Alexandria and the War of 1812

The years 2012-2015 marked the bicentennial of 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 Jul 4, 2018 at 3:02 PM

The Occupation of 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.

Self-Guided Tours

  • Old Town Walking Tour: War of 1812: Print a PDF map or download the app to guide you as you explore 10 blocks of 1812-related sites. Special Eagle Scout project. 
  • Scavenger Hunt Smartphone App: Experience the British occupation of 1814 through the eyes of the people who witnessed it as you discover new sites and facts in this 9-block scavenger hunt.
  • Star-Spangled Banner Geotrail: Find the Alexandria Geocache.
  • Star-Spangled Bike Tour: Enjoy a 6.6 mile tour of the places associated with the five-day British occupation of Alexandria in late August 1814, including Jones Point and the site of the Virginia militia encampment. Tour information includes Cue Sheet and printable or interactive maps.
  • War of 1812 Burials in the Presbyterian Cemetery: Brochure on the Presbyterian Cemetery & Columbarium, 600 Hamilton Lane, Alexandria, adjacent to the Alexandria National Cemetery. Published by the Old Presbyterian Meeting House.

The Star-Spangled Banner National Historic Trail

Star-Spangled Banner National Historic Trail is a 560-mile land and water route that tells the story of the War of 1812 in the Chesapeake Bay region. It connects historic sites in Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia and commemorates the events leading up to the Battle for Baltimore, the aftermath of which inspired Francis Scott Key to write our National Anthem. The trail traces American and British troop movements, introduces visitors to communities affected by the war, and highlights the Chesapeake region's distinctive landscapes and waterways. Congress established the Star-Spangled Banner Trail in 2008. The trail is one of 19 national historic trails administered by the National Park Service and one of 30 trails in the National Trails System.

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. 

Commemoration:

In 2014, The City of Alexandria and community partners commemorated Alexandria's role in the war through lectures, concerts, and specialty tours, culminating in the Signature Weekend Event. The event marked the conclusion of the War of 1812 Commemoration, with cricket, a wreath-laying ceremony, tug of war, boat tours, and more! During the weekend, three special events will take place as part of the British Challenge -- members of the British Embassy taking on Alexandria in some friendly modern-day competition. 

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