Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Edgar Allan Poe’s Older Brother: William Poe the Sailor

I bet you didn’t know Edgar Allan Poe had an older brother in the US Navy and that he also wrote poetry and stories.  His name was William Henry Leonard Poe and not much is commonly known about him or his poetry.  In fact there has only been one book of his works published that was the only collection of his works ever printed in 1926 and only in one edition and only a thousand copies were printed [1].  The internet has opened up a window on this obscure Poe, allowing access to articles and information only available to a few researchers just a couple of decades ago.  With that said, stand by for my typical digressions and an interesting back-story.

Last year for Veteran’s Day I posted about Edgar Allan Poe’smilitary service in the Virginia militia and later in the US Army as an artillery sergeant and his service connection to his writing.  Now I want to revisit the subject with another Poe family member, William Henry Leonard Poe, who went by his second name Henry to his friends.
Now, what brings up the reason for this post is some serendipity and the fact that I visited Old Spanish Fort in Pascagoula, Mississippi late last year.  I went there by appointment, with a friend to take photographs of this famous structure for the 2016 Gulf Coast Spring Pilgrimage booklet.  The structure of this nearly 300 year old structure been badly damaged by Hurricane Katrina, and restoration was in progress.  I hadn’t visited the site since the mid 1970s and it brought back a lot of memories.  There are two cannons flanking the house, but I didn’t pay much attention to them back then, as they were not original to the 1730 structure.
This time when I visited Pascagoula’s Old Spanish Fort some forty years later, I actually bothered to look more closely at these iron cannons and was intrigued to find the royal cipher of King George and a broadarrow mark on the breech of the guns.  That piqued my interest and I looked further into their origin once I got back home.   They were two cannons from the British frigate, HMS Macedonian.  According to the plaques mounted on the guns, they were given to Old Spanish Fort by the US Naval Academy in 1957.  I was intrigued as to why two cannons from a famous British War of 1812 warship would be at an obscure, but architecturally important building on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.  In fact Old Spanish Fort the oldest standing structure in the Mississippi Valley, but that’s another story.  The story here is actually about these overlooked cannons and their link to history and the Poe family.

William Poe was generally known as Henry, so I’ll  use that name throughout this post.  Henry was born in Boston on 30 January 1807, and died prematurely on 1 August 1831 – possibly of tuberculosis and complications of alcohol.  He was Edgar’s older brother by several years.  It may be of note that Edgar and Henry’s mother, Eliza Poe [2] also died of TB herself on 8 December 1811. Henry was at her deathbed and received a parting lock of hair. 

Henry himself was buried 1 August 1831 in the family plot at the Westminster Burying Ground, Baltimore and the cemetery  would receive his more famous younger brother Edgar 20 years later, but Henry’s grave unfortunately unmarked.  To heap even more indignity on Henry, in the obituary notice in one newspaper, his name was misspelled as “Hope” rather than Poe. [3].  Their famous grandfather and Revolutionary war hero, General David Poe Sr had a lot in Westminster where the David Poe Sr, Henry, and Edgar are all buried.  I discussed Gen Poe in my previous Poe article, so I won’t go into it here.   BTW the actor, David Poe Jr, is Henry, Edgar, and Rosalie’s father and little is known about him.  Here is a link to the purported gravesite of Henry, but it’s a lot more complex than that.   http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=43790968

As a child, Henry Poe was separated from his younger brother Edgar and sister Rosalie and lived with his grandparents, the famous General David Poe Sr, of Revolutionary War fame until the death of the general in 1816.  Henry was then shuttled off to live with his maternal grandmother, aunt and cousin of the Clemm family.  So far this Poe narrative has proven a meandering path, forking and turning back on itself, years later Edgar would marry his cousin Virginia Clemm, but before that he would live briefly with Henry in the Clemm residence, where he would meet Virginia.

