Light Of Freedom To Spotlight Unknown Soldier
(February 12, 2011)
Donald C. Dahmann, historian at the Old Presbyterian Meeting House, pauses at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier of the American Revolution.
||ALEXANDRIA, Va. (Army News Service, Feb. 8, 2011)
-- On the streets where George Washington often could be seen
dining, discussing business, and attending church, a group of
Revolutionary War reenactors will soon pay tribute to a long lost
brother in arms.
Forgotten for years following his death and
by many ever since, this Soldier who fought for American
independence and the light of freedom will see his memory lit up
again this Presidents Day, Feb. 21, when the First Virginia Regiment
of the Continental Line lays a wreath at the final resting place of
this now-unknown Soldier in Old Town, Alexandria, Va.
1826, he was unearthed, still wearing his uniform, by workers
expanding the sanctuary of St. Mary's Roman Catholic Church. The
body was reinterred within the current burial ground of the Old
Presbyterian Meeting House, just next door, where Washington often
prayed when the streets were too muddy to make it another eight
blocks to Christ Church.
The grave of the unknown Soldier is
surrounded by about 300 people he must have known about when he
There's John Carlyle, a founding trustee and first
overseer of Alexandria; William Hunter Jr., mayor of Alexandria and
founder of the St. Andrew's Society; Lewis Nicola, colonel in the
Corps of Invalids of the Continental Army; Dr. James Craik, surgeon
general in the Continental Army and close friend and physician to
Washington; many other veterans of the Revolutionary War and of the
French and Indian War; and
many founding members of Alexandria-Washington Masonic Lodge No. 22,
where the first president served as master.
After 1809, the town banned burials within the city limits.|
"The main reason burials were no longer allowed," said Don Dahmann,
historian for the meeting house, "was because the well and privy
were in the same area as the buried bodies, just outside of the
The meeting house, named as such because the
only church in 1775 was the Church of England, is located on South
Fairfax Street in Old Town Alexandria. The Episcopal Church was
organized shortly after the American Revolution when it was forced
to separate from the Church of England.
"The memory of the
unknown Soldier was kept alive by a young girl whose family were all
active members of the meeting house," Dahmann said.
Gregory Powell, born in 1837, regularly placed flowers on his grave
into the 20th century. And then because the Tomb to the Unknowns at
Arlington National Cemetery was dedicated a year after Armistice Day
in 1921, and a surge of interest in preserving and honoring our
colonial heritage, John Gordon contacted Mary to ask about the
gravesite," Dahmann said.
A member of the Second Presbyterian
and American Legion Post 24, Gordon initiated one of Alexandria's
earliest historic preservation efforts at the meeting house. At the
completion of the project, a decision was made to formally mark the
gravesite of the unknown Soldier.
Led by the National Society
of the Children of the American Revolution, a temporary marker was
placed at the gravesite in conjunction with the town's celebration
of George Washington's birthday on Feb. 22, 1928, just months before
Mary Powell died.
In accordance with the unknown Soldier's
days when he was alive, participants in the dedication services held
that day began at Gadsby's Tavern, followed by a walk through the
city's streets to the Old Presbyterian Meeting House, where a
service was conducted. Mary Powell dedicated the initial gravesite
Presidents Day has a triple meaning at the meeting
At the time of Washington's death on Dec. 14, 1799,
Christ Church was still "in the woods" because settlement took place
going inland from the Potomac River, making the roads too muddy and
snowy. So they held his memorial services here.
Dr. James Craik, later buried here, was the attending physician at
Washington's death bed, and Pastor James Muir, also buried here, was
a member of the Masonic Lodge and close friend of Washington.
It's also a day when all Americans pay tribute to those who
risked everything to secure freedom from British rule with the
rallying cry of "no taxation without representation," a slogan
originating during the 1750s and 1760s in the Thirteen Colonies.
Some of those who risked all were forgotten until unearthed by
more "modern" explorers. Once the tombs were erected to their
memory, though, they were all but forgotten, in large part, once
again. Not many even know that there's another tomb of an unknown
"I've been down to talk with some people at the
Alexandria Convention and Visitors Association, and it seems they
are more interested in guiding visitors to places where they can
spend money," Dahmann said.
"But I told them that they should
promote all the walking tours because people get hungry and thirsty
and want to relax while shopping after a good walk where they learn
interesting and fun facts about our history," he said.
Although the original meeting house was destroyed by fire in 1835
and rebuilt two years later, about 1,000 members still worship in
this area of Old Town that's like stepping back into time.
Halfway between the two entrances is the tabletop memorial that was
dedicated on April 19, 1929. The epitaph, slightly faded, reads:
"His was an idealism that recognized a Supreme Being, that planted
religious liberty on our shores, that overthrew despotism, that
established a people's government, that wrote a Constitution setting
metes and bounds of delegated authority, that fixed a standard of
value upon men above gold and lifted high the torch of civil liberty
along the pathway of mankind. In ourselves this soul exists as part
of ours, his memory's mansion."
Article and photo by Rob McIlvaine
Army News Service
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