About Alexandria, Virginia in the 1850s

Preliminary findings show Alexandria was a remarkably concentrated commercial city, with the center isolated in a pool of closely-held and undeveloped urban property. The city featured a centralized business district, a center, market system, very limited home ownership and almost no neighborhood formation. Standing within sight of Washington, Alexandria was a major headquarters for the national slave trade. The city was about one quarter African American, divided almost equally between enslaved and free; slaves for whom we have discovered names and all free blacks are included in the database. Blacks and whites lived parallel existences, connected yet fundamentally separate. We will uncover the social networks that bound together the white, free black, and, to the extent possible, the slave populations of Alexandria. There were also small German and Irish immigrant groups, each with limited institutional development. The governmental and cultural elites of Alexandria were politically inclined toward the Opposition party. In the late 1850s, a surging and populist Democratic party committed to the cause of Southern rights threatened not only the survival of those elites, their party, and party competition, but also, in its rejection of compromise and its advocacy of Southern rights, threatened to ignite a conflict devastating for both city and nation.

Using the Database

This database displays demographic and political details about almost every person who lived in Alexandria in 1860. You can see their age, sex, race, their relationship to slavery, their employment, where they worshipped and who they voted for.
Information will appear on an interactive map of Alexandria. Households that match your search criteria will be highlighted on the map in red. Click on the highlighted sections to see detailed information about who lived there.
(If searching a business, the business location will be highlighted.)

There are three ways to search.

1. You can search for a social group
e.g. Search for the freed African-American population by selecting Race and Freedom Status

2. You can search for a business
e.g. Search for the largest employers by selecting Number of Employees

3. You can search for an individual by name. You can add additional information, such as race, sex or place of birth.

e.g. Search for “Patterson”
To narrow your search, select Place of Birth and select “Ireland”

Virtually any search combination is possible, but if you are using the database for the first time, it is suggested you begin by using only one or two search criteria. From there, you can begin to explore the city and the people that inhabited it.