Exactly when Henry became a seafaring man is somewhat obscure but we know that in 1825 he was in the navy or merchant marine because he was “in the uniform of a midshipman” as reported by his younger brother Edgar.  However Henry Poe does not appear in the Naval Register for 1826 which was reported to Congress 9 Jan 1826, listing USN officers and midshipmen active in 1825, so he may have only been a seaman and not a midshipman after all.  Since the Naval Academy was not founded until 1845, there is no hope of finding any Poe midshipman records there.  It is possible that he was in the uniform of a civilian ship service.  It’s one of the many mysteries surrounding Henry Poe.  At the end of this post are some links that might be worth following up for a Poe scholar.  

We do know that later in 1826 Henry served on board the US Navy frigate, the USS Macedonian [4], which had a long and colorful history well worth reading [5].  In 1826 Macedonian cruised the West Indies to suppress pirate activity.  The USS Macedonian cruised to the Mediterranean visiting Europe and the near East and possibly Russia as well.  More importantly he cruised South America and certainly stopped in at Montevideo, which we know because of an article he wrote and published in the Baltimore Minerva and Saturday Evening Post in February 1827.  Sorry I don’t have a link to the Post article.  If I turn one up or a reader has one, I’ll post it here.

On 11 June 1826 the USS Macedonian left Gosport (later renamed Norfolk) Virginia for a cruise in the Pacific, returning 30 October 1828 from its final voyage as the ship was decommissioned later that year at Gosport as its timbers were in terrible shape.   The Macedonian was broken up and the keel and figurehead were recycled into the rebuilt USS Macedonian.  See the footnotes at the end of the article to find out the history and final fate of this ship.   We know that two of the cannon ended up at Old Spanish Fort and the catalyst of this post.

Henry Poe mustered out in 1829 and took a job as a clerk with Henry Didier, his godfather, who owned a counting house in Baltimore.  Henry by this time is in frail health due to tuberculosis and also the weakening effects of drink.  Henry lives with Maria Clemm, his aunt along with his grandmother, Mrs Elizabeth Cairnes Poe and Maria’s 10 year old son Henry Clemm on Mechanics Row, Wilks Street (later called Eastern Ave) in Baltimore until his death in 1831 or so it would appear.

However a perplexing gap which shows up as in the 1830 Baltimore census, as Henry Poe is not shown in the domicile, for he was possibly at sea again, despite bad health.  Then again he may have made himself scarce due to large debts he had run up.  These debts were an embarrassment to Edgar who tried to pay them off later.  Edgar wrote to Allan about these debts in a letter dated 18 November 1831, after Henry had died.   Edgar himself would be plagued by debts for much of his life.

Henry had literary influence on younger Edgar, but this article is running long, so I’ll just give some links for those who are interested.  For you Poe fans, it’s well worth investigating.

Some of the slurs against Edgar in his later years and after his death, may have been in part due to confusion with his older brother Henry’s alcoholism and sickly consumptive constitution.  For that matter, David Poe Jr, Edgar & Henry’s father, had a bad life and the belief that “blood will out” may have also tainted Edgar’s reputation.   Since Henry’s biography has become somewhat tangled up with Edgar’s bio, it’s not beyond debate to think that both of them has been muddled by journalists and researchers.

Then again, Edgar’s sense of humor and need to hoax caused him to pen a silly and over-the-top pseudoautobiography, which he sent (I don’t have a date) to Rufus Griswold for an anthology he was putting together, The Poets and Poetry of America, first published in 1842, which ran through several editions over the years, probably didn’t help things either.  Interestingly, the section about fighting for Greek independence in for the memory of Lord Byron ended up in Edgar’s obituary as factual and more oddly, ended up attached back to his brother Henry in later years, muddying the water even further.  A copy of this “biography” document can be seen here https://www.poemuseum.org/about-treasures.php

I’d give this a little more personal historical background about my interest in cannons and the HMS/USS Macedonian.  Starting in the mid 1970s, I became an avid wargamer and played naval engagements with the old Avalon Hill boardgame, WoodenShips and Iron Men, with HMS Macedonian in one of the scenarios.  Who would have known then that two cannon from that famous ship would reside nearby. 

