Text: Arthur Hobson Quinn, “Appendix 05,” Edgar Allan Poe: A Critical Biography (1941), pp. 732-741


[page 732:]

V. Where Did Elizabeth Poe Die?

By Elizabeth Valentine Huntley and Louise F. Catterall, of the Valentine Museum

Some recent biographers of Edgar Allan Poe have identified as the house in which his mother, Mrs. David Poe, died, a small brick build­ing still standing in Richmond on the north side of Main Street be­tween 22nd and 23rd. The building, now numbered 2220½ East Main Street, is set back from the street, in the rear of other houses. West of it, flush with Main Street, stands a row of three brick tenements, back of which are several small brick buildings, formerly kitchens. East of it, occupying the northwest corner of Main and 23rd Streets, is a large brick building, with the remains of a blocked-up archway still visible on the 23rd Street side. According to the Poe biographers, the three brick tenements were formerly actors’ boarding houses, and the big corner building was the old Indian Queen Tavern. Carriages are said to have driven through the arched entrance on 23rd Street. The little house in which Mrs. Poe is said to have died, on December 8, 1811, is stated to have been occupied by a milliner whose name is variously given as Mrs. Fipps, Mrs. Phepoe, or Mrs. Phillips.

Susan Archer Weiss, in The Home Life of Poe, says that Mrs. Poe “was boarding at Mrs. Fipps’, a milliner on Main Street.” Her authority for this is Miss Mackenzie, Rosalie Poe's foster sister; but she gives no authority for the further statement that Mrs. Fipps's shop was between 15th and 17th Streets.

Hervey Allen's Israfel and Mary E. Phillips's Edgar Allan Poe — the Man go into much greater detail. Both give photographs showing the present appearance of the buildings in question. See Poe the Man, pp. 83-85, and Israfel, through Chapter I.

The accuracy of these theories about the location of Mrs. Poe's deathplace is open to serious question. They are based largely, we believe, on information given to Miss Phillips and Mr. Allen by the late James H. Whitty. We were led to question the theories through a study of the late Edward V. Valentine's manuscripts on old Richmond, which are now a part of the Valentine Museum collection. Detailed [page 733:] study of the tax books of the city of Richmond, the Richmond and Henrico County deed books, the fire insurance records of the Mutual Assurance Society, and advertisements in the 1811 Richmond news­papers substantiate the evidence of Mr. Valentine's notes.

In order for the theories to be true, the half-block in question, con­stituting Lot 38 in the old plan of the city of Richmond, must have contained in 1811 the following buildings: three undetached brick “actors’ boarding houses,” the small brick house said to have been Mrs. Phillips's shop, and the brick building said to have been the Indian Queen Tavern. All of them are still standing today, approximately as follows:

figure 1

The first objection to this theory is found in the tax records for real property in the city of Richmond. In 1811 Richard Adams owned the whole of Lot 38, running 132 feet on Main Street. The property appears in the tax books as follows:

Lot    Proprietor          Tenants     Valuation     
38 Richard Adams Oliver Peck )    
    John Wood }   $5,500 Year: 1810 (p.5)
    James, a negro )    
38 Richard Adams Oliver Peck )    
    & }    5,500 Year: 1811 (p.6)
    others )    
38 Richard Adams Oliver Peck, etc.      5,500 Year: 1812 (p.6)

From the way in which the proprietor's and tenants’ names are listed, it looks as if Lot 38, in 1810, 1811, and 1812, contained not more than three buildings. A comparison of the tax record for Lot 38 with that [page 734:] for the adjoining Lot 37 shows that, whatever buildings may have been on Lot 38, they were not valued sufficiently high to have in­cluded a thriving tavern, three brick boarding houses and a two-story brick shop:

Lot    Proprietor   Tenants   Valuation      Year:
37 Thos. Pulling Himself $6,000 1810 & 1811
  R. Thompson est. Mrs. Thompson 4,000 (p. 5&6)
  Rich. Adams D. Doroghty 3,000  

The building owned and occupied by Thomas Pulling and valued at $6,000 was the Court House Tavern, on the northeast corner of Main and 22nd Street.(1) If Lot 37, containing a Tavern and two other houses, was valued at $13,000, it seems unlikely that Lot 38 would have been valued at only $5,500 if it had contained a Tavern and four other brick houses. It seems more likely that it contained three single dwellings.

