The Poe Museum, located in Richmond, Virginia, interprets the life and influence of Edgar Allan Poe for the education and enjoyment of a global audience.
Often a church is born of many parishes that lead up to the current church community and leadership. St. John's has a particularly rich history that evolved into the present church family. One of the precursors to the current parish was Henrico Parish Church, first established in 1611 in Henricus, VA. It was here that Pocahontas, the daughter of Chief Powhatan, leader of the Powhatan Confederacy was educated about Christianity and learned to speak English. Another important association with the early parish was that of Reverend Dr. James Blair, who became the first president of The College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, VA. Henrico Parish Church moved to Richmond in 1741.
Built in 1744, this is the oldest church still standing in Richmond. During the Virginia Convention of 1775, Patrick Henry gave his “ Liberty or Death” speech here. Among the members of the congregation was Poe’s twice-fiancée Elmira Royster Shelton. On a Sunday morning in 1848 or 1849, Poe visited Shelton at home after having not seen her in over a decade, and she told him he would have to come back later because she was on her way to church and would not miss it for anything.
The yard around the church contains some graves of interest to Poe. The most important is that of Poe’s mother, the traveling actress Elizabeth Arnold Poe. It is located along the east wall of the churchyard. By the time Mrs. Poe died in 1811, her husband had abandoned her, and she was dependent upon the society ladies who brought meals to their favorite actress.
Since acting was still considered a dishonorable profession, such ladies did not associate with actresses, but Mrs. Poe was especially popular. It was an honor that such a woman as Mrs. Poe was allowed to be buried in a churchyard, and there is said to have been some protest mounted by some of the parishioners at the time. Her placement in an unmarked grave as close as possible to outside wall of the yard could be evidence of this.
The marker you will find there today was placed in 1927 by the Raven Society and the Poe Foundation on the spot Poe Museum founder James H. Whitty had located by searching through the church’s burial records. Another grave of interest is that of Thomas Willis White, Poe’s boss at the Southern Literary Messenger. This monument is located to the right of the brick path in front of the Parish Hall. The St. John's Church Foundation and the Poe Museum host a Poe event, Fancy Me Mad Graveyard Tour, every October.
Cover photo credit: Craig Fildes via Flickr