The Fort: A Post-Civil War African American Community
After the Civil War, a neighborhood known as The Fort grew up around Fort Ward, one of the Union forts built as part of the Defenses of Washington. But in the 1950s and 1960s, the City moved the residents out of the area to establish the Fort Ward Park and Museum. The City of Alexandria is working on an Interpretive Plan for Fort Ward Park to expand interpretation to include the full range of its history, especially including the African American experience and the post-Civil War Fort community. As part of this effort, archaeological investigations took place in the park between 2009 and 2014.
Fort Ward Interpretive Plan
The City of Alexandria is working on an Interpretive Plan for Fort Ward Park to expand interpretation to include the full range of its history, especially including the African American experience and the post-Civil War Fort community. A Fort Ward Park & Museum Area Management Plan was adopted in 2015.
Research on Fort Ward Park
The first archaeological excavation in Alexandria was conducted in June–July 1961 at Fort Ward. Thirty years later, in 1991, Alexandria Archaeology conducted a second dig. Beginning in 2009, a third investigation, including a ground-penetrating radar survey, took place. City Council granted an additional appropriation in 2011 to produce a history report and complete a second stage of archaeological study. 2011 marks 50 years of archaeology in the City and the 50th anniversary of archaeological work at Fort Ward. Oral history interviews with long-time residents of “The Fort” bring the history to life and the efforts of the Ft. Ward and Seminary African American Descendants Society keep it alive.
The Fort Heritage Trail
Read The Fort Heritage Trail Brochure, or request a printed copy by contacting the Alexandria Archaeology Museum.
See a preview of The Fort Heritage Trail signage at the links below, or visit the sites in Fort Ward Park at 4301 W. Braddock Road.
- From Civil War to Civil Rights. A timeline of the African American community, "The Fort," established here from after the Civil War and continuing into the Civil Rights Era of the 1960s.
- African Americans and the Civil War. Fleeing, fighting and working for freedom.
- Within Its Walls -- A Foundation for Education and Opportunity. The community's children were educated in the one-room "Colored School Building at Seminary, and later at the Seminary School for African Americans.
- The Oakland Baptist Church. Several members of The Fort were founders of the Oakland Baptist Church.
- The Oakland Baptist Church Cemetery. Originally a small family cemetery, the land was conveyed to the Oakland Baptist Church in 1939.
- The Jackson Cemetery. In 1884, James F. Jackson purchased the largest parcel in The Fort. The Jacksons later established a cemetery on part of the land.
Archaeological Investigations of The Fort, 2009-2014
Contemporary interest in the historical significance of Fort Ward Park as a whole and its African American history, as well as a desire to preserve its cultural resources, led to a third archaeological investigation, beginning in 2009. First the City carried out a ground-penetrating radar (GPR) survey to identify unmarked graves and then fieldwork, completed in January 2011—fifty years after the first study—confirmed the presence of many burials. Additional research and family memories chronicle how the Fort neighborhood was lost in the process of the City’s efforts to purchase the land and create the historical park. The 2011 archaeological study documented 22 graves, 19 of which were unmarked, in the Jackson Cemetery on the west side of the fort, the Old Grave Yard adjoining the Oakland Baptist Cemetery, and in the eastern portion of the Park (Adams’ graves). Also discovered were foundations and artifacts associated with one of the earliest households at The Fort—Burr and Harriet Shorts—and an African American school. A cultural resource inventory is also a part of Stage 1.
The City Council approved funding for 2011–2012 Stage 2 to generate a history report, conduct test excavations across the Park to identify sensitive resource areas, and update the cultural resource inventory in preparation for planning activities. Learn more about the latest excavations below.
- Draft Inventory of Historical Resources: Fort Ward Park, City of Alexandria, September 10, 2009
- Report on Ground-Penetrating Radar Surveys: Possible Cemeteries Within Fort Ward Historical Park, Alexandria, Virginia. Sarah Lowry, October 19-20, 2009
- Fort Ward Processes and Timelines , Letter from City of Alexandria to Ad Hoc Stakeholders Advisory Group, December 22, 2010
- Fort Ward Documentary Study and Archaeological Investigation , Alexandria Archaeology, Status Update, December 8, 2010
- Initial Recommendations for Archaeology and History at Fort Ward Park , Alexandria Archaeology, January 2011
- Recommendations for the Management of Fort Ward Historical Park. Ad Hoc Fort Ward Park and Museum Area Ad Hoc Fort Ward Park and Museum Area Stakeholders Advisory Group for the City of Alexandria, Virginia, January 2011.
