Early American History in Alexandria
The history of Alexandria reads like a "Who's Who of American History." George Washington, George Mason and Robert E. Lee are just a few famous Americans who had a hand in the heritage of this city, founded by hardworking Scottish merchants.
In 1669, Scotsman John Alexander purchased the land of present-day Alexandria from an English ship captain for "six thousand pounds of Tobacco and Cask." By the 18th century, this area had become a prominent center for the export of the profitable crop tobacco. In the fall of 1748, several area landholders and businessmen petitioned the Virginia General Assembly to establish a town in order to increase the amount of tobacco being shipped from the area. By spring, the landowners, led by Scotsmen William Ramsay and John Carlyle, succeeded in establishing the town. It was named Alexandria, in honor of John Alexander.
Incorporated in 1749, Alexandria became a busy seaport filled with brigs, schooners and ships of the line that traversed the high seas en route to England and the Caribbean. The streets were lined with substantial brick houses, and the "sound of the hammer and trowel were at work everywhere." In 1796, a visitor, the Duke de La Rochefoucauld Liancourt, commented that "Alexandria is beyond all comparison the handsomest town in Virginia-indeed is among the finest in the United States."
Sparking a Revolution
In the years leading up to the American Revolution, Alexandria was one of the major colonial trading centers and ports. On April 14, 1755, five Royal Governors of the Colonies met with British General Edward Braddock at his headquarters, the Carlyle House, to discuss ways to fund British military campaigns in the French and Indian War. A tax on "all his Majesty's dominions in America" was recommended to the British Parliament and became the first Colonial Tax. This meeting sparked 20 years of civil unrest in the colonies that ultimately led to the Revolutionary War. The succession of taxes that followed fanned the flames of colonial resentment against England and cries of "taxation without representation" began to sound, rallying the colonists against the crown.
In response, local leaders like George Washington and George Mason met at the Court House in Alexandria on July 18, 1774. Here, Mason's Fairfax Resolves were adopted, which called for an end to trade with England. In 1775, tensions in the colonies reached a boiling point, igniting a six-year war for independence from England.