Sarah Helen Whitman was born in her grandfather’s house on January 19, 1803 (six years to the day before Edgar Allan Poe) to parents Nicholas and Anna Power. The house she was born in was located at the corner of South Main and Transit Street, but was demolished a long time ago. What remains there today is a parking lot. She was the second of three children. After her grandfather died in 1808, the Powers and their two daughters (the third, Susan, having yet to be born) lived in various boarding houses in Providence until Nicholas Power set out to sea to make a living after losing his merchant business due to The War of 1812. Nicholas Power was captured by a British fleet shortly after his departure and presumed dead. This is when Anna Power purchased this quaint home at (then) 76 Benefit Street for her and her three daughters. The home served as an adequate nest for the ladies until Anna Power’s oldest daughter, Rebecca Power, married a man named William Staples in 1821 and moved into a home with him just up the road. It was shortly after this in 1824 that Sarah Helen Whitman would begin a considerably long four year engagement with John Winslow Whitman before marrying him in 1828. She would flee her life in Providence to live with him in Boston, leaving her mother and younger sister Susan (who suffered from some form of mental illness). Little did Helen know, she would return to the home a widow in 1833 after John Whitman died after complications from a cold. She moved back in with her mother and sister and lived out the rest of her years in Providence. Her introduction and courtship with Edgar Allan Poe began in 1848.
On June 27, 1878, Sarah Helen Whitman passed away quietly at the home of her friend and caretaker Mrs. Albert Dailey. It was half past nine o’clock when Helen drew her last breath. Her cause of death was “affection of the heart, complicated by other ailments.” She was 75 years old. Helen’s friends were beguiled by her cheerful, uncomplaining manner during her final days. She requested that a formal announcement of her death be sent to the papers AFTER her funeral, and that no invitations be sent out. But this request did not halt so large a turnout. The service took place at the home of Mrs. Dailey at 97 Bowen St, Providence, Rhode Island. Her remains lay in a casket veiled with white cloth, surrounded by an array of gorgeous flowers. A wreath of green leaves and ripened wheat sat at the top of the coffin, while her hands pressed to the breast, a bunch of beautiful roses. The service closed with scriptures read by a Miss. Anna C. Garlin, followed by a recitation of a poem from the works of the departed, “The Angel of Death.” Helen’s remains were interred at the North Burial Ground towards the closing of the afternoon. Her grave was lined completely with laurel and evergreen so that none of the naked earth could be seen, and after her casket was lowered, friends tossed upon it more bunches of greens and each a scatter of flowers. Although Whitman requested that no stone be placed above her remains, Mrs. Albert Dailey (who was also her literary executor at this point) commissioned a “suitable tablet” in her honor. In death, Sarah Helen Whitman was smothered with emblems of immortality that truly reflected the legacy she would hold. “Ave atque Vale.”