Port City readies for anniversary of British occupation

Port City readies for anniversary of British occupation

By Jordan Wright (Image/Library of Congress)

Two centuries have passed since the Royal Navy last invaded the Port City, but this time they’ll be here by invitation.

You might think that after putting the Capitol and Executive Mansion to the torch and then sacking Alexandria, residents and city officials wouldn’t be particularly ready to roll out the red carpet and hoist up the Union Jack. But a lot can change in 200 years.

“[This effort] really commemorates two things,” said resident Peter Pennington, who is helping organize events to observe the anniversary of Alexandria’s brush with the War of 1812. “The [war], which was vital to the founding of the U.S. as one country, and, secondly, the fact that enemies can become the firmest of friends.”

Though Alexandria’s quick capitulation to the invading British earned the city derision in 1814, modern residents can look back on the surrender more favorably.

The decision by the Alexandria Common Council to grant the marauders free rein to clear the city of its supply of spirits, tobacco, armaments and merchandise likely spared Old Town the same fate as its neighbor to the north.

Apothecary owner Edward Stabler, whose pharmacy still stands, described the surprise incursion like this: “Their conduct was respectful and decorous; and instead of that exultation and triumph which expands the heart of a soldier when he encounters and overcomes a force like his own, these [men] were evidently dejected and adverse to what they were doing.”

But they are not entirely off the hook. Ever since last December, when an invitational challenge from Mayor Bill Euille was tendered to the Royal Navy, the city has been planning myriad activities. To kick off Alexandria’s bicentennial commemoration of the War of 1812, organizers are holding a film gala in the restored Old Town Theater.

The fundraiser — a portion of the proceeds will go to the Wounded Warrior Project and its British equivalent, Help for Heroes — will begin with a cocktail reception to be followed by a screening of “Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World” starring Russell Crowe. A pre-screening discussion will include a talk by Kyle Dalton, who worked on the HMS Surprise, the replica 18th century frigate used in the movie.

Special guest Brendan O’Toole, a veteran and T.C. Williams’ graduate who recently ran 3,600 miles across the country to raise funds for wounded service members, will speak about the charity. Costumes from the film and naval artifacts from the period provided by local museums also will be on display.

The spring and summer will be marked by lectures sponsored by the Alexandria Historical Society, boat tours on the Potomac and living history events. It all culminates with a large outdoor festival on the final weekend in August, which will feature a cricket match and a yacht race up the Potomac River.

To purchase tickets to the film gala visit https://shop.alexandriava.gov. For information on all other events go to www.visitalexandriava.com/1812.