Text: Hervey Allen, “Appendix 06,” Israfel: The Life and Times of Edgar Allan Poe (1926), volume 2, pp. 882-888


[page 882:]


F. W. THOMAS’S association with Poe, the Poe-Thomas correspondence, and the many reminiscences which Thomas has left of his friend, seem to make it worth while to collect here a more complete account of the man. The biography itself is of interest as it throws light on some of the remarks in the Poe-Thomas letters, and adds some authentic facts to the background of contemporary American life from 1775 to 1841; covering two generations in the persons of E. S. Thomas and F. W. Thomas, father and son, the latter, Poe’s friend.

The data for Ebenezer S. Thomas has been kindly supplied by John Bennett, Esq., of Charleston, South Carolina, from a great mass of early American notes and data collected by him. The Life of F. W. Thomas is contained in a letter written by him to Poe in Philadelphia, August 3, 1841, probably to supply Poe with biographical material to use in notices of Thomas’ books in some of the periodicals for which Poe wrote. The allusion to Henry Poe and early Baltimore days is of peculiar interest. The reason for the political and journalistic influence of F. W. Thomas will, in the light of the facts given below, now be more apparent:

EBENEZER S. THOMAS: Book-seller, Stationer; Editor,
CITY GAZETTE, Charleston, S. C.

Father of F. W. Thomas, author of Clinton Bradshaw and East and West. Another son edited the Louisville, Kentucky, Daily Herald. Born in Lancaster, Massachusetts, 1775. A nephew of Isaiah Thomas, publisher of the Worcester Massachusetts Spy, the famous Revolutionary journal, on which his father was employed as circulation agent and distributor.

ISAIAH THOMAS: his uncle: LL.D.: book-publisher, printer, binder, and book-seller; printed the American first editions of Bell’s Surgery, Cullen’s Practice, Blackstone’s Commentaries, Millott’s Elements of Ancient and Modern History, Harvey’s Works, besides the first folio and royal quarto editions of the Bible printed in America. Known in England as ‘The American Baskerville.’

Founder of the American Antiquarian Society; author of a History of Masonry, and the widely known History of Printing, in 2 vols.

Isaiah Thomas, as a journeyman printer, followed and perfected himself in his trade on the Halifax Gazette, Nova Scotia, where he got into political trouble for his freely-expressed opinions.

ISAIAH THOMAS was in business in Charleston, South Carolina, for two years, 1767-1768: I find no impression he made on the community, if he made any.

EBENEZER S. was apprenticed to ISAIAH, his uncle, to learn the printing, book-binding, and stationery business, in 1788, at the age of 13 years. [page 883:]

He left his uncle’s shop in 1792, at termination of his apprenticeship, and was employed as a book-binder in Boston until 1795, in which year he came to Charleston, South Carolina, and here became a partner of CALEB CUSHING, printer, book-binder, book-seller, and stationer.

CUSHING was a Boston man; whether any relative of the later politician of the same name I cannot say. He died in Charleston of yellow fever, leaving the book-business to THOMAS, located, in 1802, at 117 Tradd Street, dwelling above the shop, as was customary, in Scotch fashion, at that time. In 1803 he removed his business to the now more fashionable street, — to 121 Broad Street, as book-seller and stationer.

An ambitious man of more than ordinary abilities and outlook, THOMAS, desiring to establish personal relations with the book-publishing firms of Great Britain, in 1800 . . . and annually therafter . . . went to England and Scotland, . . . that is, London and Edinburgh . . . to select and to purchase his own stock, and form personal acquaintances abroad who should act correspondents on whom he might depend for future advices and supplies generally. He had friendly relations with Constable, Scott’s publisher; became intimately acquainted with Hone, the book and print-seller of Ludgate Hill; made tie familiar acquaintance of Washington Irving, then Consul in London; and established business relations with the old firm of Vernor & Hood, afterward Vernor, Hood & Sharp, with which house he attained unlimited credit, and through them, throughout England and Scotland, acquaintance of great benefit.

In 1803 he took into partnership, James Male, under the firm-name of Thomas & Male, and made his fourth purchasing voyage to England and Scotland, visiting many friends of position, and touring the Continent as a means of cultivation and information.

He returned from England from this trip with a printed catalogue of 50,000 volumes, in every branch of literature, arts, and sciences, travels, fiction, and religion, belles lettres and textbooks, then by far the largest importation ever made into the United States by a book-dealer.

