Young Eliza Arnold from England acted already as a child in Birmingham and other towns
outside of London, England. She lived with her mother, Elizabeth Arnold, since her father died
when she was only two years old. January the third 1796 they arrived with the ship
Outram in Boston. Three months later she made her debut on stage in Boston and
despite the fact that she was only nine years old she received good criticism:
"...exeeded all praise, Although a Miss of only nine years old, her powers as an actress would
do credit to any of her sex of maturer age."
Eliza and her mother joined a theater troup called the Charleton Comedians which was
lead by the actor manager Mr Edgar. When the troup traveled through North Carolina, Eliza's
mother died leaving her without parents at the age of eleven.
Eliza grew more and more popular in the theater scene and at the age of fifteen she
already knew more than 70 different parts. She was most famous for her excellent voice and a
letter to a Philadelphia newspaper stated:
"...a short time, she will be unequalled in her profession with regard to her vocal powers"
At age 15 she married the actor Charles Hopkins in Alexandria, Virginia and she played
the Virginia circuit for three years known as Mrs Hopkins. Hopkins died in Washington only
about twenty years old and Eliza resumed her career in Richmond, Virginia now 18 years old.
She often played the husband of the actor and dancer David Poe Jr., 21, who had just
returned to the stage from his Law studies, against his family's wishes. The two married in
1806 and Eliza now appeared as "Mrs Poe", they played Philadelphia and New York and
finally settled in Boston where they stayed for three years. David who apparently was a
mediocre actor received bad criticism for his work, while Eliza was very much praised for her
talents. She got leading roles such as Ophelia in Hamlet and Juliet in Romeo and Juliet. The
Poes also became very close friends with a married couple, the Ushers, with whom they
January 30, 1807, they had a son named William Henry Leonard and during the third
year in Boston they had a second son who they named Edgar, probably after the actor
manager of the Charleton Comedians. Eliza appeared on stage during her pregnancy and did
not get off the stage until about ten days before Edgar was born, January 19, 1809. Three
weeks later she was seen on stage again.
The economy of the Poes was strained by the birth of Edgar, and David went to
baltimore to his parents, probably bringing the kids with him. On the way he stopped at
Stockerton Pennsylvania to visit George Poe Jr who had married well and was prospering,
George did not meet David and David wrote him a letter asking for financial support which
George refused him and stated that he never wished to hear from David again.
After the Poe's third year in Boston they moved to New York in the summer of 1809.
David continued getting lousy reviews and tried unsuccessfully to threaten the critics. He was
ridiculed by the press and after only six weeks in New York left the theater company and
Eliza and their two children. No one knows what happened to David after that.
Eliza, now 22, played New York for nine month, until the closing of the season in July.
Some benefit performances were thrown for the lonely Eliza and the help was very much
needed especially since she gave birth to a girl, Rosalie, in December 1810. A Boston playbill for the one of these performances arranged by the Ushers, "The Curfew" can be seen here.
The summer of 1811 she became ill and finally quit acting in October the same year. By
November she had become a charity case and David's relatives were not willing to help her.
Only 24 years old she had been orphaned, widowed, remarried, and deserted and was
surrounded by her three children on her death bed. She died December 8, 1811 leaving her
three children without parents. She was buried at the steep slope of Richmond's Church Hill, in
the graveyard of St John's Church.
Her oldest son, about 5, retained a lock of her hair but she had not much else to give
her orphans. Edgar, nearly three, got a miniature portrait of Eliza and a watercolor sketch of
the Boston Harbor - in the back it was written:
"For my little son Edgar, who should ever love Boston the place of his birth, and where his
mother found her best and most sympathetic friends"