Monument of Dr. William Harper, Presbyterian Cemetery, Wilkes Street Cemetery Complex. Photo by James A. DeYoung
The oldest legible tombstone surviving in Alexandria is that of Isaac Pierce, erected in 1771 in Christ Church yard. All earlier grave markers have disappeared or have become illegible and impossible to date precisely. Many of Alexandria’s gravestones of even more recent date have also disappeared, as have some entire cemeteries. Old Town, the historic core of Alexandria, Virginia, still contains fifteen historic cemeteries. At least 23 additional burial locations have been identified in the Historic District; some are adjacent to churchyards, and others are abandoned family cemeteries.
In early America, small family cemeteries were not uncommon. The 1755 diary of a Mrs. Brown, an English visitor to Alexandria, noted, “It is the custom of this place to bury their relatives in their gardens.” The oldest existing church cemeteries in Old Town date from the last third of the 1700s. Land on which Christ Church stands was sold to the parish in 1774, although vestry records indicate burials as early as 1766. The land on which the Old Presbyterian Meeting House stands was sold to that congregation in 1772. St. Mary’s Catholic Cemetery dates from about 1795. The Penny Hill Cemetery, a municipal burying ground on South Payne Street, was purchased in 1795.
In 1804, the Alexandria Common Council decreed that graves were not to be dug “in any ground within the corporation, not opened or allotted before the twenty-seventh of March, eighteen hundred and four.” While some burials occurred in the existing cemeteries after that date, the Council’s action prevented the founding of any new cemeteries within the limits of Alexandria. Local churches looking for places for new cemeteries settled on a area southwest of the corner of Wilkes and Payne Streets, then called Spring Garden Farm. The Wilkes Street Cemetery Complex has grown to include 13 cemeteries, including the adjacent Black Baptist Cemetery immediately west of Hooff’s Run from Alexandria National Cemetery.
Over the years, many of the small family cemeteries disappeared. In some cases, there is historic evidence that burials were removed and reinterred in a formal cemetery. In some instances, it is possible that only the headstones were removed. This practice is not unique to Alexandria, or even to urban America. As land use changes over time and families move away, burials may be moved to more suitable locations or simply lost to the ravages of time. African American residents of Alexandria faced other challenges. Their graves, for example, were sometimes marked with short-lived wooden markers, or with shells, ceramics, or other ephemeral materials rather than permanent grave markers.
Information on tombstones is valuable to genealogists and local historians. Data such as birth and death dates, names, spellings, personal relationships and occupations may be available nowhere else. Stone inscriptions, or the tombstones themselves, can disappear with time, but Alexandria historian Wesley Pippenger has published several volumes of Alexandria tombstone inscriptions, preserving this valuable historic resource and making the information more readily available.
The work of Alexandria Archaeology, and of archaeological consultants working for developers because of requirements of the Archaeological Protection Ordinance, have led to the archaeological investigation of several important Alexandria cemeteries -- some known and some forgotten over time. The Virginia Antiquities Act mandates a permit from the Virginia Department of Historic Resources for the excavation of unmarked graves. Such permits are obtained before work begins on a known cemetery site, or, in the case of unexpected burials, work is halted while a permit is obtained. The goal of Alexandria Archaeology's cemetery excavations has been to record the location of graves and, when possible, to preserve them in place. When necessary, burials have been moved to new locations, based on the wishes of families or descendant populations.
The Black Baptist Cemetery, Contraband and Freedmen's Cemetery, and Bloxham Family Cemetery are preserved on City parkland, with appropriate memorials built or in the planning stages. Archaeological work in 2011 at Fort Ward Park will lead to a plan for preservation of gravesites located in the park, remnants of an African American community that predated the park's creation. A few burials at Christ Church and the Quaker Burying Ground (Barrett Library) were moved to other portions of those sites in advance of construction. The West Family burials were moved to Pohick Church at the request of the descendant family, and the burials at the Colross and Preston Plantations had been removed early in the 20th century to make way for construction.
It can be difficult for the untrained eye to detect the presence of graves in Alexandria soil, particularly if the remains are not well preserved. Archaeologists are able to detect subtle differences in the color and texture of the soil, to differentiate between the fill of a grave shaft and the surrounding soil, often allowing them to find the outline of the graves without disturbing the remains, if any, of the coffin below. In places where Alexandria burials have been exhumed by archaeologists, they are usually poorly preserved because of soil conditions. In consultation with families or descendant populations, archaeologists may work with physical anthropologists from the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, or from local universities, who may be able to determine the sex and age of human remains, and to glean information about disease and nutrition, even from the most fragmentary remains.
- Black Baptist Cemetery (African American Heritage Park)
- Bloxham Family Cemetery
- Christ Church Cemetery
- Colross Plantation Family Cemetery
- Contrabands and Freedmen Cemetery
- Fort Ward Park, African American Burials
- Preston Plantation Family Cemetery
- Quaker Burying Ground
- West Family Cemetery
Douglass Memorial Cemetery.
African American Cemeteries
- Black Baptist Cemetery (African American Heritage Park): The cemetery of the the Silver Leaf (Colored) Society of Alexandria dates from 1885, but there is evidence of burials at this site prior to the Civil War. The present park setting displays six headstones that are reset as close as possible to the associated graves. Also on site is the Jerome Meadows sculpture to commemorate notable African American leaders, institutions, and those buried in the cemetery. Archaeological investigations were carried out prior to development of the park.
