Sartain was a colleague and friend of Edgar Allan Poe. Around July 2, 1849, about four months before Poe's death, the author unexpectedly visited Sartain's house in Philadelphia. Looking "pale and haggard" with "a wild and frightened expression in his eyes", Poe told Sartain that he was being pursued and needed protection; Sartain worried he was suicidal. Poe asked for a razor so that he could shave off his moustache to become less recognizable. Sartain offered to cut it off himself using scissors. Poe had said he had overheard people while on the train who were conspiring to murder him. Sartain asked why anyone would want to kill him, Poe answered it was "a woman trouble." Poe gave Sartain a new poem, "The Bells", which was published in Sartain's Union Magazine in November 1849, a month after Poe's death. Sartain's also included the first authorized printing of "Annabel Lee", also posthumous.
Sartain had charge of the art department of the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, in 1876; took a prominent part in the work of the committee on the Washington Memorial, by Rudolf Siemering, in Fairmount Park, Philadelphia; designed medallions for the monument to George Washington and Lafayette erected in 1869 in Monument Cemetery, Philadelphia; and was a member of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and a cavaliere of the Royal Equestrian Order of the Crown of Italy.
His Reminiscences of a Very Old Man (New York, 1899) are of unusual interest. Of his children William Sartain (1843-1924), landscape and figure painter, was born at Philadelphia on the 21st of November 1843, studied under his father and under Leon Bonnat, Paris, was one of the founders of the Society of American Artists, and became an associate of the National Academy of Design. Another son, Samuel Sartain (1830-1906), and a daughter, Emily Sartain (1841-1927), who in 1886 became principal of the Philadelphia School of Design for Women, were also American artists.