Alexandria History Smart Cookie Questions & Answers

This page provides answers to Alexandria, VA history questions Learning Life posed in fortune cookies (we prefer to call these “smart cookies”) we placed free (donation requested) in participating Alexandria restaurants, bars and cafes from January to April 2014.  Proceeds from donations benefited Learning Life and the Historic Alexandria Foundation.  Learning Life thanks the Historic Alexandria Administration for helping us develop these questions and answers.       

Twelve Cookies, Twelve Questions, with Answers Below

Year Alexandria Founded1) In what year was Alexandria founded?

Alexandria was established in 1749, and incorporated in 1779.  Alexandria was intended as a trading destination to allow farmers farther inland in Virginia to sell their crops to the wider world.  The city quickly became a major trading port.

2) Where does Alexandria’s name come from?

Alexandria was named after John and Philip Alexander, cousins who owned and farmed a large portion of the land that became Alexandria.

3) Which U.S. President was a trustee of Alexandria?

George Washington lived much of his life at his country estate at Mount Vernon adjacent to Alexandria, but maintained a town house in Alexandria and served as a trustee of the city.

4) Which famous Revolutionary War General lived in Alexandria?

Henry Lee III, also known as “Light-Horse Harry Lee” for his exemplary service as a cavalry officer in the American Continental Army, moved his family to Alexandria in 1810.  Lee served as the 9th Governor of Virginia from 1791 to 1794, and served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1799 to 1801.

5) Which Civil War General lived his youth in Alexandria? 

Robert E. Lee, son of the Revolutionary War General Henry Lee, was born in 1807 and lived in Alexandria from 1810 until he left to attend the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, a.k.a. West Point, in 1825.  In 1861, when Virginia seceded from the Union to join the Confederacy, Lee followed his state despite his opposition to secession, and eventually became the famed commander of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia.

6) What current Alexandria hotel is the site of the Civil War’s first deliberate killings? 

The Hotel Monaco, located at 480 King Street in Old Town Alexandria, is the site of the former Marshall House, an inn owned by James W. Jackson, an ardent advocate of southern secession up until the Civil War.  Jackson installed a cannon outside the Marshall House, and a large Confederate flag atop the House on April 23, 1861, warning that he would shoot anyone who took the flag down.

Elmer E. Ellsworth, commander of the 11th New York Infantry Regiment of the Union Army and a close friend of Abraham Lincoln, entered Alexandria on May 24, 1861 with his Regiment to seize control of the city.  Spotting the large Confederate flag atop the Marshall House, Ellsworth and and four of his soldiers took down the flag.  As they walked down the stairs of the Marshall House though, Jackson shot Ellsworth in the chest with a shotgun, killing him.  One of Ellsworth’s soldiers, Corporal Francis E. Brownell, then immediately shot and killed Jackson.  Ellsworth and Jackson thus became the first deliberate casualties of the long and bloody Civil War.  This incident proved a rallying cry for both North and South as calls to “Remember Jackson” and “Remember Ellsworth” were used to recruit volunteers into the Confederate and Union armies.  Brownell was later awarded the coveted Medal of Honor for shooting Jackson.

7) Which American labor leader lived in Alexandria’s Lee-Fendall House?Alexandria Labor Leader At Lee-Fendall House

Famous labor union leader, John L. Lewis (1880-1969) lived in the historic Lee-Fendall House from 1937 until his death in 1969.   Lewis was President of the United Mine Workers of America from 1920 to 1960, and founding president of the Congress of Industrial Organizations that merged with the American Federal of Labor in 1955 to form the AFL-CIO, the leading federation of organized labor in the United States.

From 1785 to 1903, the Lee-Fendall House, located at 614 Oronoco Street in Old Town Alexandria, served as home to 37 members of the Lee family, including Revolutionary War leader Henry “Light Horse Harry” Lee, and his son, Robert E. Lee, the commander of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia during the U.S. Civil War.  Learn more about the Lee-Fendall House.

8) Alexandria’s U.S. Naval Torpedo Station was converted into what?

The U.S. Naval Torpedo Station was constructed after World War I to manufacture torpedoes, and served variously as a torpedo factory and storage space thereafter, until the city of Alexandria bought the Station from the federal government in 1969.  Under artist and city leader Marian Van Landingham’s leadership, the Station was converted into the Torpedo Factory Art Center, opening its doors on September 15, 1974.

As the Center’s website explains, “[t]oday, the Torpedo Factory Art Center is home to over 160 professional artists who work, exhibit, and sell their art. Along with over 1,000 cooperative gallery members and some 2,000 art students, the Torpedo Factory Art Center draws artists from across the region and attracts visitors from around the world.”  Learn more about the Center.

9) George Washington was a member of what fraternal organization that built a memorial in Alexandria in his honor?

George Washington joined the Masons (also known as the Freemasons), an international fraternal organization founded in England, in 1752, and became Charter Master of Alexandria’s Masonic Lodge in 1788.  One year later, in 1789, Washington was inaugurated as the first President of the United States.  The Masons began building a memorial in Washington’s honor in 1922.  Construction proceeded gradually as funding became available until the George Washington Masonic National Memorial was completed in 1970 on Shuters Hill at the base of King Street in Old Town Alexandria.  The prominent Memorial is open to the public, with guided group tours, scheduled in advance, available seven days a week.  Learn more about the Memorial.

10) Which famous 1960s rock star graduated from high school in Alexandria in 1961?