- Contraband and Freedmen's Cemetery, South Washington and Church Street: Freedmen's Cemetery, across from St. Mary's Cemetery, was created during the Civil War as a burial place for contrabands and African American Union soldiers. The soldiers were disinterred and reburied at the Alexandria National Cemetery before the end of the war, but many other graves remained on this site. It was recognized as a cemetery as late as 1939 and remained undisturbed until a service station and an office building were built on the site. Archaeological investigations found that many graves are still here and under adjoining Washington Street. By January 1, 1866, more than 1,200 bodies were interred here. Nearly six hundred more burials occurred after this date. Coffins for Freedman Cemetery were stored at L’Overture Hospital. It is possible that invalid African American Soldiers quartered there provided funeral escorts for some of the burials. A State historic marker is on the corner of South Washington and Church Street. Friends of Freedmen's Cemetery provide a vast quantity of historical information on this cemetery and the people buried there.
- Douglass Memorial Cemetery: The cemetery, established in 1895, was named for abolitionist Frederick Douglass. The cemetery is abandoned and is maintained by the City of Alexandria. The eastern half of the cemetery shows a pattern of burials in sequence of when people died. The other half indicates a practice of relatives being buried together.
- Fort Ward Park, African American Burials: The Office of Historic Alexandria is engaged in an effort to study and preserve the historic resources of Fort Ward Park . “The Fort” was an historic African American neighborhood established on and around the Civil War Fort Ward, now Fort Ward Park. “The Fort” dates from the Reconstruction period after the Civil War to the early 1960s when the park was created. The Old Grave Yard, and other possible burial locations sites selected based on documentary evidence and oral history, are being studied by archaeologists in 2009-2011. For up-to-date information on the preservation of post-Civil War resources at Fort Ward Park, including the burials and remnants of the African American neighborhood, see information on the Ad Hoc Fort Ward Park and Museum Area Stakeholder Advisory Group.
- Lebanon Union Church Cemetery. 100 Breckinridge Place. Established around 1866.
- Macedonia Cemeteries. African American cemetery.
- Oakland Baptist Church Cemetery. On the eastern edge of Fort Ward Park. African American cemetery founded around 1897 on property donated by the family of Robert and Clara Adams, founding members of the church.
Old Presbyterian Meeting House Burial Ground. First Virginia Regiment at ceremony honoring the Revolutionary Unknown Soldier. Photo by Larry Rood.
- Christ Church Cemetery, bounded by Columbus, Cameron and Washington Streets. The cemetery and church are among Alexandria’s most historic landmarks. This was George Washington’s church and his family pew is preserved inside. The present building dates from 1771-1773, although vestry records show burials here as early as 1766. Parts of the churchyard were excavated by Alexandria Archaeology in 1985 and 1986 in advance of construction. Excavations showed that some parts of the churchyard had been filled in and other parts leveled off over the years. Other changes to the churchyard included construction of the parish house, brick walkways and raised flower beds. As with the Presbyterian Meeting House, there are many more graves than headstones. At least 396 unmarked graves date from 1787 to 1796, with 174 of them for children. An estimated 540 additional unmarked graves are attributed to years for which burial records are missing.
- The Independent Meeting House, 216-200 South Fairfax Street. Three congregations used the original church at this site, erected about 1804-5, and were gone from the site by 1840, the year a newspaper advertisement noted the presence of graves at the site. An 1810 deed contained an agreement not to build over or disturb the interments. No tombstones are present, and no account of remains being moved have come to light.
- Old Presbyterian Meeting House Burial Ground, 300 block of South Fairfax Street. The burial ground sits behind the Meeting House, which was erected in 1775. Beginning in the 1760s, more than 300 persons were buried here – among them are Rev. William Thom, first minister of the Meeting House; John Carlyle, one of the town’s founding trustees; Dr. James Craik, surgeon general during the Revolutionary War and close friend of George Washington; William Hunter, Jr., mayor of Alexandria and founder of the St. Andrew’s Society; and Lewis Nicola, colonel in the Corps of Invalids of the Continental Army. Forty patriots of the Revolutionary War, the largest number in the Commonwealth of Virginia, are buried here and in the later Presbyterian Cemetery. The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier of the American Revolution, which honors an unidentified patriot, was erected by the National Society of the Children of the American Revolution in 1929. Rev. James Muir, D. D., the congregation’s third minister, is buried within the walls of the Meeting House. The burial ground remained active until 1809, when the congregation established the Presbyterian Cemetery on Hamilton Lane (see Wilkes Street Cemetery Complex). Information plaques are located in the burial ground. The 1787 parsonage behind the burial ground, Alexandria’s first flounder-style structure, remains in use as offices and meeting rooms. The 1,000-member Meeting House congregation continues to worship here.
- Quaker Burying Ground, 701 Queen Street, Site of the Kate Waller Barrett Branch Library. The Alexandria Monthly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends bought a half acre here in 1784 and used it as a cemetery until the 1890s. The Alexandria Library maintains a long-term lease with the Woodlawn Quaker Meeting (successors to the Alexandria Meeting). Part of this cemetery was excavated by Alexandria Archaeology in 1993 prior to an expansion of the library. Some of the original headstones have been preserved in storage. On front of the library is a metal plaque commemorating Dr. Elisha Cullen Dick, who was buried in this cemetery. Dr. Dick was one of the physicians who attended George Washington at his deathbed.
