On May 16, 1836, Edgar Allan Poe and his young fiancée Virginia Clemm were joined by a few close friends for a small wedding ceremony at a home near Capitol Square. According to different sources, the event took place at either Mrs. Yarrington’s boarding house at Eleventh and Bank Streets or the home of Amasa Converse at Eighth and Franklin Streets. The guests included Virginia’s mother and Poe’s aunt Maria Poe Clemm, Poe’s boss at the Southern Literary Messenger Thomas White, White’s daughter Eliza, a pressman named Thomas W. Cleland and his wife, the printer of the Messenger William McFarlane, an apprentice in the Messenger office named John W. Fergusson, the owner of the boarding house in which Poe lived Mrs. James Yarrington, one of Virginia’s friends Jane Foster, and a few others.
In addition to the number of guests associated with the Southern Literary Messenger, another magazine writer, Rev. Amasa Converse, performed the ceremony. In addition to editing the Southern Religious Telegraph, Converse was a Presbyterian minister. He later recalled Poe’s bride as “polished, dignified and agreeable in her bearing… [possessing] a pleasing manner but…very young.” Of course, Virginia was half the age of her twenty-seven year-old groom, but Converse noted she had given “her consent freely.” Unfortunately, her father’s death a few years earlier had prevented him from giving her his permission to marry, so, earlier on his wedding day, Poe had signed a marriage bond verifying Virginia was twenty-one and able to marry without her father’s consent. Cleland co-signed the document.
In a 1904 letter to T. Pendleton Cummings, Rev. Converse’s son F.B. Converse wrote that Poe “was married by my father…in my father’s parlor…at the Southeast corner of Main and Eighth Streets, Richmond…Edgar Allan Poe came to the house, and the wedding was performed in the parlor, my father standing, according to the impressions which I have received, near the mantel piece and Edgar Allan Poe and his bride coming in at the front. There were very few persons present at the wedding, my mother and the members of the family, and perhaps one or two more companions, which they brought with them.”
Poe collector James H. Whitty later interviewed Jane Foster about the wedding, and he reported, “Mrs. Jane [Foster] Stocking was present at the wedding, which took place in the parlor of the Yarrington home, where Poe boarded, Mrs. Stocking, then but a slip of a girl, was full of thrills with thoughts of seeing so young a girl, like her own self, getting married; and also like Virginia, she was so little, that she found her best view of the ceremony was from the hallway door, where she obtained a reflection of the entire scene through a large old-fashioned mirror, which tilted forward a bit from over the mantle. All the boarders of the home, and all the poet’s friends, including Mr. Thomas W. White and his daughter Eliza, were present. Virginia was attired in a new traveling dress, and…hat. After the ceremony and congratulations the newly wedded entered a hack, waiting on the outside, and went to a train for Petersburg, Va., where they spent their honeymoon…Mrs. Stocking at the time of the wedding was both young and shy, and on the occasion she said, that she could only look, and look about in bewilderment — for in that short ceremony of a few minutes she was picturing her little companion of the day before suddenly transported into matured womanhood; like in the fairy tales, she was wondering why Virginia didn’t grow taller and look different, à la Cinderella; that’s what bothered little Jane Foster the most; but Virginia looked natural, and never changed an iota.”
After the ceremony, the guests ate wedding cake baked by Mrs. Clemm. Then some of the guests accompanied the newlyweds to the train station where they boarded a train to their honeymoon at the home of magazine editor Hiram Haines in Petersburg.
A few days later, on May 20, the Richmond Whig reported, “Married, on Monday May 16th, by the Reverend Mr. Converse, Mr. Edgar A. Poe to Miss Virginia Clemm.” Other papers in Richmond and Norfolk carried similar announcements.
Contemporary accounts attest that Poe was a devoted husband to his adoring wife. Their friend, the poet Frances Osgood, wrote, “Of the charming love and confidence that existed between his wife and himself, always delightfully apparent to me, in spite of the many little poetical episodes, in which the impassioned romance of his temperament impelled him to indulge; of this I cannot speak too earnestly — too warmly. I believe she was the only woman whom he ever truly loved.”
Poe and his wife would be married for eleven years before Virginia succumbed to tuberculosis at the age of twenty-four. Poe followed her just two years later. Though both died in different cities, their remains were reunited over thirty years later, and they are now buried together in Westminster Burying Grounds in Baltimore.
Today marks the 177th anniversary of Poe’s wedding, and it seems appropriate to conclude this post with Poe’s poem “Eulalie,” a tribute to the joys of married life:
EULALIE — A SONG.
I DWELT alone
In a world of moan,
And my soul was a stagnant tide,
Till the fair and gentle Eulalie became my blushing bride —
Till the yellow-haired young Eulalie became my smiling bride.
Ah, less — less bright
The stars of the night
Than the eyes of the radiant girl!
And never a flake
That the vapor can make
With the moon-tints of purple and pearl,
Can vie with the modest Eulalie’s most unregarded curl —
Can compare with the bright-eyed Eulalie’s most humble and careless curl.
Now Doubt — now Pain
Come never again,
For her soul gives me sigh for sigh,
And all day long
Shines, bright and strong,
Astarté within the sky,
While ever to her dear Eulalie upturns her matron eye —
While ever to her young Eulalie upturns her violet eye.
If you are interested in learning more about Poe’s marriage, visit the Poe Museum to see a display of artifacts owned by Virginia Clemm Poe. You can also learn more about Poe’s honeymoon in Petersburg at the May 23 Unhappy Hour when Jeffrey Abugel, author of Edgar Allan Poe’s Petersburg, will be here for a book signing.