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Acclaimed American writer, Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849), was in foster care as a child.

Edgar Poe was born in Boston to actors Elizabeth and David Poe, one of three children. David abandoned the family a year later (when they were living in Norfolk, Virginia) and Elizabeth died from tuberculosis a year after that. 

Three-year-old Edgar was fostered by John and Frances Allan of Richmond, Virginia and they added Allan to his name. 

Sometimes they called him Edgar Allan, but he remained a foster child. Mrs Allan adored him. Mr Allan tolerated the boy to please his wife (Hayes, 36).

Between 1815 and 1820 Poe spent time in Scotland and England where he received a classical education. Six years after returning to the U.S. he briefly attended the University of Virginia, but was forced to leave because of financial problems.

Poe had compensated for Allan’s stinginess by gambling recklessly. He incurred huge gambling debts – around two thousand dollars…With a good memory, an ability to imagine what others were thinking and excellent mathematical skills, Poe had the makings of a good gambler, but one crucial aspect of his personality prevented him from gambling success: he could not back down from a challenge (Hayes, 42).

John Allan refused to cover Edgar’s debts and the young man returned home. However, the clashes between him and his foster father became intense; John Allan was a successful tobacco merchant and wanted Edgar to follow in his footsteps. Edgar, however, wanted to be a writer.

Poe moved to Boston in 1827 and worked at a variety of jobs. He published his first poems in a pamphlet called Tamerlane and Other Poems that year.  In 2009, a first-edition copy was sold for US$662,500.

Poe then enlisted in the army as Edgar A Perry; he was officially discharged in April 1829, after which he moved to Baltimore where he put together a new collection of poetry.

After a short time at West Point, Poe moved to New York City where he published another collection of poems.

Although Poe expected to be left money when his foster father died, enough to pursue his dream of writing, “Allan had left him nothing” (Hayes, 53).

Back in Baltimore, Poe continued to write poetry until he began to publish stories, winning fifty pounds in 1833 for his story MS. Found in a Bottle. Two years later he was in Richmond, Virginia working as editor of the Southern Literary Messenger

Poe married his 13-year-old cousin Virginia Clemm in 1836 and over the next 10 years edited a range of literary journals while establishing himself as a poet and short story writer. His narrative poem, The Raven, made Poe popular after it was published in 1845.

Edgar Allan Poe died on 7 October 1849 of unknown causes, 2 years after the death of his wife. He is widely credited with originating both detective and horror fiction and was one of the earliest American writers to specialise in short stories.

The Edgar Allan Poe Awards (also called the Edgars) are awarded each year by the New York City-based Mystery Writers of America.


Cestre, Charles. “Edgar Allan Poe.” Britannica. 

“Edgar Allan Poe.” 

Hammond, J. R. An Edgar Allan Poe chronology. Basingstoke, Hampshire: Macmillan Press Ltd.

Hayes, Kevin J. Edgar Allan Poe. London: Reaktion, 2009.

The Poe Museum. 

 Image available here.