Alexandria History

Alexandria, founded in 1749, has a fascinating history, and many of its historic buildings are still preserved today.

Page updated on May 28, 2016 at 1:24 PM

Soldiers' Rest, detail 

Alexandria in the Civil War: U.S. Military Railroad roundhouse and Union soldiers’ barracks south of Duke Street. (Detail from “SOLDIERS REST, ALEXANDRIA, VA.” Lithographic print by Charles Magnus, 1864.) 


Johnny Bull Cartoon image 

JOHNNYBULL 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. 

    During its long history, Alexandria was a tobacco trading post, one of the ten busiest ports in America, a part of the District of Columbia, home to both the largest slave-trading firm in the country and a large free-black community, a Civil War supply center for Union troops, and a street-car suburb for Federal workers. Alexandria was also the hometown of George Washington, Robert E. Lee, Jim Morrison and Mama Cass. Learn more about Alexandria history from A Brief History of Alexandria, or from the more in-depth topics below.

    Index of Historic Resources

    These Historic Alexandria web pages include synopses of historical topics and links to related sources.

    Conducting Research in Historic Alexandria

    Historic Alexandria provides a list of resources for Conducting Research on your property, genealogy, or local history. The Alexandria Library, Local History division is the best place to start your research. For certain records, the knowledgeable research librarians may refer you to the Archives and Records Center, the Clerk of the Circuit Court, the Library of Congress, the National Archives, or to one of the Historic Alexandria Museums.


    Alexandria commemorated two important anniversaries in the history of our country and our city: the Civil War Sesquicentennial (2011-2015), and the War of 1812 Bicentennial (2012-2015).

    • The Civil War: Witness to war and reunion, Alexandria's place in Civil War history is truly unique. The occupation of Alexandria by Union troops forever changed the social, cultural and economic fabric of the old seaport town. For four years Alexandria was an occupied city; enduring the longest military occupation by Union troops of any town during the conflict. The Office of Historic Alexandria is commemorating the Civil War Sesquicentennial through special events and exhibits, and by pulling together resources on the history of Alexandria in the Civil War.
    • The War of 1812: 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. Threatened with an invasion and with insufficient forces to defend the city, Alexandria’s Common Council surrendered  to the British without resistance. The city avoided being burned, but the was required to surrender contents of stores and warehouses. Learn more about how the War and occupation affected Alexandria, and view some artifacts from the Historic Alexandria collections.