Alexandria was founded in 1749 by Scottish merchants and was named after Scotsman John Alexander. Alexandria is known as being the adopted hometown of America’s first president, George Washington. As a teenager, George Washington surveyed the city. Later, he owned a townhouse here in Old Town. You can see a replica of the townhouse today on Cameron Street. He also worshiped at Christ Church (you can tour the site and sit in his pew – number 60), and frequented Gadsby’s Tavern.
The prosperity of Alexandria and the United States was inextricably linked to the work of enslaved and free African Americans. A horrific part of Alexandria’s history is that, prior to America’s Civil War, Alexandria served as one of the largest domestic slave trading ports in America. Most of Alexandria’s leading businesses and properties could not have operated without the unpaid labor of the enslaved men, women, and children who lived and worked here.
Yet to walk through the streets of Alexandria is to walk through America’s timeline of African-American history from colonial times to the Civil War and from Civil Rights to today. You can learn empowering stories of individuals and communities that overcame adversity and even pushed our society forward as you explore the city’s historic sites and take part in walking tours from Manumission Tour Company.
The best way to learn about Alexandria’s history is by purchasing a Key to the City Attractions Pass. Explore 9 historic sites for $20 plus receive 40% off admission to George Washington’s Mount Vernon, Potomac Riverboat Company by Hornblower and the tall ship Providence.
There are also numerous tour companies that offer in-depth looks at Alexandria’s history. From walking tours to boat tours to bike tours, immerse yourself in Alexandria’s history. Want to choose your own adventure? Follow our self-guided tours of Old Town, Alexandria’s African-American history, Mount Vernon and more.