack of funds.


On October of 1849, Poe was found on the streets of Baltimore, “in great distress, and… in need of immediate assistance”. He was taken to Washington Medial College, where he died in the early morning of October 7th, 1849.  He never explained how he arrived at such a dire state, and, oddly enough, wore clothes that did not belong to him. He was said to have repeatedly called out “Reynolds” on the night before he died. Adding further to the mystery is the disappearance of all his medical records, including that of his death certificate.


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