- St. Mary's Catholic Church Cemetery, South Washington and Church Street. St. Mary's is the oldest public Catholic Cemetery in Virginia and the oldest active cemetery in Alexandria. The cemetery dates to 1795, and Parish records indicate that William Thorton Alexander deeded the land to St. Mary’s Catholic Church in 1803.
Numerous family cemeteries lying outside of Old Town are known from oral tradition. When cemeteries have been found during construction, a burial permit has been obtained from the Virginia Department of Historic Resources and the burials have been moved to other cemeteries, or protected on the site. In the last few decades, Alexandria archaeologists have been involved in the investigations when cemeteries have been disturbed.
Archaeological investigations have taken place at the following family cemeteries.
- Bloxham Family Cemetery, 116 South Quaker Lane
- Colross Plantation Family Cemetery
- Preston Plantation Family Cemetery
- West Family Cemetery
Other family cemeteries:
- Alexander Family Cemetery
- Auld Family Cemetery, 4620 Strathmore Place
- Dove Family Cemetery
- Fendall Family Cemetery Site
- Goings Family Cemetery Site, 1499 West Braddock Road
- Howard Family Cemetery Site
- Moore-Holland Cemetery Site
- Summer Hill Plantation Cemetery Site
- Summers Family Cemetery
- Terrett Family Cemetery
- Trisler Family Cemetery Site
The Alexandria Gazette reported the finding of burial sites in Old Town throughout the 19th century. Some of these may have been the remains of old family cemeteries. (As reported in Those Upon the Curtain Has Fallen: The Past and Present Cemeteries of Alexandria, VA, by Mark D. Greenly. Alexandria Archaeology Publications, 1996.)
“An Ancient Burial Ground,” 100 Block of South Royal Street. West side of the middle of the block: Here is the site of “an ancient burying ground,” mentioned in 1863 news accounts of a fire in the buildings on the property. “Some of the old tombstones are there yet, covered over.” (Alexandria Gazette)
106-112 North Royal Street: “Many skeletons were unearthed,” here to make way for the foundations of new houses about 1841, according to the childhood memories of an Alexandria Gazette letter writer. A commercial building now occupies this corner.
120 North Royal Street: Site of at least one grave, indicated by the discovery of a box containing a human skull and some bones. This site and the previous one may both be from the same early, yet unidentified cemetery.
“Old House on Queen Street”: A tombstone was found under a garden gate.
208-210 North Lee Street: A skull and two leg bones were found here in 1897 during excavation behind a bakery.
Southwest Corner of Queen and North Union Street: An underground brick vault containing “portions of what are supposed to be human bones” was found at this corner in 1872.
Alexandria Canal, Montgomery and North Royal Street: Human remains were found during the 1843 excavation of the Alexandria Canal. The Alexandria Gazette attributes these graves to victims of the 1803 yellow fever epidemic.
In the 19th century, skeletons of still-born infants or fetuses were sometimes buried outside of cemeteries.
Corner of South Union and Wolfe Streets: A skeleton of an infant was found “concealed between the garret floor and the ceiling” of a house at this intersection in May, 1823. This is one of three instances in Old Town where the remains that have been found do not signify a traditional burial. (As reported in Those Upon the Curtain Has Fallen)
500 Block of King Street, Present site of the Alexandria Courthouse: While archaeologists were excavating a privy/well, they discovered 36 bones of an infant. They have surmised this burial dated from 1820 to 1835. This is the second of three cases in Old Town involving remains not from a normal burial. Circumstances suggest that the infant’s body was disposed of secretly.
Wilkes Street Cemetery Complex. Photo by James A. DeYoung
Beginning in 1804, local churches were forced to look beyond the Alexandria boundaries for new cemetery locations, when the Alexandria Common Council decreed in that year that no new cemeteries were to be opened or burial lots to be sold within Alexandria. Local churches and, later, burial associations, settled on the area then known as Spring Garden Farm, bounded by Duke Street, South Henry Street and Hunting Creek. Penny Hill already existed as a municipal cemetery in this area since 1795. Since then, the number of cemeteries in the area has grown to 13. Some are abandoned and maintained by the City of Alexandria, but most are still active.
The Wilkes Street Cemetery Complex is a good place to look at how cemeteries and grave markers changed over the last 200 years. Austere Colonial-era headstones gave way to stones bearing a variety of carvings with religious or fraternal meaning. Tall obelisks and life-size statues of angels appeared in the mid and late 19th-century, then gave way to the smaller, more uniform headstones of the 20th century.
- Agudas Achim Cemetery: This is the cemetery of Agudas Achim congregation, formed in Alexandria by Orthodox Jews who had migrated from Eastern Europe (and now a Conservative congregation). Part of the adjoining Penny Hill Cemetery was deeded to the City by the congregation in 1933. This cemetery is the newest one at the Wilkes Street complex and is quite uniform in appearance. Agudas Achim's cemetery is still active.
