Text: Susan Archer Weiss, “Chapter 02,” Home Life of Poe (1907), pp. 9-12


[page 9:]



Mr. and Mrs. Mackenzie, on taking charge of the Poe children, entered into a correspondence with their grandfather, Mr. David Poe, of Baltimore, in regard to them. He was by no means anxious to claim them. He represented that he and his wife were old and poor, and that already having the eldest child, William Henry, upon his hands, he could not afford to burden himself with the others. Finally he proposed that the children should be placed in an orphan asylum, where they would be properly cared for, on hearing of which Mrs. Mackenzie declared that she would never turn the baby, Rosalie, out of her home, but would bring her up with her own children; while Mrs. Allan, who was childless and had become much attached to Edgar, proposed to her husband to adopt him.

Mr. Allan demurred. His chief objection was that the boy was the child of actors, and [page 10:] that to have him brought up as his son would not be advisable for him or creditable to themselves. It required some special pleading on the part of the lady, and she so far prevailed as that her husband consented to keep and care for the boy as for a son, but refused to be bound by any terms of legal responsibility as either guardian or adoptive parent, preferring to remain free to act in the future as he might think proper. Mr. Mackenzie pursued the same course with regard to Rosalie, though each bestowed on his protege his own family name in baptism.

There has been much useless discussion among Poe’s biographers in regard to the ages of the children at this time. Woodbury “calculates,” according to certain data obtained from a Boston newspaper regarding the appearance of Mrs. Poe on the stage. “At this time,” he says, speaking of her prolonged absence in 1807, “William Henry may have been born;” and accordingly fixes Edgar’s birth as having occurred two years later, in 1809.

Wishing to satisfy myself on this point, I some time since decided to go to the fountain-head for information, and wrote to Mrs. Byrd, a daughter of Mrs. Mackenzie, who had been brought up with Rosalie Poe. Her answer I [page 11:] have carefully preserved and here give verbatim:

“Dear S——. — You ask the ages of Rose and Edgar. He was born in 1808, Rose in 1810. A remark of his (in answer to an invitation to her wedding) was that if I had put off my marriage one week it would have been on his birthday. I was married on the 5th of October. . . . . Their mother died on the 8th Dec., 1811; and on the 9th the children were taken to Mr. Allan’s and our house. . . . . Their mother was boarding at Mrs. Fipps’, a milliner on Main street. She was Scotch and of good family; and my father and Mr. Allan had her put away decently at the old Church on the Hill. . . . Mr. Poe died first.”

This account of the children’s ages is entitled to more weight than those of his biographers, based upon mere calculation and “probabilities.” When the children were baptized as Edgar Allan and Rosalie Mackenzie, their ages were also recorded, though whether in church or family records is not known; and it is not likely that Mrs. Byrd, who was brought up with Rosalie Poe, could be mistaken on this point.

Were Woodbury [[Woodberry]] correct in assuming that William Henry, the eldest child, “may have [page 12:] been born” in October, 1807, and Edgar, January 19, 1809, it would follow that the latter, when taken charge of by the Allans in December, 1811, was less than two years old; an impossibility, considering that his sister was then over one year old and running about playing with other children. As to Mr. Poe’s claim to October 12 as his birthday, it is not likely that, howsoever often he may have given a false date to others, he would have ventured upon it to the daughter of Mrs. Mackenzie, the latter of whom would have detected the error.

It must be accepted as a final conclusion that, as Mrs. Byrd states, Edgar was born in 1808 and Rosalie in 1810.* Her positive assertion is proof sufficient against all mere calculation and conjecture; and in this book I shall hold to these dates as authentic.



[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 12:]

*  The official date of Rosalie Poe’s death, on June 14, 1874, represents her as 64 years of age. This would make her a year and a half old when adopted by the Mackenzies, in December, 1811.






[S:0 - HLFP, 1907] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Bookshelf - Home Life of Poe (S. A. Weiss) (Chapter 02)