In that year, 1803, the African slave-trade was reopened for a term of five years; the reaction upon literature and book-buying was immediate and disastrous. There were then in Charleston four considerable book-selling houses, Young’s, Bailey & Waller, Crow & Query, and E. S. Thomas, Bailey & Waller failed, and were sold out at public auction by Henry Smerdon, vendue master, a remnant stock, of ‘novels, history, poetry, voyages, etc., etc., at No. 16 Broad Street, opposite the State Bank.’

THOMAS, embarking elsewhere in business, (while continuing to work off his stock here,) with Messrs. Christopher and Nathaniel Olney, in 1804-5, as partners, built, at Providence, R. I., the fifth cotton factory in the U. S.

In the fall of 1804 or 1805, returning to Charleston, he evidently made a ‘whirlwind courtship’; for he married, during that brief stay, here, a Miss Fonerdon, daughter of Adam Fonerdon, Esq., of Baltimore, who was in Charleston on her way to Italy with a sister and brother-in-law. These last continued their journey,. . . she remained; and the following Spring returned to Providence and the cotton-mill. THOMAS closed out his book-shop here in 1807. He also sold out from the cotton-mill business at Providence. [page 884:]

BUT, in 1810, returned to Charleston, having purchased the plant and goodwill of the City Gazette, of Charleston, from Peter Freneau, its editor and publisher: (Freneau & Paine, and afterward Freneau & Williams).

PETER FRENEAU: Brother of Philip Freneau, the ‘Poet of the Revolution.’ There were then but two papers in Charleston, and but three in the State. The ancient State Gazette, Timothy & Mason, was on its last legs. Freneau was a correspondent of Thos. JEFFERSON, and an ardent supporter of the Jeffersonian republican party, which the City Gazette espoused, as against the Federalists.

On January 1st, 1810 the paper became Thomas’s; proprietor, publisher, and editor; though FRENEAU remained associated with its editorial staff until his death, contributed to its political animus and power.

Thomas published the City Gazette as a daily, and the old South Carolina Gazette as a weekly, and was successful with both, his net profit on both during the established years of his management reaching $12,000 per annum. The Gazette was the one and only republican (Jeffersonian), paper in the city, and was strongly supported, and backed by prominent men.

Among intimate friends of Thomas during his years as book-seller and editor in Charleston were Robert Y. Hayne, ex-governor Charles Pinckney, Hon. William Lowndes, John Ceddes, governor of S. C., and Col. Thomas Lehre, one of the prominent leaders of the Jeffersonian party, Peter Freneau, and Hon. Wm. Loughton Smith, U. S. Ambassador to Portugal, a brilliant man, and like Hayne and Lowndes, a statesman of no mean rank. Pinckney, Freneau, and Lehre formed the committee of consultation of the Jeffersonian party, and Thomas was known as ‘the lever of the Triumvirate,’ they being dubbed the Triumvirs, and he their official spokesman through the City Gazette: they were nicknamed Caesar, Pompey, and Lepidus, by the Federal party.

Among journalistic friends made at this period Thomas counted Maj. M. M. Noah, afterward editor of the N. Y. Evening Star, one time Consul at Tunis, and known among pamphleteers as ‘Muly Mulack’ from his signed contributions to the N. Y. Times, Townsend, of the N. Y. Express also was an old friend of Thomas’s.

Thomas supported Langdon Cheves for Congress, and that campaigri sent Calhoun, Lowndes and Cheves from South Carolina, such a ‘constellation of talent and statesmanship’ says one, pretty truly, ‘as seldom has been sent to that body from one State.’

It was through Thomas’s publication of a political letter from M. M. Noah, attacking Jos. Alston, for alleged participation in Burr’s so-called conspiracy, and for alleged misconduct of an election which made Alston governor of S. C., that Thomas was prosecuted by Jos. Alston for libel, found technically guilty by the jury, was escorted from his prison by a brass band and parade of admirers; and shot at through a window by some un-identified supporter of Alston’s.

It was at Thomas’s suggestion to David Ramsay, the historian, that the latter undertook his Life of Washington; . . . and it was at the very moment of the conclusion of Thomas’s trial in the Charleston court that a loud report of a pistol was heard from the street near by . . . when Ramsay was [page 885:] shot by one Lining whom Ramsay, as a consulting physician, had pronounced insane. This is just incidental.

His health having suffered from the climate of Carolina, especially through the several summers he had lived in the city, Thomas sold out the City Gazette, in January, 1816; after what he afterward called the happiest six years of his life, though during five of the six the country had suffered economically from embargo, non-intercourse, and war.