In conclusion, the cool thing is that the two cannons from the HMS/USS Macedonian were very close to Henry Poe during his period on the ship.  That makes these cannons at Old Spanish Fort a possible place to visit for Poe family fans, if not for the War of 1812 connection.  There’s not another possible Poe attraction in a thousand miles of Pascagoula   Actually that’s an exaggeration as Richmond VA (894 miles) and  Sullivan’s Island, SC (672 miles) are closer to Pascagoula MS than a thousand miles .  This meandering post has finally come to a conclusion.  Hopefully this will make up for missing Henry’s grave while visiting his famous brother’s monument just yards away on a visit to Baltimore ten years ago.  I’d sure like to see Henry’s grave properly located and marked.[6].  If you are in the neighborhood of Pascagoula MS, drop on in and see Old Spanish Fort and those cannon. 
Good reading,


[1] Poe’s Brother: The Poems of William Henry Leonard Poe, etc. New York: George H. Doran Co. 1926, edited by Allen, Hervey and Thomas O. Mabbott.
William Henry Leonard Poe 1807-1831   wikipedia article

[2] Rosalie Poe was born 20 December 1810 (questionable) and died 21 July 1874.  Here’s some links to Rosalie Poe’s story https://www.poemuseum.org/blog/tag/rosalie-poe/   and       http://worldofpoe.blogspot.com/2009/11/strange-case-of-rosalie-poe.html
Strangely enough her grave stone shows her being born in 1812, a year after her mother Elisabeth Poe died.  Some suggest that 1812 was the year of her christening rather than birth.    http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=34007517

[3] About ten years ago I visited Baltimore and of course went to the place(s) where Edgar was buried, not ever dreaming that his lesser known brother was buried nearby.  It’s a shame really, but this article might make up for that oversight.  I said places where EAP was buried because there are two burial sites for Edgar there.  Henry Poe’s date of death and burial site it unknown at this time.  If any enterprising reader could find proof of Henry’s Poe’s date of death and location of his grave, I am sure that Poe scholars would love that information.   Incidentally, there is no known original surviving letter written by Henry Poe – were you to find one, it would be unique.

[4] The name Macedonian is a reference to Alexander the Great and the ship had a figurehead of Alexander as well.  The ship was decommissioned in 1828 and the keel and ribs were reused to make another USS Macedonian.  The famous figurehead was also used in the new ship.

[5]  The US Naval Academy, Annapolis has a USS Macedonian monument as well as the original figurehead.  The USS Macedonian has a really interesting history and I meticulously tracked down the ultimate fate of the bones of the HMS/USS Macedonian and that was practically a post of it’s own.    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Macedoniann_Monument

[6] The Poe graves and a mystery:  Were Edgar’s remains really moved and where is his brother really buried?  This link with a map only adds to the mystery.   http://www.eapoe.org/balt/poelotfc.htm   and http://www.eapoe.org/papers/psbbooks/pb20061p.htm
The find a grave link to William Henry Poe, but who knows for sure if it is correct.  http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=43790968

Below is more (probably far more information than you wanted) about the HMS/USS Macedonian and Henry’s association with the ship.  Since I researched it out of curiosity, here are the fruits of that search.