Study of the deed books and insurance records supports the evi­dence of the tax lists. In 1813, Richard Adams sold Lot 38 to Samuel Dutton and Benajah Dunham, the eastern half (fronting 66 feet on Main) going to Dutton and the western 66 feet to Dunham.(2) The tax list for 1814(3) lists a house, owned by Dutton, at the northwest corner of Main and 23rd Streets, as “unfinished.” This is the site of the so-called Indian Queen Tavern, which is supposed to have been operating in 1811. By 1816 Dutton had died and the corner house is listed as being owned by the Dutton estate and occupied by “Mrs. Dutton and others.”(4)

While this new building was in progress on the eastern half of Lot 38, improvements were also being made on the western half, owned by Benajah Dunham. In April, 1816, Dunham sold to Thomas Pulling (owner of the nearby Court House Tavern) the western third of his land, 22 feet, including a brick house 20 feet wide and a two foot alley to the west.(5) This was the house now numbered 2214 East Main Street, and is the farthest west of the three undetached brick houses said to have been the actors’ boarding houses in 1811. In­spection of the three houses today shows that they were designed as a unit and must have been built at about the same time. This is proved [page 735:] by the records. The same tax book(6) which shows Mrs. Dutton occupy­ing the house at the corner of 23rd and Main Streets also shows Thomas Pulling owning and occupying his house (just purchased from Dunham) valued at $2,000, on the western 22 feet of Lot 38; and further lists, on the adjoining 44 feet of the lot, an “unfinished house” owned by Benajah Dunham, valued at $3,000. The following tracing of an insurance plat, made November 4, 1816,(7) shows the three contiguous buildings as they are today:

figure 2

Main or E. Street

This plat is interesting, not only because it shows that the center build­ing was insured for the first time in November, 1816 (thus bearing out the 1816 tax record of the house as “unfinished” or just finished at that time), but especially because it describes the land immediately east of the three tenements as “vacant lot of Samuel Dutton's estate.” This lot is the one on which now stands the house in which Mrs. Poe is said to have died in 1811. [page 736:]

Returning to the building at the northwest corner of Main and 23rd Streets, which the 1814 tax list shows as “unfinished” and untenanted, we find this eastern half of Lot 38 changing hands several times after Samuel Dutton's death. In September, 1825, it was purchased by Thomas Pulling.(8) In October, 1825, he insured “my 6 bldgs. on part of Lot 38 now occupied by no person, situated between the property of Benajah Dunham's creditors on the N.W. and 23rd St. on the S.E.”(9)  The six buildings are insured for $4,500 and their location and character are shown on the plat as follows:

A    Store & dwelling house   $1,250
B Store & dwelling house 1,250
C Dwelling house 850.
D Dwelling house 850.
E Kitchen 150.
F Kitchen 150.


22nd Street

figure 3

23rd Street

[page 737:]

This plat indicates that the building at the corner of Main and 23rd Streets, said by Poe biographers to have been the Indian Queen Tavern, was in 1825 actually four buildings, with each of the front two designated as a combined “store & dwelling,” separated from the back two by a passage-way. This passage accounts clearly for the bricked-in arch, still visible. Examination of the present building agrees with this 1825 insurance tracing: the Main Street side of the building can be seen to have been originally two buildings, and the bricked-in arch on 23rd Street appears much too small ever to have allowed carriages to drive through. It was obviously the foot passage connecting the front and rear buildings — an architectural plan often used at that time, notably in the three “actors’ ” tenements on the western half of Lot 38.

This tracing also indicates that the little house, No. 2220½, asso­ciated with Mrs. Poe, was not there in 1825. The house is separated from the corner buildings only by a five foot alley, and the land on which it stands was part of Pulling's property. If the house had been there in 1825 it seems certain that it would have been insured along with the others, or its presence at least indicated on the plat.

