The City Of Alexandria Library received an historical gift last week - a 1796 map and ledger detailing the landownership of Charles Alexander, one of the city’s namesakes.
Several historical organizations and individual donors funded the purchase of the documents, which cost $30,000. The map and the 200-plus page ledger were given to the city's library system at no charge.
The 1796 map and ledger were displayed at a formal ceremony June 19 at Beatley Central Library celebrating the acquisition of the historical documents. Guests included organizations, individual donors and members of the Alexandria community, who donated funds to purchase the map and ledger.
“It doesn’t matter how much you contributed, it is really truly honest-to-God appreciated and will make a huge difference in the collection at the library,” said William Brierre, president of the Alexandria Library Company, one of the historical organizations that made a monetary donation.
The documents contain the history and founding of Alexandria, going back to the 1650s. The map and ledger are some of the earliest known manuscripts of the city according to Gary Eyler, the owner of the in Old Town and the map’s seller. Eyler said he does not know where the map and ledger have been floating around for the past 200 years.
“There were no printed maps of Alexandria,” he said. “Southerners didn’t draw maps of their towns so this is really special. Alexandria is part of Washington, D.C., so this map also represents the nation's capital since the Library of Congress owns all the other ones. It’s neat that the City of Alexandria can have something that they feel proud of.”
Eyler explained to the audience that the 1796 map is the only map of Alexandria in private hands from the 18th century. The map and ledger belonged to the Alexander family, who the city was named after. The ledger contains land records that focus on purchases that were made by the Alexander family.
Eyler said John Alexander was the original landowner in Alexandria and George Washington’s older brother Lawrence Washington, who lived in England at the time, wanted to start a town near Huntington Creek Warehouse.
"Lawrence Washington hired George Washington at the age of 17 to do a survey of Alexandria so that’s why you see that famous survey of Alexandria in the 1740’s,” Eyler said. “So what’s framed here at the right hand side is a page, and that page names the streets in Alexandria, the official naming of the streets.” Eyler said.
Eyler said Lawrence Washington devised a plan to fool John Alexander out of his land. Eyler further explained that Lawrence Washington put together a land committee and told Alexander that they would name the city after him if he gave them his land. The map and ledger were used in the 1806 U.S. Supreme Court Case Alexander v. Pendleton.
“John had a son named Charles Alexander, and when he passed away Charles took over his father’s rights.” Eyler said. “He felt that his father’s rights were disenfranchised by Alexandria so he sued the city corporation and what we have here is a ledger with all the deeds of the city, dating back to the 1650s. It’s an incredible chronicle history of the city of Alexandria,” he said.
Eyler, an expert in rare documents, maps and framing said when he received the map and ledger, he realized how valuable they were when he started doing research on them.
“This map of Alexandria could have ended up in Ohio, Pennsylvania and may not have even been back to Alexandria,” he said. “I received an email several months ago from a gentleman up in New England who knew I had a shop in Alexandria and may have an interest in this item. I realized that this truly could be an important item,” he said.
George Combs, the branch manager and special collections expert at the Barrett Branch Library said when Eyler walked in this past February and showed him the map, he wanted it. Combs thanked Eyler for holding on to the map and not auctioning it. Combs also thanked the historical organizations that put it all together and described them as heroes.
“My hat is off to all of you,“ he said. “Thank you for making this possible, and I just want to let you know that Special Collections promises now that we have the map we will hold on to it and do our best to preserve it so that future generations will have it hopefully forever and ever.”
Combs said the library did not have the budget to purchase the map and ledger and said they were lucky that they had others who were willing to put in the time and effort.
“It’s such an early document. It’s within 50 years of the founding of the city, “ he said. “At this far distance of time it’s so unusual to find documents like that still out there and the fact that all these different groups were able to pull their resources, the library didn’t spend any of it’s money because we couldn’t really justify doing that. It’s really the citizens that came together and said this needs to stay here. “
Alexandria Library Director Rose Dawson said she is amazed that the map and ledger have been preserved for so long. Dawson said she credits the Alexandria Library Company for taking the lead and for all organizations that “stepped up to the plate.”
“The library is celebrating 75 years this year - its birthday - and I have to give the Library Company credit because they made sure that the City of Alexandria had a public library 75 years ago,” she said.
Dawson said the map and ledger will be permanently housed at the Special Collections Library at Barrett Library. Dawson said the department is purchasing a special case to showcase the map and ledger.