Discovering Alexandria

WETA, the local PBS station, broadcast Discovering Alexandriaits 90-minute (that is, 2 hours, with breaks for pledges) documentary on the history of Alexandria, VA, from its early years through the end of the 1800s. A second program about the 20th century airs next year. In addition to old drawings, maps, and photos, it featured interviews with local historians and archaeologists, including Pam Cressey. She was the city's archaeologist through 2012, and the person who first "introduced" me to Julia Wilbur.

A few things of note from the program related to Wilbur and the time in which she lived:

Alexandria became part of the District of Columbia in the early 1800s, when it seemed that association would prove beneficial economically. The connection with George Washington didn't hurt. Benjamin Banneker started his survey of what would become the District from Jones Point, now a public park near the Wilson Bridge. Indeed, if you look at a map of what was the District, you'll see Alexandria in the lowest point of the diamond. (The "district" encompassed Alexandria, Georgetown, and Washington City, as well as what was then called Alexandria and Washington counties.)

map of District
map of District

When Alexandria's leaders realized that they weren't getting much from the association--and, even more nefariously, it might impinge on its slave-trading business--they "retroceded" and became part of Virginia again.

Two slave traders operated profitably on Duke Street: Bruins and Franklin and Armfield (known by several names as the business changed hands). Both buildings still stand, and I will write about them at another time.

For now, though, consider the image that Audrey Davis, director of the Black History Museum, evoked on the program. She described enslaved people forced to walk down Duke Street toward the wharves, where they would be shipped or marched to New Orleans and other places in the Deep South, deeper into slavery and away from their families.

Finally, another image from the program, when Lance Mallamo, director of the Office of Historic Alexandria, talked about the railroad car that carried the body of Abraham Lincoln to rest in Illinois. It was already being built in Alexandria as a private car for him. As Lance described it, both black and white hands worked on that car, the car that Lincoln never saw and only rode in one time.

Lincoln's Funeral Car
Lincoln's Funeral Car
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