Finding Poe – Edgar Allan Poe at Fort Moultrie

Sometimes you find history where you least expect it. Or in the case of Edgar Allan Poe and Fort Moultrie, you find a history different than what you expected.

This summer my family spent a week on Isle of Palms, one of South Carolina’s barrier islands. On one of the many rain filled days, we visited Fort Moultrie, located just a few miles away on Sullivan’s Island, hoping for an afternoon of Civil War history. Headed southwest down Middle Street we passed Poe’s Tavern, it’s sign adorned with a Raven. I thought about stopping for lunch there, but the line was out the door.

Another sign directing visitors to Edgar Allan Poe Library left me wondering why the fascination with the American literary great on such a quaint, out of the way spot at the northern entrance to Charleston Harbor. Having never read Poe’s short story The Gold-Bug, which I was to learn is set in Sullivan’s Island, I was unaware the island had a legitimate claim to Mr. Poe.

The National Park Service now runs Fort Moultrie, its cannons long silenced. As it turns out, for 13 months Mr. Poe was a resident of Fort Moultrie and, by his association with the Army, Sullivan’s Island.

Entrance to Fort Moultrie, Sullivan's Island

According to the National Park Service Brochure I picked up at the visitors center, Poe enrolled in the University of Virginia in 1826, but dropped out that same year having accumulated some $2,500 in gambling debts. He enlisted in the Army the following year, using  the assumed name of Edgar A. Perry. In October 1827 he was assigned to Fort Moultrie.

View of Fort Moultrie Looking West

Fort Moultrie is one of several forts that line the South Carolina shoreline. Fort Sumter sits at the entrance to Charleston Harbor, less than a mile southwest of Fort Moultrie.

Fort Sumter, South Carolina, As Seen From Fort Moultrie

During his time in the Army, Poe was assigned to Battery H and attained the rank of Regimental Sergeant-Major.

A Smoothbore Cannon, The Type Edgar Allan Poe May Have Used

While at Fort Moultrie, Poe lived in barracks constructed in 1809. All that remains now of the barracks is their long rectangular foundation. The barracks were razed by Confederate soldiers in 1863 out of fear that they might be hit by shells, thus presenting the danger of flying debris.

Foundation of 1809 Barracks at Fort Moultrie, Where Edgar Allan Poe Once Lived

One building that remains from Poe’s time at Fort Moultrie is the powder magazine.

Powder Magazine at Fort Moultrie

Also remaining is a traverse built in 1820. The traverse is made of solid brick and protects the powder magazine from enemy projectiles.

Fort Moultrie Traverse, Meant to Protect Powder Magazine

A wine cellar, built within the lower inner parade ground in 1809, also remains. During the Civil War, the cellar took a direct hit from Union artillery.

Fort Moultrie Wine Cellar

Having learned of Poe’s connection to Sullivan’s Island, I purchased in the visitors center a copy of the Gold-Bug & Other Tales, which I can now say I have read. According to island legend, a tulip tree mentioned by Poe in The Gold-Bug sits only two miles east of Fort Moultrie, at the intersection of Goldbug Avenue and Station 27 Street. On my next visit to Sullivan’s Island I will be sure to take a picture of that tree and hopefully stop for a drink at Poe’s Tavern, assuming I get there early enough.

6 Responses to 'Finding Poe – Edgar Allan Poe at Fort Moultrie'

  1. Caroline Fuchs says:

    David. Thanks for the tale of poe–one of my favorite authors. Pity that you didn’t get in the tavern. Nevermore

    • David Stinson says:

      Hello Caroline

      My tell tale heart tells me I might still make it to Poe’s Tavern, someday.

  2. I happened across this post because I have Google alerts set to “Finding Poe,” the title to one of my novels. I thought I’d leave a note expressing a stranger’s appreciation for the new Poe info this post provided. I had no idea the setting for “The Gold Bug” was based on an actual location. It would certainly be fun to visit the place with the story in mind.

    • David Stinson says:

      Hello Leigh

      Thank you for the post. I have a couple more blogs about Poe that I will be sharing later on. Seems I kept running into him at various times during the summer (in Baltimore and Richmond) – hence the “Finding Poe” moniker for the blog. Best of luck with your book. Let me know if you are interested in a book swap. DBS

  3. Roger Bow says:

    Thanks so much for this great and informative piece David. I am a huge Poe fan from New York and have been to numerous Poe sites such as Baltimore, Philadelphia and right here in the Bronx. I am attending a wedding in Charleston in November and plan on having lunch at Poe’s Tavern en route to Fort Moultrie. The photos of the Fort are great. I will attempt to mimic them for myself and post some additional shots. Good info on the Tulip Tree. If my family hangs in there for me, I will seek out aforementioned literary reference. wish me luck!

    • David Stinson says:

      Hello Roger

      Thank you for your kind words. I’m glad to know that you will be using the blog info during your trip to Charleston this Fall. I should in the next few weeks be posting more info about Poe – specifically his years in Richmond, including a picture of the church and marker where is mother is buried. Please let me know how your trip to Charleston goes. And good luck keeping the family in tow (rhymes with Poe). DBS

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