Of all the cities you will visit in your life, Alexandria is one that you will not be surprised to discover is haunted. This town has encountered extreme devastation and death due to events like the Revolutionary and Civil War and more minor tragedies such as murders and unexpected, traumatic deaths. Today, the streets are full of 4,000 historic buildings that still stand for us to explore. All of them are filled with memories of the past and the numerous people that have walked the streets.
Although you will find that modern-day Alexandria is a busy city, it did not start this way. It first arose as a tobacco port on the Potomac River (a “questionable startup” according to Michael Lee Pope) and quickly rose to power in Colonial America. Three families from Scotland, the Alexander’s, the Ramsey’s, and the Carlyle’s, established Alexandria long ago in 1749 to allow the easy transport of tobacco from Virginia to England. George Washington designed the city streets, purchasing a house a short distance from here, where he spent a lot of his time. Washington is not the only founding father to fall in love with the city. Alexandria has also played host to Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and James Madison. Because of its geographical importance, power as a seaport, and the railroad that connected the area to other significant Virginian cities, Alexandria was an important place to control. In fact, during wartime, like the Civil War, opposing sides would fight to have access to this city and resources.
Colonial Era: French and Indian War and the Revolutionary War
Nearly 10,000 years after indigenous Virginians occupied what is now Alexandria, John Smith arrived from Jamestown in the summer of 1608 during his explorations. Smith noted a settlement of natives in Alexandria, called Assaomeck. 61 years later in 1669, Robert Howsing was granted a patent for 6,000 acres of land for transporting over 100 colonists to Virginia. These 6,000 acres would become Alexandria in 1749, after elites in nearby Fairfax, aided by an aspiring young surveyor by the name of George Washington who made a sketch of the shoreline, touting the potential for use of the tobacco warehouse sites during Virginia’s legislative session. In 1755, General Braddock organized the disastrous expedition against Fort Duquesne at the outset of the French and Indian War.
The War of 1812
The city held its position as an influential port for decades, declining shortly after the War of 1812. This had nothing to do with the damage done to the city or its port during the war, but instead, it was due to the town’s embarrassing decision to surrender to the British without a fight. This surrender was a blight upon the city’s reputation, leading to the loss of their port’s power and causing the other states to look upon them with disdain. Although the city lost its power and respect because of its surrender, the town continued to survive throughout periods of war, fire, and death. Even now, it covers around 15 miles of Northern Virginia, and Old Town Alexandria is a popular and busy city in Virginia, where people come from all over to take in the history and learn about the people who have lived in the town over the past 300 years, some of whom may still remain on our historic streets.
Brother VS Brother: The Civil War
This city was so influential in the 1800s that the Union and Confederate armies fought for control of the area. Sadly, Alexandria and its port benefited as a robust slave trading port, playing a role in the United States’ most tragic chapter of history. During the Civil War, no battle actually took place in the city itself, and the town was able to avoid war damage experienced in other areas. The Union Army occupied Alexandria during the Civil War, and from here engaged in some of the early battles of the war with no doctors or medical care. With the First Battle of Bull Run taking place so close, why transport the medical teams and resources if they are just a short distance away? They instead converted many of the town’s buildings into hospitals, which held all of the soldiers who were injured nearby. Many survived, but unfortunately, many did not, and it was common to walk down the streets of Alexandria and see the bodies of soldiers lining the sidewalks because the hospitals had no room for them inside. Or piles of human limbs piled up waiting to be buried, as blood flowed down the streets of makeshift hospitals. So many were lost that on an entire block of Fairfax Street, bodies were piled on top of each other, as many as four people high. Anyone who walked down the street at the time waded through an ankle-high river of blood.
You’ll have fun: You don’t have to believe in Ghosts or hauntings
Ruth Lincoln Kaye wrote, “If a ghost is seen by only one person, you have to question either the authenticity of the ghost or the veracity of the teller of the tale. But when a ghost is seen many times over a number of years — who wants to be the first to dispute its existence?” It is hard to dispute the existence of ghosts in Alexandria with the number of reports we have received. Whether these reports come from visitors on our tours or locals, it is easy to find accounts of hauntings in this city. Our walking ghost tours are about a mile in length and are appropriate for all ages.
Throughout our tour, our guides will share with you the ghosts of Alexandria that have haunted this town for hundreds of years. Since Alexandria has the highest concentration of haunted buildings in Virginia, perhaps you will be lucky enough to encounter some of these specters tonight. People have reported seeing apparitions, the slight touch on an arm, air blown on the back of a neck, or the sudden and unexplained smell of tobacco smoke, to name but a few. We hope you’ll join us on a walking ghost tour through Old Town Alexandria!