April is National Poetry Month, and although one might not immediately link Delaware to poetry, there were a number of poets who resided in Delaware and plenty of Delaware residents who were lovers of verse. Annie E. Michener was a Wilmington poet who published two works: My Heart Life (1894) and Sprigs of Heartsease (1919). The library owns a manuscript copy of a poem she wrote in 1897 to commemorate the presentation of an historic chair by Thomas F. Bayard. We also own manuscripts of poems written by Emily Bissell, James A. Bayard, George Read (III), Matilda Canby, Anne Parrish, and John Bancroft, among others. Many accomplished Delawareans, known for their contributions to business, politics, and other social causes, had artistic inclinations that are less known, and these poems offer glimpses into their poetic worlds.
A surprise piece of poetry came into my hands as I cataloged a copy of The History of Charlotte Temple, by Susanna Rowson (1814), which was donated to the Society by Anne Parrish (Titzell). Tucked into the pages was an adorably sweet valentine poem, probably written by Ann Cloud, whose signature graces the lining leaves of the book. Though simple in composition, the poem adds to the richness of the history of the book itself. A work of fiction, the book’s plot is apparently based on the real life story of Miss Charlotte Stanley, who was lured away from her comfortable home in England to the United States by Col. John Montressor of the British Army, only to be abandoned and left to her tragic fate to die alone in an unfamiliar country. The book was a success in both England and America, dominating popular fiction for over 150 years.
Ann Cloud was a member of the Cloud family, which had inhabited the Delaware/Pennsylvania region since the late 17th century. Ann Cloud must have been a romantic at heart, as she copied another piece of poetry by Elizabeth Carter, about the “sick’ning heart” and “invading sorrow,” into the lining pages of her book. Although we cannot know who Cloud’s valentine was, or whether their romance ended happily ever after, her unique and personalized book demonstrates the power of poetry to capture fleeting emotion as a moment in history.