Learn more about Alexandria's rich archaeological heritage on #WaterfrontWednesday.

Page updated on Aug 19, 2021 at 11:24 AM


Miss visiting your favorite Historic Alexandria sites? Looking for some fun historic activities to share with your kids at home? Let our staff bring history virtually to you! 

Each weekday for three months we shared new stories and content through #HistoricALX2U - everything from virtual tours of the sites and museums to fun and educational activities. If you missed them the first time around, explore these tours and activities now.

Learn more about Alexandria's rich archaeological heritage on #WaterfrontWednesday.

3D Ship Models

June 24, 2020
Social Media: Waterfront Wednesday June UpdateResearchers at Texas A&M University’s Conservation Research Lab are working hard on documenting three historic ships found at the Robinson Terminal South Site (44X235). They’ve made great progress on the 3D models for two of the vessels (Ships #2 and #3). These digital models will help us learn more about the size and shape of the ships and what they may have been used for in the past.  #HistoricALX2U 

June Update: Ship Documentation and Model Progress 

What is a Shoreline?

June 17, 2020

Social Media: Waterfront Wednesday What is a Shoreline

What exactly is a shoreline and where is it located? This seemingly simple question is actually very hard to answer. The shoreline is a fluid (pun intended) entity. On maps it is often depicted as a static line, unchanging in both time and space. In reality, a shoreline is shifting all of the time, subject to tidal forces, erosion, and precipitation. A mapmaker may depict a shoreline as representing any number of natural features—the bluff line, the high water mark, the low marker, and so on. Check out these brief research excerpts to further ponder the nature of shorelines in our city. #WhatIsaShoreline     

Pondering Shorelines, part 2

Historic Shorelines

June 10, 2020
Social Media: Waterfront Wednesday ShorelinesWhile a constant influence in Alexandria’s story past and present, the waterfront is also a natural feature that is always shifting. Starting this #waterfrontwednesday and for the next few weeks, we are going to ponder the nature of shorelines. For Alexandria, the Potomac River is the boundary between our city, the District of Columbia and the state of Maryland. While a boundary, it also served as a connection to the rest of the world. This natural element was, and still is, a critical part of the local economy, to be developed and shaped to meet the financial interests of the landowners and city.  

Pondering Shorelines, part 1

Newspaper Advertisements

May 27, 2020
Social Media: Waterfront Wednesday Gazette QuoteNewspaper advertisements also provide us with important information about Alexandria’s changing shoreline. A July 11, 1793 Virginia Gazette and Alexandria Advertiser notice describes the boundaries of a property south of the foot of Duke Street. This portion of Fleming’s wharf for sale “fronts the River Patowmack 55 ½ feet or thereabouts ... and extends back 110 feet or thereabouts.” Pairing this description with other documents that describe the eastern boundary of the property just to the west helps us understand how far land extended into the Potomac at this time and location. Historical research involves piecing together a lot of little nuggets of information to create a bigger picture of the past. Understanding when the Alexandria's shoreline was filled in will also help us better understand when the merchant ships were buried. #HistoricALX2U #MuseumFromHome #PreservationMonth

Early Documents Relating to When Ships at the Robinson Terminal South Site Were Buried

Court Cases

Social Media: Waterfront Wednesday 1788 PlatMay 20, 2020
Court cases are also an important line of evidence for understanding how Alexandria’s shoreline changed in the 18th and 19th centuries. When disagreements arise over property boundaries, the courts often get involved to help solve the discrepancy.  For example in the 1780s, Richard Arell disputed the location of the eastern boundary of Lot 69 where it abutted the western boundary of a City owned waterfront lot on Point Lumley. A few decades earlier the original eastern boundary of Lot 69 was the “very perpendicular and broken” bluffs above the Potomac. By the 1780s this bluff line appears to have been cut down and banked out, rendering the precise location of Lot 69’s eastern boundary unclear.  This plat surveyed for Arell v. the Mayor of Alexandria shows both the public warehouse on the City owned waterfront lot and Lot 69.  #WaterfrontWednesday  #HistoricALX2U #MuseumFromHome  #PreservationMonth

Learn more about the waterfront

Shoreline Deeds

May 13, 2020

Social Media: Waterfront Wednesday Shoreline DeedsBesides maps, archaeologists and historians use deeds and leases to better understand when and how Alexandria’s shoreline changed. Maps capture specific points in time and often depict multiple blocks or the entire waterfront area. Deeds and leases can capture more refined information, helping them more accurately pinpoint who initiated the alteration of a waterfront lot and when. However, deeds can be incredibly frustrating because many of those for shoreline lots from the 18th century simply describe the eastern boundary of the lot as being the river, with no indication of how far out the property extended. This vague description of a waterfront lot’s boundaries is typical for the time. #WaterfrontWednesday #HistoricALX2U #MuseumFromHome #PreservationMonth  

Reaching for the Channel: Some Documentary and Archaeological Evidence of Extending Alexandria’s Waterfront - Steven J. Shephard

