Silver cup recipients: more than social gadabouts

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Silver cup recipients: more than social gadabouts

February 2, 1995
By Pamela Cressey

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Presentation cup awarded by the Mayor and City Council to Elizabeth Lawrason for entertaining Lafayette during his return trip to Alexandria, October 16, 1824. Lent to the Lyceum by Mr. and Mrs. David C. Mulford.
I enjoy archaeology and history for many reasons. Of course I can be a time and space traveler, catapulting in my mind beyond the immediate surroundings as I contemplate the artifacts layered in the dirt. Even more satisfying, is the ability archaeology gives me to view Alexandria, and even the world, holistically. Like it or not, I have always sought to piece everything together to understand the whole.

We can fit together the pieces of a broken plate discovered under the dirt of someone’s basement. And, we can fit together Alexandria’s historic people and places through documents, objects, and architecture. By building knowledge over the years of what happened in different segments of the community, street by street, we first dissect the town and then put it together to understand how it operated. City volunteers have worked for three decades assembling the knowledge from 125 archaeology sites and developing the Alexandria Archaeology Atlas maps which document thousands of historic places.

Thus, I was excited to see at the Lyceum exhibit the silver goblet presented to Elizabeth Lawrason by the Mayor and City Council in 1824. The presentation cup was a thank you to Mrs. Lawrason for providing her home at the intersection of Duke and South St. Asaph streets to Lafayette when he returned to Alexandria on October 16, 1824.

The cup was made by silversmith William Alexander Williams during his tenure in town, 1811 to 1834. When he made the cup, Williams would have been working at the corner of Prince and Fairfax streets. Williams engraved on the presentation cup a portrait of Lafayette in a wreath. On either side he engraved two women clothes as classical figures holding a liberty cap and a sword. The banners of France and the United States also appear.

Williams also made a presentation cup for the Reverend William Holland Wilmer as a departing fight from the Ladies of St. Paul’s Church when he became president of William and Mary College in 1826. This cup is also in the Lyceum exhibit, "In the Neatest, Most Fashionable Manner: Three Centuries of Alexandria Silver" curated by Catherine B. Hollan. This silver object is still in use at St. Paul’s for Christmas and Easter communion services.

The Lawrason family is noteworthy for more than entertaining Lafayette. Alice Lawrason was a founding member of the Alexandria Baptist Church in 1802; her husband James was a leading merchant in partnership with Quaker Benjamin Shreeve. The Shreeves and Lawrasons owned homes on the west side of the 300 block of South St. Asaph, as did other Quakers. They lived upper middle class lives spanning the end of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th centuries.

But James and Alice Lawrason must have had a belief in freedom, perhaps as strong as Lafayette’s. Through a series of independent actions documented by James’ will, the Lawrasons provided access to homes for some of Alexandrians first free African Americans. I will follow the story of this free neighborhood during Black History Month.

Pamela Cressey is the Alexandria City Archaeologist.