With the competent fortune amassed here by the Gazette he retired to Baltimore, his wife’s former home, and with his family settled on a considerable landed property he had bought near Baltimore. There he was a notable demonstrator of science as applied to agriculture, and did much to promote expert farming; is so referred to occasionally by authorities at that time. But the great decline in the value of crops and real estate broke him, in 1827; he sold his property to pay his debts, and removed West, to Cincinnati, where he established the Daily Commercial-Advertiser, 1828; which he styled the second daily paper in the western country. In 1835 he established the Cincinnati Daily Evening Post; — and, retiring from active editorial work, in 1839, toured the States campaigning for Wm. Henry Harrison.

He was an ardent supporter of the Federal Union, and an antagonist of John C. Calhoun from the discovery of the end and aim of Nullification onward. Revisiting Charleston in 1840, he found himself, much to his regret, persona non grata to many of his old acquaintances, owing to the increasing bitterness of national questions . . . and his vigorously maintained position on Nullification, States Rights, and Secession, (as a threat).

He seems to have been really a discriminating and genuine amateur appreciator of the fine arts, and cultivated his appreciation during his travels abroad. It is the tradition that it was he who discovered and encouraged Hiram Powers, the Cincinnati sculptor, whose Greek Slave was considered in its day the acme of American sculptural art . . . Thorwaldsen being then the arbiter and mode.

The date of his death I do not know. — J. B.

Frederick W. Thomas, Poe’s friend.(938)

From a letter written to Poe in Philadelphia by F. W. Thomas, Washington, District of Columbia, August 3, 1841, — original in Griswold Collection, also in Harrison, vol. II, pages 95-99

Washington, 3 August, 1841

My family, by the father’s side, were among the early settlers of New England. Isaiah Thomas, the founder of the American Antiquarian Society at Worcester (Mass.), and the author of The History of Printing, was my father’s uncle. . . . My Father, E. S. Thomas, . . . emigrated to Charleston, S. C., where he, after establishing himself in the book-business, met my mother, who was then on a visit from Baltimore, of which city she was [page 886:] (a native) . . . Shortly after the marriage of my father he removed from Charleston to Providence, Rhode Island, where I was born in, I think, the fall of 1808.1 left Rhode Island a child in the nurse’s arms and have never been back — so I hold myself to be a Southerner — as my parents returned to Charleston with me. (My family consists of myself, then Lewis, Frances, Susan, Mary, Martha, Belle and Calvin.) I was a delicate child, and, at the age of four, I fell from a furniture box on which I was playing, and injured my left leg. I went into the house crying, as a child would, and soon returned to play again. My limb, a few weeks afterwards, became very painful, my health gradually declined, and the physicians advised my parents to send me to a healthier climate. In charge of my aunt I was sent to Baltimore, and placed under the care of my aunt Foulke. There I grew robust and recovered from my lameness except an occasional weakness in my limb, when I overexercised myself at play. When about eight or nine, in running to the window, over a wet floor, to look at the soldiers passing, I got a fall, which, after long confinement (a year or more), threw me, a skeleton, on crutches. I used them until five years since, when the contrivance I now use was suggested to me. I went to school very little in consequence of my lameness and frequent indisposition, and when I was seventeen I commenced the study of law. I have never been to college. The first attempt I made at scribbling was at this time. I wrote a poetical satire on some fops about town, and they became exasperated with the /printer of the paper, I forget its name — a scurrilous penny-sheet — and tore his office to pieces, making Pi of his type. I attended at this time a debating society, which had a great many visitors, and there I used to hold forth with the rest. I was invited one Fourth of July to make a speech before the society on a steamboat excursion, and, getting some little credit for it I was invited by my political friends to address their meetings which I did, being then rated with Jacksonism. . . . Your brother and I were then intimate — and rather rivals in a love affair. Scott, my fellow student, studied hard, — I often stole out to the Baltimore Library and devoured the works upon Poetry, Oratory and ‘ Biography. Just after I was admitted to practice, my father, who had lost a handsome fortune, emigrated with his family, leaving myself, to Cincinnati and established the Commercial Advertiser. I practiced a few months, and then from ill health, retired to the country, where, after a year’s sojourn, I emigrated to Cincinnati in 1832 and assisted my father in editing his paper. We soon differed upon political matters, and I commenced the practice of the law, but in bad health. I defended a great many criminals, I believe with some success, and lectured before the Lyceum. In descending the river I wrote several stanzas expressive of my feelings, which I published in my father’s paper. They were noticed and complimented by the contemporary press, and I wrote out some farther impressions which the new scenes had made an me, and upon invitation delivered them before the Lyceum, in the shape of a rambling poem called The Emigrant, or Reflections in Descending the Ohio. This took, if I may so say, before the Lyceum and I was requested to publish it, which I did in 1833. . . .

