Black and white bust-length portrait of a man with dark hair, wearing a high white collar.
Letters reveal an often tense relationship between foster father John Allan and Edgar Allan Poe.

Courtesy of the Edgar Allan Poe Museum, Richmond, Virginia

Quick Facts

Significance:
Foster Father to Edgar Allan Poe
Place of Birth:
Scotland
Date of Birth:
1779
Place of Death:
Richmond, Virginia
Date of Death:
March 27, 1834
Place of Burial:
Richmond, Virginia
Cemetery Name:
Shockoe Hill Cemetery

John Allan was born in Scotland. In 1794, at the age of 14, John moved to Richmond, Virginia, to live with his uncle who was very a successful merchant. John worked several years as a clerk for his uncle before he started his own business as a tobacco merchant. He married the “much admired” Frances Keeling Valentine. John and Frances never had children of their own. Edgar Poe was two years old when he was brought into the Allan household. He was well cared for, provided a good education, and at most times treated as a member of the family. Although Edgar’s middle name comes from the Allan family, he was not legally adopted by John Allan.

Edgar is a Fine Boy

Excerpt from schoolmaster William Ewing's letter to John Allan (in England), November 27, 1817
I trust Edgar continues to be well and to like his School as much as he used to do when he was in Richmond. He is a charming boy and it will give me great pleasure to hear how he is, and where you have sent him to school, and also what he is reading…Let me now only beg of you to remember me respectfully to your lady Mrs. Allan and her sister, who I hope are well, and also do not forget to mention me to their august attendant Edgar.

Excerpt from John Allan's letter to schoolmaster William Ewing, England, March 21, 1818
Accept my thanks for the solicitude you have so kindly expressed about Edgar and the family.  Edgar is a fine Boy and I have no reason to complain of his progress.

Excerpt from John Allan's letter to his uncle William Galt, England, September 28, 1818
Edgar is growing wonderfully and enjoys a good reputation as both able and willing to receive instruction.

Sulky and Ill Tempered

John Allan to Henry Poe (Edgar's brother) who was living in Baltimore, November 1, 1824
Dear Henry,
I have just seen your letter of the 25th ult. to Edgar and am afflicted, that he has not written you. He has had little else to do for me he does nothing & seems quite miserable, sulky
& ill-tempered to all the Family. How we have acted to produce this is beyond my conception—why I have put up so long with his conduct is little less wonderful. The boy possesses not a Spark of affection for us not a particle of gratitude for all my care and kindness towards him. I have given him a much superior Education than ever I received myself. If Rosalie has to relie on any affection from him God in his mercy preserve her—I fear his associates have led him to adopt a line of thinking & acting very contrary to what he possessed when in England. I feel proudly the difference between your principles & his & have my desire to Stand as I ought to do in your Estimation. Had I done my duty as faithfully to my God as I have to Edgar, then had Death come when he will had no terrors for me, but I must end this with a devout wish that God may yet bless him & you & that Success may crown all your endeavors & between you your poor Sister Rosalie may not suffer.
At least She is half your Sister & God forbid my dear Henry that We should visit upon the living the Errors & frailties of the dead. Believe me Dear Henry we take an affectionate interest in your destinies and our United Prayers will be that the God of Heaven will bless & protect you. Rely on him my Brave & excellent Boy who is willing & ready to save to the uttermost. May he keep you in Danger preserve you always is the prayer of your Friend & Servant.
John Allan

I Am Nearly Without

Edgar Allan Poe to John Allan, Baltimore, August 10, 1829
Dear Pa,
I received yours this morning which relieved me from more trouble than you can well imagine—I was afraid that you were offended & although I knew that I had done nothing to
deserve your anger, I was in a most uncomfortable situation—without one cent of money—in a strange place & so quickly engaged in difficulties after the serious misfortunes which I have just escaped—My grandmother is extremely poor & ill (paralytic). My aunt Maria if possible is still worse & Henry entirely given up to drink & unable to help himself, much less me—

I am unwilling to appear obstinate as regards the substitute so will say nothing more
concerning it—only remarking that they will no longer enlist men for the residue of anothers’
enlistment as formerly, consequently my substitute was enlisted for 5 years not 3—
I stated in my last letter (to which I refer you) that Mr. Eaton gave me strong hopes for
September at any rate that the appointment could be obtained for June next—I can obtain decent board lodging & washing with other expenses of mending &c for 5 & perhaps even 4 ½ $ per week—

If I obtain the appointment by the last of September the amount of expense would be at
most $30—If I should be unfortunate & not obtain it until June I will not desire you to allow as much as that per week because by engaging for a longer period at a cheap boarding house I can do with much less—say even 10 even 8 $ per month—any thing with which you think it possible to exist—I am not so anxious of obtaining money from your good nature as of preserving your good will—

I am extremely anxious that you should believe that I have not attempted to impose upon
you—I will in the meantime (if you wish it) write you often, but pledge myself to apply for no
other assistance than what you shall think proper to allow—

I left behind me in Richmond a small trunk containing books & some letters—will you
forward it on to Baltimore to the care of H-W. Bool, Jr. & if you think I may ask so much perhaps you will put in it for me some few clothes as I am nearly without—

Give my love to Miss Valentine—

I remain Dear Pa
Yours affectionately
Edgar A. Poe
 

Wholly and Entirely Your Own Mistaken Parsimony

Excerpt of a letter from Edgar Allan Poe to John Allan, West Point Military Academy, January 3, 1831
Sir,
I suppose (altho’ you desire no further communication with yourself on my part,) that your
restriction does not extend to my answering your final letter.

Did I, when an infant, sollicit your charity and protection, or was it of your own free will,
that you volunteered your services in my behalf? It is well known to respectable individuals in Baltimore, and elsewhere, that my Grandfather (my natural protector at the time you interposed) was wealthy, and that I was his favorite grandchild—But the promises of adoption, and liberal education which you held forth to him in a letter which is now in possession of my family, induced him to resign all care of me into your hands. Under such circumstances, can it be said that I have no right to expect any thing at your hands? You may probably urge that you have given me a liberal education. I will leave the decision of that question to those who know how far liberal educations can be obtained in 8 months at the University of Va. Here you will say that it was my own fault that I did not return—You would not let me return because bills were presented you for payment which I never wished nor desired you to pay. Had you let me return, my reformation had been sure—as my conduct the last 3 months gave every reason to believe—and you would never have heard more of my extravagances. But I am not about to proclaim myself guilty of all that has been alledged against me, and which I have hitherto endured, simply because I was too proud to reply. I will boldly say that it was wholly and entirely your own mistaken parsimony that caused all the difficulties in which I was involved while at Charlottesville.


You Will Surely Pity Me

Edgar Allan Poe to John Allan, Baltimore, April 12, 1833
It has now been more than two years since you have assisted me, and more than three since you have spoken to me. I feel little hope that you will pay any regard to this letter, but still I cannot refrain from making one more attempt to interest you in my behalf. If you will only consider in what a situation I am placed you will surely pity me—without friends, without any means, consequently of obtaining employment, I am perishing—absolutely perishing for want of aid. And yet I am not idle—nor addicted to any vice—nor have I committed any offence against society which would render me deserving of so hard a fate. For God’s sake pity me, and save me from destruction.
E A Poe

 

Last updated: September 21, 2017