The first actual appearance of the little house is in 1830, on a map accompanying the deed which transferred the eastern half of Lot 38 to Peter Joseph Chevallie.(10) It appears on this plat as “E”:

In addition to the evidence that the buildings associated with Mrs. Poe and now standing on Lot 38 were in fact not built until after her death in 1811, we have evidence that the corner building was never the Indian Queen Tavern, and, so far as the deed books show, was never a tavern at all.


figure 5

[figure on page 738]
Plat for lots 38 and 52

As early as 1806 the building on Lot 39, on the northeast corner of 23rd and Main Streets, was known as the Indian Queen Tavern.(11) In 1811 this property was owned by John Cunningham and occupied by John Glynn. In 1813 the tavern was owned by Benjamin Duval, whose dwelling house and tile factory were on the adjoining Lot 40.(12) The property, running 66 feet on Main Street from the corner of 23rd Street eastward, and containing six buildings, was again insured as “Benj. Duval's Indian Queen Tavern” in 1816, when the value was increased, three buildings having been added since 1813.(13) In 1821 the tavern [page 739:] was destroyed by fire.(14) Deeds to this property, however, as late as 1838, refer to the northeast corner of Main and 23rd Streets as “the lot on which the Indian Queen Tavern was situated.” There is abso­lutely no doubt that this and not the northwest corner, was the site of the Indian Queen Tavern from 1806 to 1821.(15)

There obviously would not have been two Indian Queen Taverns at the same time on opposite corners of 23rd Street. Since deeds and insurance records constantly mention the east corner as being the site of this tavern, and since none of the records for the property at the west corner ever mention the presence there of any tavern at all, it seems perfectly clear that in the years after 1821, when the Indian Queen burned, its exact location was forgotten and it was only re­membered that it had been at “the corner of Main and 23rd.”

Turning to the Richmond newspapers of 1811, we find that none of the notices concerning performances of Placide's Company at the Richmond Theatre, or benefits given by the Company for Mrs. Poe during her last illness, or finally the accounts of her death, ever state where Mrs. Poe lived or where she died.(16) Neither are we able to identify any Mrs. Phillips (or Fipps, or Phepoe, as it sometimes ap­pears), or even any milliner at all with a shop on Main Street between 22nd and 23rd Streets, in 1811. In 1802 a Mrs. Phepoe had a millinery shop at Mrs. Turner's Tavern, corner of 14th and Main Streets;(17) in 1819 a Mrs. Dolly Phillips is listed in the Richmond Directory as living on E (later Main) Street, between 4th and 5th Streets — no other Phillips. Fipps, or Phepoe appearing in this directory; in the 1845 and 1852 directories Mrs. C. Philip, milliner, is on Main Street between 15th and 17th; and in 1855 Lucy Phillips’ boarding house is on Main be­tween 22nd and 23rd — at last the right address, but forty-four years after Mrs. Poe's death. We are at a loss to know what Mr. Hervey Allen means when he says that he identified the proper Mrs. Phillips from “the Richmond directories of the time.” There were no Richmond directories for the first third of the nineteenth century except the one in 1819, and that one had only one Phillips — and she was not listed as a milliner.

This, of course, is not absolutely conclusive proof that there was not [page 740:] a Mrs. Phillips, milliner, on Main Street between 22nd and 23rd in 1811. Not every milliner could afford to advertise in the papers, and there is no 1811 directory. But there certainly seems to be no proof that there was such a Mrs. Phillips. It is also true that Mrs. Poe could have died on Lot 38 in a small brick house. There were buildings on Lot 38 in 1811, and the Indian Queen Tavern would, as claimed, have been nearby, though not on the location as given by Mr. Allen and Miss Phillips. But the records do seem to show that this Indian Queen Tavern burned to the ground in 1821, that the so-called actors’ board­ing house was not built until 1816, and that Mrs. Poe did not die in the particular small brick house now standing at 2220½ East Main Street.

It is possible to form an alternative theory as to where she did die. We give it here, purely as a theory. There is no proof.

In 1811 the Washington Tavern stood at the northwest corner of 9th and Grace Streets, on the site of the present Hotel Richmond. Before 1797 this tavern had been known as the Indian Queen, but by 1802 it had become the Washington.(18) In 1811 it might still have been re­ferred to as “the old Indian Queen.” Moreover, this neighborhood is known to have been frequented by the actors of Mr. Placide's Com­pany, who played at the Richmond Theatre on Broad Street below 12th, just four and a half blocks from the Tavern. The following ad­vertisement appeared in the Virginia Patriot, November 19, 1811:

Richmond Theatre

A meeting of the subscribers to the Richmond Theatre is requested on Thursday evening, 5 o’clock at the Washington Tavern, at which time and place, the Managers will be prepared to pay the interest upon the subscriptions for the present year.