After this, when Judge McLean was brought out for the Presidency, I was selected to publish his organ in Cincinnati, which I called the Intelligencer. [page 887:] I had it for about six months, and was compelled to quit the editorial chair, in consequence of bad health. While confined to my house and bed, I remarked one day to my sister Frances that I felt like trying to write a novel. She insisted upon my doing it, and daily brought paper and pen to my bedside, where most of Clinton Bradshaw was written. I should have mentioned that my best friend in Cincinnati was Charles Hammond of the Cincinnati Gazette, who is now dead, but who was esteemed the best editor and lawyer in Ohio. To him I dedicated my Emigrant, and he defended me with true chivalry against all critical attacks. In his paper, too, I wrote many satires upon folks about town, which made me some enemies.

When I had finished Clinton Bradshaw, with letters of introduction in my pocket to Mathew Carey, from Mr. Hammond and General Harrison, I started for Philadelphia which I reached in the dusk of the evening. Unknown and unknowing, in bad health and worse spirits, I wandered on not knowing what to do with myself, and shall never forget stopping before a house in Chestnut Street struck with a tune that some fair one was playing, as if with a familiar voice. The discovery that the song was mine, ‘Tis said that absence conquers love, changed the whole current of my feelings.

Mr. Carey, (this was in 1835), introduced me to Carey, Lea & Co. and they undertook the publication of my work. Let me say that Mr. Carey treated me with the greatest kindness. He was lame too, but a philosopher, and he felt and expressed a real sympathy for me. I was frequently his guest, and he often came to see me. In proof of his benevolent character let me say that he often annoyed me, or rather provoked my sensitiveness, by sending some lame man or woman or other he had picked up in the street, to consult with me upon my superior powers of locomotion. Most of the characters in Clinton Bradshaw were drawn from persons living in Baltimore. ‘Glassman ‘ was meant for Charles Mitchell, a very distinguished lawyer, who was dissipated. ‘Old Nancy’ for old Nelly, who is still an apple woman in Baltimore. ‘Cavendish’ was drawn from a young, eccentric friend of mine, named Kelley, who is since dead. ‘Shaffer’ was a portraiture of Jennings, etc.

East and West was published in 1836. It was an attempt to portray the every day scenes of life occurring to a fallen family emigrating from the east to the west, most of the characters there were from life. Howard Pinckney was published in 1840. I have by me in MS. the poem which you have seen called — (I believe I will so call it) — The Adventures of a Poet, which consists of 1800 lines; and two volumes of sketches of such persons as Wirt, John Randolph, Simon Kenton, (the Last of the Pioneers), with tales, etc. . . .

In the May number of the Southern Literary Messenger, for 1838, you will find a sketch of your humble servant by Ingraham.

While writing my books I travelled through the west to Louisville, St. Louis, St., and in the last canvass held forth in those places on the Harrison side. Sometimes upon invitation, in these cities and in Cincinnati, I delivered lectures upon literary subjects such as Oratory, Poetry, etc., Odd-Fellow addresses, and Fourth of July addresses. I was a delegate to the Baltimore May convention in ’40, where I held forth, and after which I made your [page 888:] acquaintance in Philadelphia and got pelted by the people as you remember — or rather by the Locos.

I came on East last March to get my books out, but the death of General Harrison, and the uncertainties about the currency and the bank have prevented my publishing. Here I was invited to lecture before different societies, and in Alexandria, and did so to full houses, gratis-which were followed by empty puffs; but you know what Goldsmith says about the Muse —

Thou source of all my bliss and all my woe

That found me poor at first and keeps me so.

(Don’t say of me that I am in office, as it is only a temporary appointment.)

I am now engaged in writing a novel upon the events of the present day, many of the scenes of which are laid in Washington. My object is to describe life in the varieties in which I have seen it in Missouri, New Orleans and here among the holders and seekers. I have written occasionally for these three or four years past for the Knickerbocker, Graham’s, the Ladies Companion and the Southern Literary Messenger. . . .

One of the first persons who noticed me in the West was General Harrison, who shortly after my arrival in Cincinnati invited me to the Bend, where I went and was his guest for some weeks, — I was engaged there in one of my first law cases against his eldest son (now dead), William Harrison.

Note. The subsequent history of Thomas’ association with Poe is narrated in the body of the text



[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 885:]

938.  J. H. Whitty, Memoir to the Complete Poems of Edgar Allan Poe gives some additional data about F. W. Thomas and Poe.






[S:0 - HVA26, 1926] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Bookshelf - Israfel: The Life and Times of Edgar Allan Poe (H. Allen) (Appendix 06)