Historic Maps of the Shoreline

May 6, 2020
Social Media: Waterfront Wednesday MapsAlexandria’s shoreline has changed a great deal since the 18th century. Early residents filled in what was once a shallow cove between Oronoco and Duke Streets in order to make additional land and reach deeper water. So how do we know just how much land they made?  One way is by comparing historic maps over time. This 1749 map shows the minimally altered shoreline of the city running in a gentle arc from West’s Point to the north down to Point Lumley.  This 1798 map shows dramatic changes to the shoreline. In 50 years, Alexandrians created several blocks of new land along the Potomac River, changing both the physical landscape and the City’s economic prospects.  #waterfrontwednesday #HistoricALX2U #MuseumFromHome #PreservationMonth

Historic shoreline research 

Waterlogged Organic Material

April 29, 2020
Social Media: Waterfront Wednesday Hand ToolWhile assessing waterlogged organic material from the Robinson Terminal South Site (44AX235), archaeologists found this wood and metal gimlet or punch! This type of hand tool was likely used to drill small holes. It was also excavated in Feature 125, a roughly 42 by 25 foot, stone and wood foundation, along Wolfe Street. As a composite object made of both metal and wood, this object will require a little extra TLC during the conservation process to meet the needs of both material types. #waterfrontwednesday #HistoricALX2U #MuseumFromHome 

Waterfront History

A Wooden Trowel

April 22, 2020
Social Media: Waterfront Wednesday TrowelWhile assessing waterlogged organic material from the Robinson Terminal South Site (44AX235), we came across this amazing wooden trowel! It was excavated within Feature 125, a roughly 42 by 25 foot, stone and wood foundation, along Wolfe Street. The foundation was likely for a dwelling and dates to the 18th century or early 19th century. #waterfrontwednesday #MuseumFromHome #HistoricALX2U 

Archaeology on the Waterfront

Freedom House Research: 1830 Census Records

April 15, 2020
Social Media: Census ResearchA valuable source for Freedom House and studying the domestic slave trade are government records like the Census. The 1830 US Census recorded 147 people at the Franklin and Armfield slave pen on June 1, 1830, including two white males, likely employees of the firm, and 145 enslaved people. When combined with evidence from newspapers and shipping records, it is possible these enslaved men, women, and children were held here temporarily before marching overland in a coffle to the Deep South. Visit our links below for more information on this research in progress. Join us for Spring2ACTion as we raise funds and work toward bringing more of these stories to light. #HistoricALX2U #MuseumFromHome


Freedom House Research

Freedom House Research: Ship Manifest

April 8, 2020
Social Media: Waterfront Wednesday Ship Manifest#Spring2ACTion is one week away! Historic Alexandria is raising funds to preserve the Freedom House Museum. Our staff has been working hard to research the complex history of this property and its role in the domestic slave trade. This work will allow us to interpret the site in a holistic and nuanced manner. 

This ship manifest lists the names of 92 enslaved people sold by the firm of Franklin & Armfield in Alexandria to Isaac Franklin in New Orleans aboard the Brig Uncas in 1833. Once in New Orleans, these people were then sold again to farms and plantations throughout the South. From 1828 to 1837, Isaac Franklin and John Armfield operated what quickly became the country's largest slave-trading firm out of their Alexandria offices at 1315 Duke Street. After Franklin & Armfield, the site served as the headquarters for a series of slave-trading businesses until May 1861. 

The Uncas, owned by Franklin & Armfield, left Alexandria on October 30th, 1833 and arrived in New Orleans four weeks later on November 29th. Manifests like these were required in accordance with the Act Prohibiting the Importation of Slaves of 1807, which outlawed the international slave trade in the United States. The act required the captain of each ship engaging in the still-legal domestic slave trade to provide a manifest listing the name, sex, age, height, and a racial description of each person being transported along with a statement swearing that the people listed were not imported into the United States after January 1st, 1808. They also provide information about the ship, the captain, and the buyer and seller of the enslaved people onboard.  

Historic Alexandria has collected more than 100 ship manifests documenting voyages originating in the Port of Alexandria. Documents like this one reveal the scale of the domestic slave trade and record the names of some of the people affected by it. #HistoricALX2U #WaterfrontWednesday 

Donate to Spring2ACTion

Complete manifest from Smithsonian

Civil War Hospitals

April 2, 2020
Social Media: Waterfront Wednesday Civil War MedicineOn today’s #WaterfrontWednesday, we send a huge thanks to all medical professionals working tirelessly to care for our community. As a port and rail hub, Alexandria adapted during the Civil War to meet the critical care needs of wounded soldiers from the front lines. One aide highlighted the state of things in 1862, “Their wounds had been well dressed & they said they were well cared, they have plenty of blankets, &...” Thank you for always rising to the challenge! #HistoricALX2U #MuseumFromHome  #MuseumsThankHealthHeroes 

Interactive map of Alexandria’s Civil War hospitals  

Archaeology on the Waterfront: Conservation of Waterlogged Wood and Leather

March 25, 2020
Social Media: Waterfront Wednesday 44AX235Earlier this year, archaeologists spent a   #WaterfrontWednesday looking at soggy wood and leather, assessing this type of waterlogged organic material found at the Robinson Terminal South Site (44AX235). Working piece by piece, they have assigned conservation priorities to over 1,000 artifacts based on their provenience, level of integrity, and future research and exhibition value. This will guide future conservation plans for the material. #HistoricALX2U #MuseumFromHome  

Archaeology on the Waterfront