Alexandria's History

A hub for online resources created by Historic Alexandria to learn more about local history through time.

Page updated on Sep 1, 2021 at 10:11 AM

Alexandria's History

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.

Read a Brief History.

The following are some general resources for learning about Alexandria History, on the Historic Alexandria website and elsewhere on the internet. 

Alexandria's History Through Time

The following are collections of information that examine Alexandria’s history through time. See Alexandria's History by Topic, below,  for more specialized resources.

Alexandria's History by Topic

There are a few areas of focus, or topics, featured in research about Alexandria. Additional information about the topic overall as well as additional resources are found at each link.

  • African American Community: Alexandria’s African American History includes a vibrant free black population dating to the 18th century, one of the largest domestic slave trading operations, and early actions in the Civil Rights movement.  
  • The Alexandria Waterfront: Alexandria was originally founded as a port on the Potomac River. Research and ongoing archaeological work is revealing more about the City’s maritime past. 
  • Alexandria and the War of 1812: Learn about how Alexandria responded when British forces arrived off the shore of Alexandria just after the burning of Washington in August of 1814. 
  • Historic Cemeteries: Learn more about the many historic cemeteries within Alexandria. 
  • Alexandria During the Civil War: Explore how the Civil War and occupation of Alexandria by Union troops during those four years deeply changed the City. 
  • Lynchings and the Alexandria Community Remembrance Project: In Alexandria, there is documentation of the lynching of two individuals, Benjamin Thomas and Joseph McCoy. Learn more about their stories and the times in which they lived. 
  • Immigrant Alexandria: Learn more about Alexandria’s growing immigrant community, both past and present. 
  • Historic Preservation: Learn more about the history of preservation in Alexandria. 
  • Women's History in Alexandria: Throughout the centuries, women have made significant contributions to Alexandria. Find a number of stories about women in our community.

How to Research your Family or Property

Historic Alexandria provides a list of resources for Conducting your own Historic 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.

First Person Accounts

  • Oral Histories: The Alexandria Legacies Program. Read transcriptions of more than 80 interviews conducted with long-time City residents. Oral Histories are indexed by name, neighborhood and subject. Subjects include The African American Community, Education, Immigration, Living Legends of Alexandria, Historic Preservation, Civic Leaders, etc.
  • Antebellum Reminiscences of Alexandria, Virginia. Extracted from the Memoirs of Mary Louisa Slacum Benham. The reminiscences describe her life in Alexandria in the first half of the 19th Century. Transcribed and extracted from her memoirs, thought to be written in the 1880s. A variety of topics are discussed, including the Potomac River, rural scenes, Christ Church, dancing school, the Alexandria Theater, Mount Vernon, African Americans, food and furnishings.
  • Diaries of Julia Wilbur, March 1860 to July 1866. Transcribed by Alexandria Archaeology, 2013-2014, from the originals in the Quaker Collection, Haverford College, PA. Julia Wilbur, a relief worker from Rochester, NY, came to Alexandria during the Civil War. She kept a detailed diary from the 1840s through her death in 1895. Alexandria Archaeology's transcriptions focus on the period right before, during, and after the War.
  • Alexandria During the Civil War: First Person Accounts. These accounts include dramatic excerpts from the diaries of relief worker Julia Wilbur and of a secessionist housewife who fled Alexandria as Union troops arrived; a letter from a head nurse at one of the many hospitals; the writings of an English journalist and an American war correspondent; and selections from  The Local News, Alexandria’s wartime newspaper. Additional accounts are provided from patients and staff at Alexandria's Union Hospitals.
  • Alexandria's Occupation in the War of 1812. Read quotes about Alexandria's occupation by British troops, and reminiscences published in a local newspaper in 1861.
  • Travelers Accounts of the Historic Alexandria Waterfront. Travelers Accounts, written between 1624 and 1900, have been compiled by Alexandria Archaeology as part of a study of the Alexandria Waterfront. The writings are organized by decade. 

Historic Sites 

Many of Alexandria's most significant sites are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Also learn about Alexandria's Historic Districts, Civil War sites, and a few additional significant sites. See a selection of self-guided tour of Alexandria's historic sites.

Journals and Newsletters

Read articles from the Alexandria Chronicle and the Historic Alexandria Quarterly, and from The Alexandria Times' Out of the Attic column.

  • The Alexandria Chronicle: The Alexandria Chronicle has been published by the Alexandria Historical Society since 1993. Issues from 2006 to present are available on the Society’s website. Paper copies of earlier issues of the Chronicle, and of the Alexandria History magazine (1978-2002), can be found at the Alexandria Library, Local History/Special Collections.
  • The Alexandria Times: Out of the Attic: This column continues to be published weekly, and is presented here in a searchable database.
  • Historic Alexandria Quarterly: Historic Alexandria Quarterly is a scholarly publication produced by the Office of Historic Alexandria from 1996 to 2004.  


  • Historic Alexandria’s YouTube Channel
  • Search for "Alexandria" to view videos of the C-Span City Tours. The series of seven videos on Alexandria history originally aired March 16-18, 2013, exploring the Alexandria Archaeology Museum, the Contrabands and Freedmen Cemetery, Lee-Fendall House, and the Civil War.