- Alexandria National Cemetery: This is one of the oldest national cemeteries in the nation, if not the oldest, based on 1862 Congressional legislation. During the Civil War, there was a great need for a military cemetery in Alexandria. Many soldiers died in battles nearby and thousands died in Alexandria’s Union hospitals. There were 26 such hospitals in Alexandria. Many soldiers buried in this cemetery died of disease or wounds rather than on the battlefield. There are 3,533 Civil War veterans buried here, including 123 unknown soldiers and 229 African Americans who were members of the United States Colored Troops (U.S.C.T.), moved here from the Contrabands and Freedmen Cemetery. The U.S. Department of Veteran's Affairs Database lists the names of those interred. All the Civil War veterans buried here are Northern. Thirty-nine Southerners were originally interred here, and then later were moved to Old Town Christ Church Cemetery in 1879. The original wooden headboards were replaced by marble headstones in 1876. A red stone lodge near the gate is apparently the third to stand on this location. A small stone monument across the road from the lodge commemorates four soldiers who died in 1865 chasing John Wilkes Booth. For more information, see Pamela Cressey, Peaceful cemetery stands as proof of war's horrors. Alexandria Artifacts column, Alexandria Gazette, August 10, 1995.
- Bethel Cemetery: This was founded in 1885 by the Bethel Cemetery Company. By 1980, nearly 11,000 burial permits had been issued. It remains active. Gravestones here are more uniform, with less size and ornamentation.
- Black Baptist Cemetery (African American Heritage Park): The cemetery of the the Silver Leaf (Colored) Society of Alexandria dates from 1885, but there is evidence of burials at this site prior to the Civil War. The present park setting displays six headstones that are reset as close as possible to the associated graves. Also on site is the Jerome Meadows sculpture to commemorate notable African American leaders, institutions, and those buried in the cemetery. The cemetery, across a stream from the other cemeteries, had been abandoned and covered with landfill. Prior to development of the park, there were archaeological excavations on this site.
- Christ Church Episcopal Cemetery: This cemetery was founded in 1808 and is still active, used by members of historic Christ Church. A large number of obelisks, popular in the mid-1800s, are present here. The obelisk drew its symbolism from ancient Egypt and reflected an association with eternal life. Some researchers also believe this form of monument stone was a conscious display of wealth and power. By comparing these stones with stones in the adjacent Douglass and Trinity United Methodist Cemetery, one can see differences in the relative social and economic standing of the three congregations. This cemetery also has examples of stones with a colonial profile dating to the early 1800s, and features work by local stone-carvers William Chauncey and Charles Lloyd Neal
- Douglass Memorial Cemetery: This African American cemetery, established in 1895, was named for abolitionist Frederick Douglass. The cemetery is abandoned and is maintained by the City of Alexandria. The eastern half of the cemetery shows a pattern of burials in sequence of when people died. The other half indicates a practice of relatives being buried together.
- Home of Peace Cemetery: Home of Peace, used by the Beth El Hebrew Congregation (Reformed) is the earliest Jewish cemetery in Alexandria. The Beth El congregation was founded in the 1830s. In 1857, a Hebrew Benevolent Society was established to provide for a burying ground. Several parcels of adjoining land were added to enlarge the cemetery. Two Alexandria mayors are buried here.
- Methodist Protestant Church Cemetery: This cemetery was founded in 1829 and is now abandoned. Due to its state of disrepair, it is very difficult to associate a particular headstone with a specific grave. Within this cemetery, one can find headstone carvings that denote fraternal associations, especially the Improved Order of Red Men. The order, descended from the Sons of Liberty, was named after the War of 1812 for the Iroquois Confederacy, in honor of its democratic governing body.
- Presbyterian Cemetery and Columbarium: This cemetery, founded in 1809, is still active. Earlier burials associated with Alexandria’s Presbyterian congregation are located in the churchyard of the Old Presbyterian Meeting House at 321 South Fairfax Street, originally constructed in 1775. Over the years, the Presbyterian Cemetery has provided burial space for Alexandria’s merchants, ship captains, veterans of the American Revolution, the War of 1812, and the Civil War (including those who served for both North and South) a half dozen of Alexandria’s mayors, numerous representatives of the city’s governing council, and at least one member of the U.S. House of Representatives. One of the most imposing grave markers, a shroud over the top of an obelisk, belongs to Dr. William Harper, a Presbyterian elder. An unusual skull and bone carving marks the graves of the Pascoe family children. More information about the historic interments is provided in brochures available at the cemetery entrance gates and on the cemetery website.
- Penny Hill Cemetery: This was established in 1795 by request of the Alexandria Council, as a burial ground for indigent paupers and the poor. Freedmen who died in the first years of the Civil War (1861-1863) are thought to have been buried at Penny Hill, prior to establishment of the Contrabands and Freedmen Cemetery. An article in the Alexandria Gazette, July 21, 1885 (reprinted in the Alexandria Chronicle , Spring 1998)describes "A conversation with the Penny Hill Grave Digger." Lewis Dudley was born a slave, and talks about residents of the "Poor's House" being brought there for burial. His wife was buried "in old Penny Hill, on the western side of the carriageway through that ground. A fence composed of some thin strips and a border of clam shells surround the grave..." In the 1920s-1940s, the City Council sold off portions of the old burial ground for the Home of Peace Cemetery and Agudas Achim Cemetery. In 1976, Council decided to preserve the remainder of Penny Hill and to ban further burials there. Most tombstones have been demolished. Today, only eleven scattered stones remain.
