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1608 Map of Virginia, John Smith
1746 Survey Plat
1748 “Plan of the Land where on Stands the Townof Alexandria.” George Washington
1749 “A Plan of Alexandria now Belhaven.” George Washington
1782 “Camp a’Alexandrie Le 17 Juillet 15 Millesde Clochester [sic].” Comte de Rochambeau
1798 “Plan of the Town of Alexandria in theDistrict of Columbia.” Colonel George Gilpin
In 1654, Dame Margaret Brent obtained a patent for a 700-acre plot in what is now Alexandria. In 1669, Governor Berkeley awarded an overlapping land grant to Robert Howson, an English ship captain. This tract extended along the Potomac River, from Hunting Creek on the south to the Little Falls on the north. Less than a month later, Howson sold the land to Scotsman John Alexander. The town was later named for the Alexander family.
In the 17th century, plantations could be found along the Potomac River in Northern Virginia. By 1732, Hugh West had established a tobacco warehouse on high bluffs overlooking a small but deep bay, at what is today the foot of Oronoco Street in Alexandria. The Tobacco Inspection Act of 1732 designated West's warehouse as the official inspection point for this area. Hugh West oversaw the warehouse along with a ferry and tavern, while Philip and John Alexander farmed much of the surrounding land. To facilitate shipping, Scottish and English merchants petitioned the Virginia General Assembly in the fall of 1748 to establish a town at West's Hunting Creek Warehouse. In the spring of 1749, this site was selected and the new town was named Alexandria. John West, Fairfax County surveyor, laid out 60 acres (by tradition, assisted by 17-year-old George Washington), and lots were auctioned off in July 1749.
The new town of Alexandria thrived for the next few decades and attracted a growing variety of skilled craftsmen, small industries, and many taverns. During the mid-1750s, the town was a staging area for British troops involved in the French and Indian War. English General Braddock made his headquarters in Alexandria and occupied the Carlyle House while planning his campaign against the French in 1755. In 1763, another land sale was held, greatly increasing the size of the community. Twenty years later, more new land was created by filling in part of the Potomac shoreline, allowing merchants to build wharves which reached ocean-going vessels in the river’s deep water channel. Lots all over town were subdivided repeatedly by their owners who rented space to dozens of different types of skilled artisans, grocers and small merchants, tavern keepers and other tradesmen. The population included many slaves as well as free blacks.
Incorporated in 1779, Alexandria became a port of entry for foreign vessels and a major export center for flour and hemp. By the end of the 18th century, Alexandria was among the ten busiest ports in America and had been designated an official port of entry. Streets were lined with substantial brick houses. Alexandria's political, social, and commercial interests were of great importance to many local residents, including George Mason, John Wise, and George Washington. While his main residence was at Mount Vernon eight miles to the south, Washington maintained a town house here and served as a Trustee of Alexandria. Washington also purchased a pew in Christ Church, served as Worshipful Master of Alexandria Masonic Lodge No. 22, and shipped his wheat and fish through Alexandria merchants.
In 1789, Alexandria and a portion of Fairfax County were ceded by the State of Virginia to become a part of the new 10-mile-square District of Columbia. Formally accepted by Congress in 1801, Alexandria remained under the aegis of the new federal government until it was retroceded to Virginia in 1847.
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See an Interactive Timeline for more on many of these 20th century events. Courtesy of the Office of Historic Alexandria and the Alexandria Convention and Visitors Association.
Discovering the Decades places Alexandria’s history in the context of U.S. history. Originally published in the Alexandria Archaeology Volunteer News, 1999.
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Selected listings from the Alexandria Archaeology BIbliography.
