Text: John H. Ingram, “Appendix A,” Edgar Allan Poe: Life, Letters, and Opinions (1886), pp. 435-440


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IN her charming little book on Edgar Poe and his Critics,the late Mrs. Whitman contended that the Poe family was of Italian origin. The progenitors of this race, according to the lady’s idea, after successive migrations through France, England, and Wales, ultimately settled in Ireland. This theory was based upon the supposition that the Poe and the Le Poer families were identic in origin; but later researches, whilst recognising the great probability, have failed to establish the certainty of this identity, the only datum adduced in proof of it being, apparently, similarity of sound — that least trustworthy of all philological evidence. For those, however, who may like to see the testimony proffered by Mrs. Whitman in support of her hypothesis of the Poe and Le Poer families being descended from the same ancestor, the particulars furnished by her said worktogether with a few additional items on the same theme, gathered by ourselves for our 1874 Memoir of the poet shall be given. Edgar Allan Poe, says our authority, was descended from an ancient Norman family which settled in Ireland in the reign of Henry II., and “those who are curious in tracing the effects of country and lineage in the mental and constitutional peculiarities of men of genius, may be interested in such facts as we have been enabled to gather in relation to the ancestry of the poet. The awakening interest in genealogical researches will make them acceptable to many readers; and in their possible influence on a character so anomalous as that of Edgar Poe, they are certainly worthy of note.”

The family of the Le Poers, or De la Poers, was founded by Sir Roger le Poer, one of the companions-in-arms of the famous Strongbow, and of him it was remarked by Geraldus Cambrensis, “It might be said, without offence, that there [page 436:] was not a man who did more valiant acts than Roger le Poer.” The race which sprang from this knightly adventurer made itself conspicuous in the annals of Ireland for heroic daring and romantic deeds, as well as for its improvidence and reckless bravery. The chivalrous conduct of Sir Arnold le Poer, seneschal of Kilkenny Castle, “a knights and instructed in letters,” in interposing, at the ultimate sacrifice of liberty and life, to rescue Lady Alice Kytler from the clutches of the ecclesiastics who accused her and brought her to trial for witchcraft, is fully detailed by Geraldus and other chroniclers. “The disastrous civil war of 1327,” says Mrs. Whitman, “in which all the great barons of the country were involved, was occasioned by a personal feud between Arnold le Poer and Maurice of Desmond, the former having offended the dignity of the Desmond by calling him a rhymer,” little deeming, indeed, that the most famous scion of his own knightly, race would glorify the family more by his rhymings than any other member of it would by his swordsmanship.

The Le Poers were involved in the Irish troubles of 1641, and when Cromwell invaded the country they did not escape his pursuit; their families were dispersed, their estates confiscated, and their lands forfeited to the Commonwealth. Of the three leading branches of the family at the time of Cromwell’s invasion, Kilmaedon, Don Isle, and Curraghmore, the last only escaped the vengeance of the Lord Protector, and that, according to Burke, solely by the ingenuity and courage of Alice, daughter of the Lord of Curraghmore. The romantic story of Cromwell’s siege of the sea-girt castle of Don Isle, as told by Burke, in his Romance of the Aristocracy, is replete with interest. The isolated stronghold was bravely defended by a female descendant of Nicholas le Poer, Baron of Don Isle, and this heroine is always styled, in the traditions of the Power family, “the Countess.”

“The family of the Le Poers,” remarks Mrs. Whitman, “like that of the Geraldines, and other Anglo-Norman settlers in Ireland, passed from Italy into the north of France, and from France, through England and Wales, into Ireland, where, from their isolated position and other causes, they retained for a long period their hereditary [page 437:] traits with far less modification from intermarriage and association with other races than did their English compeers. Meantime the name underwent various changes in accent and orthography. A few branches of the family still bore in Ireland the old Italian name of De la Poi” “The beautiful domain of Powerscourt,” adds this same authority, “took its name from the Le Poers,” and through her father, Edmund Power, the late Lady Blessington claimed descent from the same old family. Some branches of the Power family, it may be remarked, have obtained heraldic sanction for resuming their more ancient patronymic of Le Poer.*

Thus far we have ventured to follow the line of argument suggested by Mrs. Whitman, but it must be confessed that the earliest reliable records do not carry the paternal ancestry of Edgar Allan Poe further back than the middle of the last century; but if his ancestors were descended, as is extremely probable, from the Poes of Riverston (County Tipperary, Ireland), the race may be traced back nearly two centuries earlier. The Poës of Riverston are said to have come from the Upper Palatinate of the Rhine, and for upwards of two centuries have held positions of importance, and have intermarried with various families of the aristocracy. Thomas and William Poe were officers in Cromwell’s army, and Captain Thomas Pa, one of these brothers, “obtained grants of lands which were confirmed to him by Charles II. The greater number of his descendants can be traced, and one of them, Parsons Poe, went to America about one hundred and twenty years ago. He was heard from, for a few years after his arrival, but, after a while; nothing further was known of, or heard from him, so his family supposed he had died. He was descended maternally from the ‘Percys’ and the ‘Parsons’ of Birr Castle.”

“There is no good reason,” says John P. Poe, Esq., of Baltimore,” to suppose that the ancestors of Edgar A. Poe were descended from the Le Poers. John Poe, the [page 438:] progenitor of the family in America, emigrated from the north of Ireland, a number of years before the Revolution, and purchased a farm in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, whence he afterwards removed to Cecil County, Maryland. At the time of the Revolution he was residing at Baltimore. His wife was Jane McBride, believed to be a sister knot a daughter, as frequently stated) of James McBride, Admiral of the Blue, and M. P. for Plymouth in 1755.”* John Poe’s age is not given, but his wife is said to have died in Baltimore, at the age of one hundred and six, and to have been buried in Westminster Churchyard.