- St. Paul's Episcopal Church Cemetery: This cemetery was formed in 1809. Soon after, Benjamin Latrobe designed a new church on South Pitt Street for this congregation, consecrated in 1818. One of its most notable graves is that of the “Female Stranger.” The inscription reads "TO THE MEMORY OF A FEMALE STRANGER Whose Mortal Sufferings Terminated on the 4th day of October, 1816-Aged 23 years and 8 months-This stone is erected by her disconsolate husband in whose arms she breathed out her last sigh, and who, under God, did his utmost to soothe the cold, dull ear of death." Various local legends tell of a mysterious couple arriving by ship in Alexandria. The woman fell ill and died, and the romanticized inscription on her table stone sheds no light as to their identities.
- Trinity United Methodist Cemetery: Founded in 1808, this cemetery displays an array of tombstone carvings, including the book and curtain motif and clasped hands, anchors, Bibles, wreaths and doves, associated with a religious revival.
- Union Cemetery of the Washington Street United Methodist Church: Begun in 1860, this cemetery is still active. Several land transactions have changed the size and shape of this cemetery.
African American Heritage Park, with headstones from the Black Baptist Cemetery along the path in rear of photograph.
The Silver Leaf (Colored) Black Baptist Cemetery was established in 1885, but was later abandoned. In the early 1960s, the area was buried under landfill. Initial investigation of the 1.1-acre property, now African American Heritage Park, unearthed a headstone belonging to Abraham Hunter, It was not clear that the monument was associated with a burial until additional head and foot stones were found, supporting the presence of a cemetery on site. A second phase of investigation by city archaeologists resulted in three graves, coffin fragments and hardware, and a portion of a man’s vest. Two other individuals were identified: Sarah Hunter and Julia Ann Washington. A third phase of investigation by the same firm that completed the initial phase led to the discovery of 28 burials, identified by grave shafts and coffin fragments and hardware, and shells placed above the graves—common in African American mortuary tradition. In addition, two more of the interred were named: Mary Rome and Matilda Gaines.
More on excavations at the Black Baptist Cemetery
- Anderson, Adrian D. The African American Heritage Park, Alexandria, Virginia. Draft manuscript. Tellus Consultants Inc., Minneapolis, Minnesota, 1992.
- Bromberg, Francine and Steven J. Shephard. African American Heritage Park: Archaeological Investigations. Alexandria Archaeology Publications, 1992, No. 39.
- Cressey, Pamela, New park incorporates historic black cemetery. Alexandria Artifacts column, Alexandria Gazette, July 13, 1995.
- Cressey, Pamela, Creation of Alexandria Heritage Park Sculpture provides inspiration . Alexandria Artifacts column, Alexandria Gazette, July 20, 1995.
- Cressey, Pamela,
Park makes symbols of ordinary lives . Alexandria Artifacts column, Alexandria Gazette, July 27, 1995.
Bloxham Cemetery, Archaeological Site Map.
The Bloxham family occupied the site from 1795 nearly through the 19th century. The Bloxham cemetery is preserved within the area of the Witter Street Recreation Complex, where the City marked each grave-shaft and erected a fence. After determining the cemetery boundaries, the site was backfilled without excavating the graves. A footstone marked "W.H.W." for William H. Whaley, was recovered in 1993, and will be returned to the cemetery. Whaley, a stage coach owner and husband of Jane E. (Bloxham) Whaley, was buried circa 1850. Skeletal remains, presumed to be of Whaley or another Bloxham family member, have been reinterred at the site. Twelve grave shafts, including one brick burial vault, were discovered in 2004.
More on excavations at the Bloxham Family Cemetery
- Parson, Kimberly and Caleb Christopher. Phase II Archaeological Investigation of Sites 44AX127 and 44AX128, Witter Street Recreation Complex, Alexandria, Virginia . URS Corporation, Florence, New Jersey, 2004.
- Petraglia, Michael D., Catharine B. Toulmin and Madeleine Pappas. An Archaeological Survey at the Alexandria Business Center, Alexandria, Virginia . Engineering-Science, Washington, D.C., 1993. Public Summary
- Pfanstiehl, Cynthia, Holly Heston and Elizabeth A. Crowell. CSX Realty Phase II Archaeological Survey at Area A, Alexandria Business Center . Alexandria, Virginia. Engineering Science, Inc., Washington, D.C., 1989. (Phase II investigation).
- Pfanstiehl, Cynthia, Edward Otter and Marilyn Harper. Preliminary Archaeological Assessment, Alexandria Business Center, Alexandria, Virginia and Fairfax County, Virginia . Engineering Science Inc., Washington, D.C., 1989 (Preliminary investigation).
Christ Church was completed in 1773, with its earliest burials taking place by that time. It adhered to the model of an English village church. By 1809, most burials were banned, both for sanitation and space concerns. Before 1787, the churchyard was not enclosed, but was by 1806. Then, from 1829–1830, a wall and railing with an entrance gate went up along the public, or south, side. The church fenced the north and west sides in 1844 with board fencing; this was repaired after the war then kept up through three quarters of the 19th century. In 1898, a masonry and iron fence was erected. Reports on this cemetery include the Historic Structures Report, archaeological investigation prior to expansion of of a building on the property, and archaeological preservation work during repair of the churchyard wall and installation of a wheelchair ramp.
Parts of the churchyard were excavated by Alexandria Archaeology in 1985 and 1986. A number of graves were located and excavated, some with only a few teeth or stains remaining. The remains were reinterred in the churchyard. Archaeologists found that none of the graves they uncovered aligned with an existing headstone and none of the extant headstones in the construction area had an associated grave. Graves were not dug in straight rows as in later cemeteries.