Mon. 18th Nov. 1811.”(19)

Another advertisement connected with the Company of which Mrs. Poe was a member appeared in the Enquirer, November 22, 1811:(20)

For Rent, and immediate possession given, the Tenement near the Washington Tavern, now in the occupancy of Mr. Placide. For terms apply to

EDWARD HALLAM. [page 741:]

A similar advertisement of Hallam's had been in the Enquirer a year before (November 9, 1810), offering for rent the houses “now in the occupancy of Mr. Placide and Mr. Young, fronting the Capitol Square and adjoining the Washington Tavern.” Placide was, of course, the manager of the Company to which Mrs. Poe belonged, and brought his actors to Richmond every year for a season at the Richmond Theatre. Edward Hallam had acquired in 1803 the property which Placide rented, fronting 42 feet on Ninth Street, back of the Wash­ington Tavern.(21) There were a number of other houses on the adjoining lots where actors could doubtless have secured rooms. Moreover, a number of rooms were available at the Tavern itself. An advertisement by Curtis R. Moore in the Enquirer (Tues., Aug 27, 1811) announcing a change in the management of the Tavern, assures the public that

every attention shall be devoted to render the Establishment agreeable to Travellers and others who may favor him with their custom. Private apartments, suitable for the reception of families travelling and as convenient and agreeable as any in this city, separate from that part of the establishment devoted to public entertainment, can always be furnished.

Thirty-five members of the next State Legislature, can be comfortably accommodated on application. ...

It seems probable that Mrs. Poe would have found a room in or near the Washington Tavern, four and a half blocks from the Theatre, where others of the Company are proved by Hallam's advertisements to have stayed, rather than in a house fifteen blocks away, near 23rd and Main Streets. Incidentally, she would then have been just across Capitol Square from the house on the northeast corner of Thirteenth and Main Streets, where John Allan is said to have lived in 1811. Mrs. Allan's first sight of Poe may have been of him playing in the Square.


D. B., Deed Book.

H. C. C., Henrico Circuit Court.

R. C. C., Richmond Chancery Court.

T. R. P., Tax, Real Property (City of Richmond).

M. A. S., Mutual Assurance Society of Virginia.


[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 734:]

(1)  M. A. S., No. 248, 1811; No. 1149, 1812.

(2)  D. B., 7, p. 460, R. C. C.

(3)  T. R. P., 1814, p. 5.

(4)  T. R. P., 1816, p. 6.

(5)  D. B., 15, p. 217, H. C. C.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 735:]

(6)  T. R. P., 1816, p. 6.

(7)  M. A. S., No. 683.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 736:]

(8)  D. B., 28, p. 219, H. C. C.

(9)  M. A. S., No. 3558, 1825.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 737:]

(10)  D. B., 29, p. 400; 98c, pp. 632, 633, R. C. C.

(11)  M. A. S., No. 639, 1806.

(12)  M. A. S., No. 24, 1813; D. B., 7, p. 469, R. C. C.

(13)  M. A. S., Nos. 1195 and 1150, March 18, 1816.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 739:]

(14)  Compiler, April 4, 1821.

(15)  D. B., 23, p. 549, H. C. C.; 25, pp. 106, 107, 108, 263, 395, 396, H. C. C.; 38, p. 172, R. C. C.

(16)  Enquirer, Aug. 13, Sept. 6, Oct. 8, Oct. 25, Oct. 29, Nov. 22, Dec. 10, 1811; Va. Patriot, Aug. 20, Nov. 19, Nov. 29, Dec. 10, 1811.

(17)  Examiner[[,]] May 1, 1802.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 740:]

(18)  D. B., 43, p. 232, R. C. C.; also Title Insurance Co., abstract of title, Hotel Richmond.

(19)  Virginia Patriot, Tuesday, November 19, 1811, Vol. II, No. 212, page 3, col. 4.

(20)  Vol. 8, No. 57, p. 1, col. 1.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 741:]

(21)  D. B., 15, p. 203; 60, p. 695, B. C. C.



In the original, the section title is given in all capitals. For the sake of conformity, it has been rendered here in upper and lower case.


[S:1 - EAP:ACB, 1941] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Articles - E. A. P.: A Critical Biography (A. H. Quinn) (Appendix 05)