Adams, Robert M 1996 - The Archaeological Investigation of the Former Preston Plantation and Alexandria Canal at Potomac Yard. Alexandria, Virginia. International Archaeological Consultants, Hayes, Virginia.The former location of the Alexander family’s Preston plantation and cemetery, dating to the early 1700s.Artemel, Janice G. Elizabeth Crowell, Donald A. Hull and Dennis Knepper 1988 - A Phase IIA Archaeological Study, Old Ford Plant Site, Alexandria, Virginia. Appendices. Engineering-Science, Inc., Washington, D.C.Testing uncovered large buried timbers associated with the 18th-century wharf.Engineering-Science, Inc.1993 - Maritime Archaeology at Keith's Wharf and Battery Cove (44AX119): Ford's Landing, Alexandria, Virginia Chapters I-VI - Chapters VII-X - Appendices Washington, D.C. This report includes extensive research on wharf construction.Foss, Robert M.1974 - Excavations at Gadsby's Tavern, Alexandria, Virginia.The courtyard showed evidence 18th-century outbuildings.Hurst, Gwen J.2000 - Archival Investigations of 101 Wales Alley, City of Alexandria, Virginia. Thunderbird Archeological Associates, Inc., Woodstock, Virginia.This was the site of a wharf adjacent to Fitzgerald’s Warehouse.John Milner Associates1979 - The Historic Structure Report for Christ Church, Alexandria, Virginia. West Chester, Pennsylvania.This Historic Structure Report of the “Church of Alexandria,” built in 1773 and attended by George Washington.Knepper, Dennis A. and Kimberly Prothro1989 - Historical and Archaeological Investigation of Roberdeau's Wharf at Harborside, Alexandria, Virginia. Engineering-Science, Inc., Washington, D.C.Wharf and rum distillery owned by Daniel Roberdeau. By 1791, the old distillery served as a warehouse and sail loft.Morton, Brown W. III1984 - A Report on the Structural Condition and State of Deterioration of the Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Shop Museum, 105-107 South Fairfax Street, Alexandria, Virginia.Among the oldest preserved apothecaries in the United States and the only apothecary in Virginia to operate continuously from the 18th–20th century (1796–1933).Schweigert, Kurt P.1998 - West End. Prepared for Norfolk Southern Corporation (Carlyle Project).West End Village was a small community on Duke StreetTolson, Sarah1980 - Carlyle House Archaeology Project Final Report, Draft 2. Manuscript. Carlyle House, Alexandria, Virginia.This report detailed the 1753 house’s construction and design influences and a history of the property Results of the archaeological investigation included such features as well shafts and privies with artifacts dating from the time of John Carlyle.Williams, Martha R.2005 - Phase I and II Archeological Investigations at Cameron Farm (44AX182) and Cameron Mills (44AX112), Hoffman Properties, Alexandria, Virginia. R. Christopher Goodwin & Associates, Inc., Frederick, Maryland. Appendices. There were two adjoining mills by 1798. Excavated were foundations of both mill buildings, portions of a mill race, and a small pier on the old shoreline of Hunting Creek.Williams, Martha R.2004 - Data Recovery at the West Family Cemetery (44AX183) Block 2, Hoffman Properties, Alexandria, Virginia. Appendices. R. Christopher Goodwin & Associates, Inc., Frederick, Maryland. Public Summary Archaeologists found the West family burial vault, seven associated burials, and seven graves outside the vault. Osteological studies tentatively identified the remains of four individuals in the vault as Hugh West’s wife, Sybil, and their children.
Adams, Robert M
Artemel, Janice G. Elizabeth Crowell, Donald A. Hull and Dennis Knepper
Testing uncovered large buried timbers associated with the 18th-century wharf.
This report includes extensive research on wharf construction.
Foss, Robert M.
The courtyard showed evidence 18th-century outbuildings.
Hurst, Gwen J.
This was the site of a wharf adjacent to Fitzgerald’s Warehouse.
John Milner Associates
This Historic Structure Report of the “Church of Alexandria,” built in 1773 and attended by George Washington.
Knepper, Dennis A. and Kimberly Prothro
Wharf and rum distillery owned by Daniel Roberdeau. By 1791, the old distillery served as a warehouse and sail loft.
Morton, Brown W. III
Among the oldest preserved apothecaries in the United States and the only apothecary in Virginia to operate continuously from the 18th–20th century (1796–1933).
Schweigert, Kurt P.
West End Village was a small community on Duke Street
This report detailed the 1753 house’s construction and design influences and a history of the property Results of the archaeological investigation included such features as well shafts and privies with artifacts dating from the time of John Carlyle.
Williams, Martha R.
There were two adjoining mills by 1798. Excavated were foundations of both mill buildings, portions of a mill race, and a small pier on the old shoreline of Hunting Creek.
Archaeologists found the West family burial vault, seven associated burials, and seven graves outside the vault. Osteological studies tentatively identified the remains of four individuals in the vault as Hugh West’s wife, Sybil, and their children.
Selected resources on the Historic Alexandria Waterfront.
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Office of Historic Alexandria
Lloyd House220 North Washington StreetAlexandria, VA 22314703.746.4554Fax: 703.838.6451Email
Office HoursMonday - Friday8 a.m. to 5 p.m.