Elizabeth "Eliza" Poe

Color image of a waist-length portrait of a young woman with large eyes and dark hair.
Theater advertisements, newspaper reviews and notices shed some light on Eliza Poe's life.

Free Library of Philadelphia, Rare Book Department

Quick Facts

Mother to Edgar Allan Poe
Place of Birth:
London, England
Date of Birth:
Place of Death:
Richmond, Virginia
Date of Death:
December 8, 1811
Place of Burial:
Richmond, Virginia
Cemetery Name:
St. John's Episcopal Churchyard

Elizabeth Arnold Poe was a beautiful and talented actress who charmed theatergoers of her day. Born in England, she traveled with her mother, who was also an actress, to the United States in 1796. From the age of 9 until her death at 24, Elizabeth made her living as an actress in theaters from Boston to Charleston. She never failed to delight audiences with her singing, dancing, and comic and dramatic performances. Little is known of her personal life.

Elizabeth Poe's husband, David Poe, was not present at the time of he death. He had apparently abandoned his family. Edgar, his older brother Henry and infant sister Rosalie were orphaned and left to the charity of the Richmond community. Henry was sent to Baltimore to his grandfather's [David Poe, Sr.] home. Rosalie was adopted by the William Mackenzie family, and Edgar was cared for by the John Allan family. Both the Mackenzie and Allan families resided in Richmond.

Good Sense and Natural Ability

Review in the Boston Gazette, March 21, 1808
"If industry can claim from the public either favor or support, the talents of Mrs. Poe will not pass unrewarded. She has supported and maintained a course of characters, more numerous and arduous than can be paralleled on our boards, during any one season. Often she has been obliged to perform three characters on the same evening, and she has always been perfect in the text, and has well comprehended the intention of her author. In addition to her industry, however, Mrs. Poe has claims for other favors, from the respectability of her talents. Her Romps and Sentimental characters have an individuality which has marked them peculiarly her own. But she has succeeded often in the tender personations of tragedy; her conceptions are always marked with good sense and natural ability….”

Mrs. Poe Has Hit the Happy Medium

Review of Elizabeth’s performances in the plays Pizarro and John Bull at Fontainbleau in Ramblers’ Magazine and New-York Theatrical Register, November, 1810.
“In the afterpiece, mrs. Poe was excellent. It is in this line of characters she particular [sic] delights and to which she should bend her chief attention. It is difficult to be sprightly without being fantastic, and to act the hoyden, without being gross and mawkish. Mrs. Poe has hit the happy medium; and let her cultivate it with assiduity. It is one of the most difficult and most important departments of female comedy.”

By the Death of this Lady

News of Eliza Poe's death in the Richmond Enquirer, December 10, 1811, Richmond, Virginia.
"Died, on last Sunday morning [December 8] Mrs. Poe, one of the Actresses of the Company at present playing on the Richmond Boards. By the death of this lady the Stage has been deprived of one of its chief ornaments. And to say the least of her, she was an interesting Actress, and never failed to catch the applause and command the admiration of the beholder."

Last updated: September 28, 2017