In an account furnished by Mrs. Clemm (Edgar Poe’s aunt) of the poet’s ancestry, she states, “My father was born in Ireland, but his parents left there when he was only six weeks old, and he was so patriotic that he never would acknowledge he was any other than an American. He lived in Baltimore from the time of the Revolution; he took my mother there from Pennsylvania, a bride.”

David Poe, the son of John, is stated by Mrs. Clemm to have married a Pennsylvanian beauty of the name of Cairnes, and to have removed with her to Maryland, where he settled in Baltimore, and became a prominent citizen, taking part in various patriotic labours, as may be seen by reference to Colonel Scharfs “Chronicles of Baltimore,” and other works of research. During the War of Independence David Poe greatly distinguished himself, and received the appointment of Quartermaster of the American forces in Baltimore. Mr. Didier states that in this position Poe, when the State funds were exhausted, frequently advanced money from his own private means, and, indeed, rendered such pecuniary aid to the State that he was ultimately ruined through it Be this as it may, in 1780, and the next few years, he is found to have purchased several lout of land in Baltimore, and to have been, apparently, a man of considerable wealth. Portions of the correspondence of General Poe — as he was usually styled after the war — with various distinguished Americans of the period, have been, preserved in the archives of Maryland, and will be found [page 439:] in Colonel Scharf’s work. General Poe, despite his foreign birth, was a most ardent patriot, and omitted no opportunity of manifesting his zeal for his adopted nationality. In 1781, when La Fayette halted in Baltimore, on his way to join the army of the South, a ball was given in his honour. During the festivities, it is related that the French general appeared melancholy, and upon being asked the reason of his depression, said that he could not enjoy the gaiety whilst his men were suffering so much for want of clothing. The hint was taken, and the neat morning the ball room was converted into a work-room; the citizens furnishing the needed materials, and the ladies making them up. Mrs. David Poe, it is said, personally cut out and superintended the manufacture of fire hundred garments, and her husband gave $500 towards their cost. For this graceful act of the Baltimorean ladies, La Fayette sent them a letter of thanks, dated July 3rd, 1781, which is duly given in full in Colonel Scharf’s “Chronicles.” When revisiting Baltimore in 1824, La Fayette referred in grateful terms to the kindness he and his troops had received from the Poe family, and on learning that General Poe was dead he paid a visit of respect to his widow.

General Poe had several children, the eldest of whom was David Poet junior, father of the future poet; the second, George, whose descendants still live in Maryland; Stephen, who died on the Jersey Prison Ship during the War of Independence; William, who emigrated to the State of Georgia, where his descendants, one of whom is the Hon. Washington Poe of Macar, have filled many important posts;* and to these may be added, Maria, who became the second wife of William Clemm, a well-known citizen of Baltimore, and mother of Virginia, Edgar Allan Poe’s cousin and bride.

Samuel Poe, a notable oddity of Baltimore nearly half a century ago, is also said to have been a son of General Poe. Many of this youth’s vagaries are still remembered, and some have even found their way into print. Of one of his practical jokes, a much-esteemed correspondent sends the following amusing account: — “At the time Samuel Poe [page 440:] was a youth, the Baltimorean Germans, who were not many in number, and were rather despised, raised a volunteer company they called ‘Die Jäger,’ which was generally referred to as ‘the Dutch Yagers.’ These honest ‘Dutchmen’ Poe selected as his especial butts. When they went out parading Poe would muster a lot of mischievous gamins, and march in their rear, sometimes giving orders in broken English, and sometimes chanting a doggerel canticle of his own composition, of which these are two couplets:

“ ‘Ven you hears te great pig trum,

Den you sees te Yagers come;

Ven tey turns te corner apout,

Den you schmells te sauer kraut.’

“This doggerel the boys used to sing in chorus, Poe strutting at their head like a drum-major, to the great mirth of the public. When they reached the place of parade Poe would halt his troop (followed by hundreds of spectators), and would burlesque the call of the roll, with the answers car excuses for absence; would inspect the company, would command manœuvres, &c., all in the wildest burlesque, to the infinite delight of his boys and a malicious public, but to the inexpressible anguish of the poor ‘Dutchmen.’ At last they could stand it no longer, and had Poe up to court. The charge was preferred, and the court asked Poe what he had to say. The youth, with the greatest gravity, said he was only indulging in a little innocent mirth that harmed nobody and did not disturb the peace; that the boys liked to see the ‘Yagers’ parade, and he put himself at their head to infuse a little military spirit into them; that as for his song, it was quite inoffensive, as their Honours could judge for themselves when he repeated it. And he then began intoning his famous chant, at which the court fairly broke down with laughter, and dismissed the case.”



[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 437:]

*  Mrs. Whitman was by birth a Power, and liked to consider herself as descended from the same ancestry as Poe. — J. H. I.

  Letter from James Jocelyn Poë, Esq., representative of the Riverston Poës. November 17th, 1875. — J. H. I.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 438:]

*  In letter dated May 1st, 1875. — J. H. I.

  E. L. Didier. “Life of Edgar A. Poe,” p. 21 [[p. 20, footnote]].

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 439:]

*  Letters from John P. Poe, Esq., of Baltimore. — J. H. I.






[S:0 - EAP:HLLO, 1886] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Articles - E. A. P.: His Life, Letters and Opinions (J. H. Ingram) (Appendix A)