For those of you with special access and a deep interest in the USS Macedonian and/or in the naval career of Henry Poe, here are journals kept by officers from 1818 through 1829.  They are a possible goldmine for Henry Poe researchers and are held by the Naval History and Heritage Command listed here below                 
     Item 38. Journals Kept by Lt. Charles Gaunt on Board the USS Macedonian, Commanded by Comdr. John Downes and Capt. James Biddle, and the U.S. Sloop of War Warren, Commanded by Comdr. Lawrence Kearney.    July 29, 1818-June 5, 1829. 2 vols. 2 in.  The first volume contains, in addition to the journal, a list of officers of the Macedonian, a table of latitude and longitude and a thermometrical table kept during the cruise, and a newspaper clipping concerning Lima, Peru. It has been reproduced as NARA Microfilm Publication M875, Journal of Lt. Charles Gauntt Aboard the U.S.S. Macedonian, 1818-1821.    The second volume contains the journal kept on board the Macedonian during another cruise, March 21-June 20, 1822, and a journal kept during a cruise of the Warren, December 13, 1826-June 5, 1829.
Item 39. Journal Kept by Captain's Clerk Charles J. Deblois on Board the USS Macedonian, Commanded by Comdr. John Downes.    Nov. 10, 1818-July 8, 1819. 1 vol. 1 in.   The journal was sent to the Office of Library and Naval War Records for review in 1888 by a Mr. Saltonstall and was presented to the Office of Naval Records and Library by Miss Louisa Huntington, May 1932.   The volume containing the journal also contains newspaper clippings giving accounts of the hurricane of September 27, 1818, in which the Macedonian suffered extensive damages. The journal has been reproduced as NARA Microfilm Publication M876, Journal of Charles J. Deblois, Captain's Clerk Aboard the USS Macedonian, 1818-1819.
Also US Govt Archives has copies of US Navy Muster rolls, T829: Misc Records of the US Navy, 1789-1925, which might turn up Henry Poe.  Check out the muster and pay rolls for the Macedonian which run from 1813 to 1829, which are on microfilm. http://www.archives.gov/research/alic/reference/military/navy-records-1789-to-1925.html
Note: Poe DOES NOT appear in the naval Register for 1826 which was reported to Congress 9 Jan 1826 a giving an accounting of US Navy officers and midshipmen, so he may have only been a common seaman and not a midshipman.   http://www.ibiblio.org/pha/USN/1826/NavReg1826.html

An article about Macedonian https://www.nytimes.com/books/00/12/24/nnp/dekay-frigate.html  and a book worth exploring for you Macedonian/Poe researchers is Chronicles of the Frigate Macedonian, 1809-1922 by James Tertius de Kay, 336 pgs pub NY WW Norton & Co August 2000

HMS Macedonian was a Lively class frigate of the British Navy.  The keel and figurehead were retained for the building of the USS Macedonian during the years 1832-1836, a ship that accompanied Commodore Perry to Japan.  The figurehead is at the US Naval Academy museum donated in 1875, Annapolis MD atop the monument  http://www.dcmemorials.com/index_indiv0003240.htm   and   https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Macedoniann_Monument    In 2014 the figurehead on the monument was replaced with a new mahogany one and the original placed in the museum.

For you Civil War fans and historians interested in Gulf Coast history here is another link is the USS Macedonian was sent to Pensacola in 1861 later stayed in the West Indies to hunt for Confederate ships https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_Macedoniann_%281836%29

Here is information about the illusive Macedonian Hotel and the final fate of the USS Macedonian which is mentioned in the period book, The Story of the Bronx, pub 1912 by Stephen Jenkins pgs 431-432 with an illustration of the hotel on the facing (unnumbered page) across from page 430 download the PDF of The Story of the Bronx here -- http://hpsbg.weebly.com/uploads/2/3/6/6/2366012/storyofbronxfrom1912jenk.pdf

Even more links of interest associated with this article
Poe’s brother Henry and his poetry http://www.eapoe.org/works/mabbott/tom1p115.htm

Downloadable PDF of the rule book for Avalon Hill’s wargame Wooden Ships and Iron Men   http://www.hasbro.com/common/instruct/7090001.PDF

Complete poems of EAP for free at this link  https://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/p/poe/edgar_allan/p74p/complete.html

Download a PDF of Griswold’s The Poets and Poetry of America, 1855 edition  https://archive.org/details/poetspoetryofame00gris

An early Poe biographer Susan Archer Talley Weiss was a fountain of baseless tales, anecdotes and errors, all pretty much made up whole cloth and uncorroborated in "The Home Life of Poe”  pub 1907, see

Download a PDF copy of the classic board game Wooden Ships and Iron Men  http://www.old-games.com/download/5709/wooden-ships-iron-men  
©  2015 text by CoastConFan aka William Murphy.  Photos are copyright their respective copyright owner (if any).