- Archaeological Investigations at Fort Ward Historical Park, Alexandria, Virginia, 2010–2011 , PowerPoint Presentation, Tom Bodor, The Ottery Group, February 5, 2011
- Archaeological Investigation of Fort Ward/"The Fort" 1961-2011, PowerPoint Presentation, Alexandria Archaeology, October 12, 2011
- Fort Ward Stage 1 Archaeology Survey and Stage 2A Archaeology related to Interim Drainage Project , Alexandria Archaeology, March 2012
- Fort Ward Stage 2 Archaeology Update , Alexandria Archaeology, April 4, 2012
- Update on Stage 2 Archaeological Survey of Fort Ward Park , Alexandria Archaeology, April 24, 2012
- Archaeology Work - Photos, August 24, 2012
- Fort Ward Stage 2 Progress Report – September 11, 2012
- Fort Ward Preliminary Shovel Test Map - September 12, 2012
- Fort Ward Preliminary Civil War Archaeology Resource Map - September 11, 2012
- Fort Ward Stage I and IIA Excavations for Grave Identification - September 12, 2012
- Finding The Fort: A History of an African American Neighborhood in Northern Virginia, 1860s-1960s, By Krystyn R. Moon, 2014 (Revised 2017) Manuscript can be viewed by appointment at Alexandria Archaeology.
Cemeteries and Graves in Fort Ward Park
The following are maps of the archaeological investigations that took place in 2010 and 2012:
- Grave Investigation Areas in Fort Ward Park, 2010-2012 (overview map)
- Results of Grave Investigations in Fort Ward Park, 2010-2012 (overview map)
Maps of Grave Investigation Areas, 2010-2012
- Adams and Clark Burial Areas
- Clark, School/Church/Residence, and Adams/Ruffner Lots
- Craven/Samaritan Lots
- Jackson Cemetery
North and West of Oakland Street
- Old Grave Yard
In commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the start of the Civil War in 1961, the City of Alexandria sponsored its first archaeological investigation. This first excavation was conducted on the northwest bastion of Fort Ward with the aim of recovering and recording enough information to reconstruct the Civil War fortification. A community passion for history led to the preservation of the historically significant fort by City Council, the creation of an historical park, and the establishment of the Fort Ward Museum and Historic Site. Thirty years later, in 1991, Alexandria Archaeology conducted a second dig. Additional Civil War features were discovered along with domestic artifacts post-dating the Civil War. Research turned up deeds and other records confirming that these artifacts once belonged to African Americans who lived at "The Fort" for nearly 100 years.
- 1991 Excavations at Fort Ward. Francine Bromberg, 1991. Alexandria Archaeology Abstracts, No. 1.
- Archaeology in Alexandria: Fort Ward Revisited. Francine Bromberg, Alexandria Archaeology, 1991. Historic Alexandria Antiques Show Catalogue. (Courtesy of Historic Alexandria Foundation) *Also includes “History of Fort Ward” by Wanda S. Dowell.
- Fort Ward, Alexandria, Virginia: Exploratory Excavation of the Northwest Bastion. Edward McM. Larrabee, 1961.
First Person Memories of the Fort and Seminary Communities
Oral history interviews with long-time residents give vivid portraits of black life and the cultural landscape at The Fort and larger Seminary community. These interviews started in the early 1990s and are continuing. Read transcriptions of these first person memories.
- Maydell Casey Belk
- Julia Bradby
- Keating Karig Carrier
- Elizabeth Douglas
- Mary Crozet Wood Johnson
- Charles McKnight
- Edmonia Smith McKnight
- Joseph John Moraski
- Dorothy Hall Smith and Barbara Ashby Gordon
- Sgt. Lee Thomas Young
- Fort Ward Museum and Historic Site
- Facebook page for the Ft. Ward and Seminary African American Descendants Society
- Archaeological Study Reveals Significant Finds At Fort Ward, Haley Crum, AlexandriaNews.org, February 6, 2011
The Virginia Theological Seminary and the African Americans of Fort Ward and “Seminary,” by Adrienne Terrell-Washington, with Research Assistant Magana Kabugi. Power point presented at the Virginia Theological Seminary and Fort & Seminary Churches, 2016. Manuscript can be viewed by appointment at Alexandria Archaeology.