Britain Loves Alexandria
Back in December, the city of Alexandria, Virginia — just across the Potomac River from Washington DC — challenged our Defence Attaché, Major General Buster Howes, to a contest. General Howes accepted, and this Labor Day weekend, teams from the British Embassy will pit their skill and strength against Alexandrians across three events selected by the Mayor of Alexandria, Bill Euille: cricket, sailing and tug-of-war.
The occasion for this bout? To mark the 200th anniversary of a significant event in UK-Alexandria relations. As Mayor Euille’s official proclamation puts it:
Certain vessels of the Royal Navy did pay an historic and noteworthy visit to the City of Alexandria during the last week of August and the first week of September 1814.
That’s a polite way of putting it. On August 29th, 1814, during the War of 1812, the citizens of Alexandria awoke to find a squadron of British warships floating on the Potomac not far from their town. Between them, the vessels had 138 heavy guns trained on Alexandria. This would be the equivalent of waking up tomorrow to find the 101st Airborne camped on your front lawn. To make matters worse, Alexandria had already dispatched all of its militia across the river to defend Washington. There was really no sensible choice but to surrender.
One of the terms was that the Brits would be allowed to take supplies from the town, including flour, sugar and even some rum and cigars. But apparently the redcoats stopped short of ransacking Alexandria. In fact, as the Mayor of the time wrote, they were quite considerate:
It is impossible that men could behave better than the British behaved while the town was in their power. Not a single inhabitant was insulted or injured by them in their person or houses.
Thanks to restraint on both sides, therefore, the delightful Old Town of Alexandria was preserved. Much of it still stands today.
The War of 1812 had many ups and downs, and we are not just commemorating the British victories. In fact, in a couple of weeks the Embassy will play its part in marking the famous American victory at Baltimore that gave rise to your own fine national anthem.
Alexandria’s weekend of festivities is about remembering the past, but it is also about celebrating the present friendship between the UK and the U.S. and looking to its future development. Not long after the Brits came to Alexandria, our countries made peace. Our ensuing friendship and alliance is one of the deepest and most important in history. The fact that we can come together and commemorate our shared history speaks volumes about the power of our special relationship.