Jim Morrison of The Doors graduated from George Washington High School (now George Washington Middle School) in 1961.  Morrison was the lead singer for the famous American rock band, The Doors, from 1965 until his tragic death in 1971 from a suspected drug overdose (no autopsy was performed, so the precise cause of his death was never verified).

Alexandria Mayoral Firsts11) Who was the first female mayor of Alexandria, and who was the first African American mayor?

Patsy Ticer became Alexandria’s first female mayor upon her election in 1991.   Ticer served as mayor until 1996, when she became Alexandria’s first female State Senator.  Ticer served as State Senator until her retirement in 2011.  In 2003, Bill Euille became the first African American mayor of Alexandria, and remains mayor today.

12) What is the current population of Alexandria? 

After losing population in the 1970s – the only decade that Alexandria lost population since the start of U.S. Census measurement in 1790 – Alexandria has since been growing rapidly, from 103,000 in 1980, to 111,000 in 1990, 128,000 in 2000, 140,000 in 2010, and 146,000 in 2012 (all numbers rounded to the nearest thousand), according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Learn much more about the remarkable history of Alexandria, VA online at the city’s “Historic Alexandria” page.



Alexandria’s Earliest Inhabitants

Native American artifacts have been found in Alexandria dating as far back as 13,200 years ago and as late as 1,600 A.D.

Source: “A Brief History of Alexandria


Slavery in Alexandria

Slaves and slave owners cultivated the land that became Alexandria decades before the town was founded in 1749.  Slaves were crucial to the making of many of Alexandria’s enterprises.

Alexandria was also a significant slave trading center up until the Civil War, which helped incline Virginia to side with the Confederacy.  From Alexandria, thousands of slaves were sold and transported to plantations in Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and other parts of the South, where cotton production required more and more labor.

But by 1790, Alexandria also had a substantial population of free blacks, manumitted (freed) by their owners, so that freed and enslaved African Americans paradoxically lived in the same bustling port city.


A Brief History of Alexandria

A Brief History of Alexandria’s Freed People and of Freedmen’s Cemetery


Alexandria’s Charles Lee

Charles Lee was famed Civil War General Robert E. Lee’s uncle, and the first of the Lee family to settle in Alexandria, in 1762.   Lee served as U.S. Attorney General from 1795 to 1801, and represented the winning plaintiffs in the seminal Supreme Court case of Marbury v. Madison in 1803.  In that case, the Supreme Court established “judicial review,” its singular power to review the constitutionality of government officials’ actions.

Source: A Seaport Saga: Portrait of Old Alexandria, Virginia (1989, p.43), by William Francis Smith and T. Michael Miller.


Alexandria Invaded, but Spared in the War of 1812

In August 1814, the British invaded and set fire to Washington D.C.  Threatened with imminent invasion and with insufficient forces to defend itself, Alexandria surrendered to the British without resistance.  In exchange for not destroying Alexandria, the British seized the contents of the city’s stores and warehouses.

Source: “Commemorative Wares in George Washington’s Hometown,” Barbara H. Magid, in Ceramics in America (2006).  Cited at


Alexandria Invaded and Spared Again in the Civil War

Days after Virginia seceded from the Union in the spring of 1861, Union troops occupied Alexandria.  The city remained occupied until the end of the Civil War, and became a major supply and hospital center during the war.  Alexandria’s critical supply role and proximity to D.C. spared it the destruction that befell other Virginia cities, like Fredericksburg and Richmond.

Source: “A Brief History of Alexandria” at


The History behind Alexandria’s Freedmen’s Cemetery

During the Civil War, thousands of slaves escaped and sought refuge in Alexandria, creating a refugee crisis.  About 1,800 of those refugees as well as black Union soldiers were buried in what has become known as the Freedmen’s Cemetery.  Forgotten then built over for many decades, the Cemetery is now a memorial park located at South Washington and Church Streets.

Source: “A Brief History of Alexandria’s Freed People and of Freedmen’s Cemetery” 


Old Town Alexandria

Old Town is the oldest neighborhood of Alexandria.  Designated in 1946 as the Old and Historic District, it became the third historic district in the nation, after Charleston and New Orleans.

Source: “Alexandria in the 20th Century


Alexandria’s Market Square

Old Town Alexandria’s Market Square, outside City Hall, is believed to be one of the oldest continuously operating marketplaces in the nation.  Established in 1753, today Market Square is home to the large and popular Old Town Farmers’ Market, operating every Saturday, 7am-12pm, throughout the year.

Source: Wikipedia. Alexandria, Virginia.  


Gadsby’s Historic Tavern

Gadsby’s Tavern, located at 134 N. Royal Street, was host to the nation’s first five presidents: George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and James Monroe. One of the few preserved taverns in Alexandria, thousands of English artifacts have been excavated from it and other city taverns, including “tall ale tankards, large and small punch bowls, and white clay tobacco pipes, snuff bottles, toothbrushes, hairbrushes, medicine bottles and chamber pots (precursors of indoor plumbing)….Much of the service work was performed by African Americans; more blacks were enslaved by tavern keepers than by other business owners.”

Source: “Walk and Bike the Alexandria Heritage Trail


Inova Hospital Makes U.S. History

Inova Alexandria Hospital, founded in 1872, was the first hospital in the nation to have a 24-hour emergency department with full-time ER physicians. It opened in 1961. This approach to emergency care was nationally known as the “Alexandria plan.”

Source: Historic Alexandria, An Illustrated History (2011, p.76), by Ted Pulliam