Archaeologists monitored the removal of masonry elements on site during the reconstruction of portions of the churchyard wall, and identified, mapped, and photographed 49 grave shafts in the areas of construction. An additional seven grave shafts were identified in the area of the wheelchair ramp; these were preserved in-situ. There was no evidence of a mass grave of Confederate soldiers, despite an on-site monument’s assertion that one existed within the project area. Archaeologists contended that burials lay outside the churchyard, under the sidewalk and probably the roadway, meaning potentially hundreds of unmarked burials.
In the 19th and early 20th centuries, the Alexandria Gazette reported the accidental unearthing of graves in the vicinity of the churchyard. (As reported in Those Upon the Curtain Has Fallen: The Past and Present Cemeteries of Alexandria, VA, by Mark D. Greenly. Alexandria Archaeology Publications, 1996.)
On Columbus Street, in front of Christ Church: In 1853, a coffin and remains of a body were found while gas lines were being laid.
On Columbus Street, adjoining Cameron: In 1871, the remains of at least 30 people were discovered during excavations for houses at this location.
On Columbus Street, near Cameron: In 1886, several old graves were unearthed while construction crews were excavating for the construction of houses.
On the north side of Christ Church: In 1908, workmen digging a trench for a waterline discovered a part of a human skull and some bones.
More on excavations at Christ Church
- Clem, Michael. Archeological Monitoring of a Wall Replacement Along North Columbus Street, Christ Church, Alexandria, Virginia . Thunderbird Archeological Associates, Inc., Woodstock, Virginia, 2002.
- Creveling, Donald K., Archaeological Investigations at Christ Church, Alexandria, Virginia. Alexandria History, 1987, Vol. VII, pp. 30-48
- Creveling, Donald K. and Pamela J. Cressey, Christ Church (44AX88) Archaeological Study, Second Testing. Alexandria Archaeology, Office of History Alexandria, City of Alexandria, Virginia, 1986.
- Gardner, William M. and Michael Clem. Archeological Monitoring of Wall Construction at Christ Church, Alexandria, Virgini . Thunderbird Archeological Associates, Inc., Woodstock, Virginia, 2000.
- John Milner Associates. Christ Church, Alexandria, Churchyard Wall . West Chester, Pennsylvania, 1978
- John Milner Associates. The Historic Structure Report for Christ Church, Alexandria, Virginia . West Chester, Pennsylvania, 1979.
- LeeDecker, Charles. Archaeological Monitoring of Handicap Ramp Installation, Historic Christ Church, Alexandria, Virginia . Letter Report. The Louis Berger Group, Inc., Washington, D. C., 2008. Public Summary .
- Ward, Jeanne A. and John P. McCarthy. Archaeological Monitoring of the North Washington Street Fence Wall Reconstruction, Christ Church, Alexandria, Virginia . Greenhorne & O'Mara, Inc., Greenbelt, Maryland, 2000.
Burial vault at the Colross Plantation
The Colross Plantation, built ca. 1800, was located on the block bounded by North Fayette, Oronoco, North Henry and Pendleton streets in the northwest quadrant of Old Town, now the site of the Monarch Condominium. The brick mansion was moved to Princeton, New Jersey in the early 20th-century, and is now part of the Princeton Day School. In addition to Colross's original herringbone brick basement floor, archaeologists found a water cistern, smokehouse and brick burial vault. The burials had been removed, probably when the plantation house was moved. Three burials, those of Thomas Francis Mason (grandson of George Mason) and his two daughters, are known to have been reinterred at Christ Church. Learn more about the history of this site from the Colross entry in Wikipedia.
Row of grave shafts (outlines enhanced) at the Freedmen's Cemetery Site.
Archaeological investigations at Alexandria Contrabands and Freedmen Cemetery on South Washington Street focused on the identification of burial locations to ensure protection during development and future maintenance of the site, and the recovery of information about the cemetery for use in the memorial design process. The site is being developed as a memorial park.
More on excavations at Contrabands and Freedmen Cemetery
- Archaeology at Freedmen's Cemetery
- Alexandria Freedmen's Cemetery, Historical Overview
- Cressey, Pamela, Freedman’s Cemetery offers questions and answers . Alexandria Artifacts Column, Alexandria Gazette, March 27, 1997. Describes sources and uses of information about a Civil War African American cemetery across from St. Mary's burial ground
- Cressey, Pamela, A painstaking search for a cemetery . Alexandria Artifacts Column, Alexandria Gazette, April 17, 1997. Describes research methods used to search for Freedmen's Cemetery
- Cressey, Pamela, Just where is the Freedmen’s Cemetery located? Alexandria Artifacts Column, Alexandria Gazette, May 1, 1997. Further details of research into the location of Freedman's Cemetery and contraband burials
- Cressey, Pamela, Archaeologist seeks answers to grave questions . Alexandria Artifacts Column, Alexandria Gazette, May 15, 1997. Analysis of discrepancies among records of deaths related to the Freedmen's Cemetery
- Cressey, Pamela, A new tradition honors the memory of black Americans . Alexandria Artifacts Column, Alexandria Gazette, June 12, 1997. Details of search for information related to Civil War era Freedmen's Cemetery
Headstone of Clara Adams, 1865-1952.
