Edgar Allan Poe Stationed at Fort Independence

Edgar Allan Poe, the famed poet and author, served briefly in the military as a teenager, under the alias “Edgar A. Perry,” and was stationed for five months at Fort Independence in Boston harbor.

Poe, who was born in Boston but grew up in Richmond, joined the military in 1827 at the age of 18, although he listed his age at the time as 22.

According to the book, Everything Edgar Allan Poe, Poe lied about his age was so he could avoid having to obtain his parent’s consent to join the military, something that was required of all recruits under the age of 21.

Yet other sources indicate he concealed his real age, as well as his real name, to avoid the numerous gambling debts he had accrued.

Edgar Allen Poe

Edgar Allen Poe

After enlisting, Poe was sent to Fort Independence in the summer of 1827.

During his short stay at the fort, it is believed Poe heard about a famous duel that occurred there in December of 1817 during which a soldier, Lieutenant Robert F. Massie, was killed.

The legend says that Massie was so popular among his fellow soldiers that they attacked his killer, Lieutenant Gustavus Drane, and sealed him up within a vault in the fort.

Rumor has it that this story later served as the inspiration for Poe’s short story “The Cask of Amontillado.”

It is a documented fact that a duel occurred there at the fort in 1817 and it resulted in Massie’s death. Massie was buried at the fort and his grave was marked by a marble tombstone, although his grave was later moved to Fort Devens.

Yet the story of Drane being walled up inside the fort is pure fiction. In fact, Drane actually continued his military career after the duel and later rose to the rank of Captain. He passed away in 1846 and his death was recorded in the U.S. Army Register that year.

Illustration of Fort Independence, circa 1852

Illustration of Fort Independence, circa 1852

Although Drane was never walled up in the fort, several sources, such as “The Complete Illustrated Guidebook to Boston’s Public Parks and Gardens” indicate that during renovations at the fort in 1905, a skeleton was found chained to the wall of an abandoned casement inside the fort.

The skeleton was reportedly wearing scraps of an old military uniform.

As the fort was used as a state prison from 1785 until 1805, it is highly possible the skeleton could have belonged to a former prisoner, although it was never officially identified.

If the discovery of the skeleton in 1905 is true, there may be a small grain of truth to the legend after all.

Marcus, Jon. The Complete Illustrated Guidebook to Boston’s Public Parks and Gardens. Silver Lining Books, 2002.
Bloomfield, Shelley Costa. Everything Edgar Allan Poe Book: The Life, Times, and Work of a Tormented Genius. Adams Media, 2007.
Snow, Edward Rowe. Islands of Boston Harbor. Commonwealth Editions, 2002.
Johnson, Benjamin. “Fort Independence.” The Massachusetts Historical Society, www.masshist.org/object-of-the-month/objects/fort-independence-2005-06-01

Edgar Allan Poe Stationed at Fort Independence

About Rebecca Beatrice Brooks

Rebecca Beatrice Brooks is the author and publisher of the History of Massachusetts Blog. Rebecca is a freelance journalist and history lover who got her start in journalism working for small-town newspapers in Massachusetts and New Hampshire after she graduated from the University of New Hampshire with a B.A. in journalism. Visit this site's About page to find out more about Rebecca.

3 thoughts on “Edgar Allan Poe Stationed at Fort Independence

  1. Rob V

    Great article. However, Poe was raised not in Baltimore but in Richmond and in England. And it’s true: no legitimate Poe scholar (that I know anyway) really believes that this Castle Island duel has anything to do with “The Cask of Amontillado.” My guess is that the rumor connecting the stories comes from overzealous tour guides.

  2. MarkB

    Work on the current stone fort wasn’t begun until 1833, after Poe had come and gone. Before that it was log and earthenworks. So sealing a man up in a vault wasn’t likely, and any skeleton found later couldn’t be from that earlier period.

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