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Washington,s Home Town
By jean Owens
K 'I v, LEXANDRIA is like the old lady who is so apt to bore you with
mi. tales of long-past "belle" days. The error in the simile is that
I? Alexandria, though old, is never boring and still remains beau-
tiful in various buildings. Colonial architecture lives in restora-
friarcf tion, and names that are history were its city fathers. Turn-
ing an ankle on the picturesque cobblestone streets, I muttered
imprecations on the Hessian prisoners of 1785 who laid themg conversely,
those streets were named for the men who had named the first streets-
Prince, Princess, King, Queen, and so forth-to show their loyalty to
England. The most renowned of its roads is the famed "King's High-
way," which has its source in this city and follows an old Indian trail to
Williamsburg. It was originally known as the "Rolling Road," due to the
fact that early settlers rolled their tobacco in hogshead along this highway.
Alexandria at its peak was as Washington and Lee knew it-fa city
whose river front was a picturesque scene of maritime activity and whose
first families were the political as Well as the social leaders of the nation.
Wandering through buildings that sheltered Revolutionary and Civil War
heroes, I catch myself wondering if the old places remember their own
stories. And then from the words of the guide a perpetually moving pic-
ture of history unfolds itself:
When Governor Berkeley in 1660 granted Robert Howsan 6000 acres
of land bordering on the Potomac extending from Hunting Creek on the
THE MISSILE Paseseven
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South to Little Falls on the North, he never suspected that in that very
area the American Constitution would be dreamed of to begin a country
that rivals England. And when Howson sold it to John Alexander for
6600 pounds of tobacco, do you suppose that astute merchant dreamed
that that same land would sell tobacco to England amounting to the value
of 768,000 pounds sterling? It was not until 1732 that shrewd Scotch
merchants recognized the worth of this land and established there the to-
bacco shipping port, Hunting Creek Ware House. Around this point grew
up the little hamlet of Belhaven which was incorporated in 1748 by
Thomas, Lord Fairfax, Lawrence Washington, John Carlyle and other
leaders and renamed Alexandria for the original owners.
Then began her days as belle of Northern Virginia when Washing-
ton was her hero. Picture the lively city fired by the excitement of a ship
arriving from England, laden with luxuries of manufactures and news
from Old Country relatives. From miles around estates are emptied of
life to bring their one produce-tobacco. Grinning negroes, ambling along
in their customary manner, sometimes forget themselves so far in the rush
as even to hurry a bit.
If the ship carried negroes for sale, they were hustled to "The Pen,"
and the auctioneer began his ranting. Here, perhaps, was the vilest home
of the slave-dirty, smelly, revolting block Where humanity was bought
and sold. Needless to say, the bitterest opponents of this aspect of slav-
ery were the southern gentlemen.
To follow the frenzied buying and selling the local gentry usually
staged a fox hunt with a cock-fight or a horse race on the side for those
who didnot indulge in the sport handed down from English ancestors.
At night the ladies held sway at Birthnight balls and at the theatre
during its season. This pleasant social life was kept from excess by their
devotion to their church-principally the Established Church of England.
There was no cessation to the visiting between the widely scattered es-
tates. Guests came without invitation for a week or a month's stay and
were not considered "Will Wimblesf' It was this constant visiting which
constituted the social life of the colonies, Often abused but never refused
hospitality sometimes-speaking literally--ate up every profit of the plan-
tation, and owners of homes on the main highway were compelled to build
another house inland to escape from the colonial code of courtesy. Guests
at many of these sempiternal "open houses" were men of world-wide repu-
tation. John Carlyle was host to John Paul Jones, the first American ad-
miral, James Rumsey, inventor of the first steamboat, Thomas Jefferson
and Aaron Burr, rivals for the Presidency, in the exquisite setting of the
"Carlyle House." And it was in the pleasant English atmosphere of this
Pageeishf THE MISSILE
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