The Office of Historic Alexandria is engaged in an effort to study and preserve the historic resources of Fort Ward Park . For up-to-date information on the preservation of post-Civil War resources at Fort Ward Park, including the burials and remnants of the African American neighborhood, see information on the Ad Hoc Fort Ward Park and Museum Area Stakeholder Advisory Group.
“The Fort” was an historic African American neighborhood established on and around the Civil War Fort Ward, now Fort Ward Park. “The Fort” dates from the Reconstruction period after the Civil War to the early 1960s when the park was created. The Old Grave Yard, and other possible burial locations sites selected based on documentary evidence and oral history, are being studied by archaeologists using ground-penetrating radar (GPO) and archaeological excavation. The 2009 GPR study identified 38 possible unmarked burials in six known and potential cemetery and grave locations in “The Fort” (44AX90) and the Old Grave Yard (44AX153), and was used to identify areas for archaeological testing. The 2010 Phase I investigations focused in the maintenance yard area, including a small area adjacent to the Oakland Cemetery, and in the location of the Short’s family home lot, just north of the cemetery. Excavations found that GPR was not entirely reliable for identifying graves on this property -- some GPR targets were found to not mark the site of graves, and additional graves were located by excavation in areas that had been tested by remote sensing. Archaeologists found unmarked graves were found in an a grassy area south of the Oakland Cemetery. In addition, archaeologists confirmed that the headstone for Mrs. Fitzhugh is directly associated with a burial, and that the headstone marking Clara Adams’ grave is, in fact, marking two burials, likely those of Mrs. Adam’s and presumably her husband, who was laid to rest roughly 2 feet north of Clara’s grave. Graves were also located at the Jackson Family Cemetery. Additional archaeological work is planned for this site.
More on excavations in Fort Ward Park
- Archaeology at Fort Ward Park
- Bodor, Tom. Archeological Investigations at Fort Ward Historical Park, Alexandria, Virginia, 2010–2011 . The Ottery Group, 2011.
- Draft Inventory of Historical Resources: Fort Ward Park .
- Lowry, Sara. Report on Ground-Penetrating Radar Surveys: Possible Cemeteries Within Fort Ward Historical Park, Alexandria, Virginia . 2009.
- Fort Ward Stage I and IIA Excavations for Grave Identification
Potomac Yards was studied by archaeologists before it was developed into a retail center. The study area included the former location of the Alexander family’s Preston plantation and cemetery, dating to the early 1700s. The cemetery’s burials were moved to Pohick Church in 1922. The area was graded in 1933 to accommodate a railyard, so the plantation and cemetery likely were leveled.
More on excavations at Preston Plantation
- Adams, Robert M. The Archaeological Investigation of the Former Preston Plantation and Alexandria Canal at Potomac Yard . International Archaeological Consultants, Hayes, Virginia, 1996.
Alexandria Archaeology conducted an archeological investigation of a Quaker cemetery on the grounds of the Kate Waller Barrett Library at 717 Queen Street in Alexandria, Virginia, in 1993-1995. Known historically as the Quaker Burying Ground, the property served as the cemetery for the Alexandria Monthly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends from 1784 until the 1890s. In 1937, the Meeting leased the property to the City of Alexandria for ninety-nine years for use as the site of a library, and the archaeological work resulted from the City’s plan to demolish and replace a 1954 addition to the 1937 structure. Work was coordinated with the current members of the Alexandria Monthly Meeting, the owners and stewards of the cemetery site, who stipulated that the goal was to preserve as many of the burials in situ as possible and that only those graves that would be disturbed by construction activities were to be removed. All excavated human remains and associated artifacts were reburied on the site.
The investigation provided insight into an important segment of Alexandria’s population during the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Quakers served as merchants in the early years of the City’s development and helped to boost Alexandria’s economy during the eighteenth century. Throughout the nineteenth century, they were instrumental in pursuing a number of societal improvements, including the creation of schools and libraries, improvement of municipal health systems, and the relief of oppressed minorities.
Archaeological fieldwork and site monitoring resulted in the discovery of 159 burial features. Sixty-six were located in areas which would be disturbed by construction activities and required complete excavation. Ninety-three burials were left in place. It is probable that hundreds of additional burials remain intact in all sections of the property. While the majority of the burials excavated were wooden coffins simply placed in grave shafts, a number of other burial methods and practices were noted: one burial in an iron coffin containing the well-preserved remains of an older adult male, a brick vaulted structure surrounding the hexagonal wooden coffin of another of the adult male burials, the placement of cobbles on the lid of one of the coffins as a grave-side ritual, the use of planks across the top of another coffin to prevent slumping of the cemetery ground surface, the utilization of outside coffin boxes in nineteen cases, and the encasement of coffins in gray marine clay--possibly in an attempt to prolong preservation.
