Alexandria and the War of 1812

Learn about the dramatic events in the town of Alexandria that occurred during this important episode of American history.

Page updated on Feb 19, 2020 at 4:46 PM

Alexandria and the War of 1812

Johnny Bull Cartoon image
Johnny Bull and the Alexandrians. Political cartoon, William Charles, 1814. (Courtesy, The Lyceum: Alexandria's History Museum.) Alexandrians are shown cowering and pleading with Johnny Bull, a symbol for England. The cartoon ridicules Alexandria's 1814 surrender to the British in the War of 1812. The Alexandrians plead: "Pray Mr. Bull don't be too hard with us -- You know we were always friendly, even in the time of our Embargo!" Their words suggest that British goods may have continued to reach the port of Alexandria during the embargo years.  

The war of 1812, and the five-day occupation of Alexandria by British forces in 1814, had a profound effect on the town and its economy. While war was declared in 1812, it was not until 1814 that it reached Alexandria's shores. On August 29 Alexandrians awoke to find 138 guns of the British squadron "but a few hundred yards from the wharves, and the houses so situated at they might have been laid in ashes in a few minutes," as described by the residents. The British promised not to destroy the town if the citizens surrendered all naval stores, shipping, and merchandise being exported. Alexandria agreed, under much scrutiny by the nation. However, it was thanks to the actions on both sides that the "Old Town" of today is still preserved.

More Resources

Elsewhere on this site 

Other resources 

  • "A British Fleet Sails into Alexandria," by Ted Pulliam; "A Defenseless Alexandria", by Carole L. Herrick (Fall 2007). The Alexandria Chronicle (Spring 2009), a publication of the Alexandria Historical Society
  • Alexandria in the War of 1812. Alexandria History Magazine (1984), pp. 16-23, a publication of the Alexandria Historical Society
  • The Internal Enemy: Slavery and War in Virginia, 1772-1832. C-Span video and transcriptions, September 24, 2013. Alan Taylor talked about his book, in which he recounts the impact that slaves in Virginia had on the War of 1812. In his book, the author reports that upon the British invasion, slaves in Virginia sought their freedom by escaping to British ships moored in the Chesapeake Bay. Once aboard they imparted their understanding of local geography to assist the British Army. Alan Taylor spoke at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello in Charlottesville, Virginia. The Internal Enemy was a finalist for the 2013 National Book Award for non-fiction. In May, 2014, Professor Taylor spoke at The Lyceum, connecting his research for this book with Alexandrians’ own experiences during the War of 1812. The Internal Enemy is available for sale at The Historic Alexandria Museum Store in The Lyceum.

Self-Guided Tours

Walk or bike around Alexandria on self-guided tours of War of 1812 sites. Three Star-Spangled Banner trail signs are installed in City parks.

  • Raise the White Flag is installed in Waterfront Park.
  • Plundered is located in the Torpedo Factory arcade, near the Timeline.
  • Fighting Back is at the base of Shuter's Hill, across from the Callahan Drive crosswalk. 


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