The artifact analysis suggests that Alexandria’s Friends attempted to uphold the value of simplicity central to Quaker philosophy. While influenced by the “beautification of death” phenomenon of the nineteenth century, the Quakers tempered their adoption of the material trappings of the movement with moderation. Coffins were primarily of the traditional hexagonal style and did not exhibit excessive ornamentation. When present, gravestones were relatively plain, as were clothing items, including buttons and hair combs. Only one piece of jewelry, a simple wedding band, was found. The only other grave goods recovered were a tiny glass bottle (a vial for scent or tears?), an iron key (to a house chest or business, or even more speculatively, to the “kingdom of heaven”?), and an ironstone plate, found on the abdomen of an adult female. Plates included in graves have been associated with African American traditions, and this may thus be an African American burial; its inclusion in the cemetery would certainly be in keeping with the supportive relationship Alexandria’s Quakers had with this ethnic minority in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
Osteological analysis was limited to field examination at the request of the current members of the Alexandria Monthly Meeting, who wished to maintain respect and privacy for the remains. Thirty-two of the excavated burials were identified as adults (nine males, ten females, thirteen of unknown gender), and nine were identified as children. As might be expected among groups of higher socioeconomic status, the Quakers sought out dental care as shown by the presence of fillings in several teeth and the recovery of two dental plates from the burials. The presence of hypoplastic lines indicative of episodes of malnutrition and illness at early ages suggests that even this educated and economically successful population was affected by the serious childhood diseases of the era.
Reports on Excavations at the Quaker Burying Ground
- Bromberg, Francine W., Steven J. Shephard, Barbara H. Magid, Pamela J. Cressey, Timothy Dennée, and Bernard K. Means. To Find Rest From All Trouble: The Archaeology of the Quaker Burying Ground, Alexandria, Virginia, Alexandria Archaeology Publications, 2001.
The West Family burial vault was discovered in archaeological investigations prior to commercial development at the Hoffman site on the 2400 block of Mill Road. At least seven individuals had been buried in the vault, at least two of whom were interred in the 1780s. Osteological studies tentatively identified the remains of four individuals in the vault as Hugh West’s wife, Sybil, their son George and daughter Sybil, and her infant daughter. The Wests were founders of Alexandria and contributed greatly to early Virginia. The Wests’ large landholdings became West End Village. An additional seven graves were found outside the vault, but only four of the seven were The preserved enough for study: two adult males, one adult female, and one infant. Archaeologists cautiously identified one of the males as an African American because of the discovery of a small crystal—common in African American burials. All were reinterred at Pohick Church, according to the wishes of descendants of the West family.
More on excavations at the West Family Cemetery
- Wiliams, Martha R.
Data Recovery at the West Family Cemetery (44AX183) Block 2, Hoffman Properties, Alexandria, Virginia .
Appendices . R. Christopher Goodwin & Associates, Inc., Frederick, Maryland, 2004.
Other Alexandria Burial Sites
- Ivy Hill Cemetery. 2823 King Street, west of Old Town. Originally a family cemetery, the earliest burials date to 1811. Ivy Hill became a community burial ground in 1856. In 1866, subscriptions were solicited for the purpose of enclosing the grounds, and a committee was established to seek remuneration from the government for damage sustained during the Civil War.
- L'Overture General Hospital, Prince and West Streets. L'Overture Hospital was a Union military site provided for the care of sick and wounded African American soldiers and escaped slaves or slaves freed by Union forces. The hospital covered most of the city block at Prince and West Streets. In 1879, construction workmen found bones from amputated limbs here.
- Virginia Theological Seminary Cemetery. 3737 Seminary Road. The Episcopal Seminary was founded in 1823, and a cemetery was established there in 1876. During the Civil War, the Seminary housed 1,700 wounded Federal troops, and 500 soldiers were buried on the grounds.
- Shuter's Hill Cemetery Site
- Unidentified Cemetery at 4141 Mount Vernon Avenue
- Unidentified Cemetery near Orlando Place
- Unidentified Cemetery on south side of Colvin Street
Many dedicated researchers have contributed historical research and gravestone transcriptions to the study of the city’s graveyards. Archaeological study has also brought to light new information about Alexandria’s burial practices. The archaeological studies were conducted as preservation efforts to protect as many burials as possible in their original locations. Excerpts from the Alexandria Archaeology Publication, Those Upon the Curtain Has Fallen: The Past and Present Cemeteries of Alexandria, VA are included with permission in this web page, along with additional information on recent Alexandria cemetery research.
The following publication can be viewed at the Alexandria Library, Local History/Special Collections, or, by appointment, at the Alexandria Archaeology Museum.
- Bromberg, Francine W., Steven J. Shephard, Barbara H. Magid, Pamela J. Cressey, Timothy Dennée, and Bernard K. Means. To Find Rest From All Trouble: The Archaeology of the Quaker Burying Ground, Alexandria, Virginia, Alexandria Archaeology Publications, 2001.
- Bruch, Virginia Irene. Beneath the Oaks of Ivy Hill. Alexandria, Virginia, 1982.
- Greenly, Mark. Those Upon the Curtain Has Fallen: The Past and Present Cemeteries of Alexandria, VA , Alexandria Archaeology Publications, 1996.
- Kaye, Ruth Lincoln. St. Paul's Cemetery Records. Alexandria, VA, October 1991.
- Miller, T. Michael. Burials in St. Mary's Catholic Cemetery Alexandria, Virginia 1798-1983. Bowie, MD: Heritage Books, Inc., 1986.
- Miller, T. Michael. "Ghosts, Goblins & Graveyards--A History of Alexandria Cemeteries" in Artisans & Merchants of Alexandria, Virginia, Vol. II, Appendix VIII. Includes tombstone transcriptions and burial data for several Alexandria cemeteries.
- Pippenger, Wesley E. Tombstone Inscriptions of Alexandria, Virginia: Volumes 1-4. Family Line Publications, Westminster, MD, and Heritage Books, Inc., Bowie, MD.