Thursday, June 26, 2014

John Carlyle of Alexandria, Virginia

     John Carlyle of Alexandria, Virginia stands out as a kind of “representative” man of the colonial period in Virginia.    Born in 1720 in Scotland, Carlyle, came to Virginia as the agent of a merchant at the age of twenty-one in hopes of making “a fortune live independent.”  He achieved success within seven years.  Carlyle’s extensive business activities included import and export trade to England and the West Indies, retail trade in Alexandria, an iron foundry in the Shenandoah Valley, milling and a blacksmithing operation.  In 1749, Carlyle became one of the founding fathers of Alexandria.  In 1753 he built a grand home in Alexandria, overlooking the Potomac.
     Carlyle used slave labor in all of his business ventures and was one of the area’s largest slave owners.  If Carlyle had any reservations about slavery he did not voice them.
     John Carlyle’s life was repeatedly marred by the type of personal tragedy common to the 18th century.  Of his eleven children, only two lived to adulthood.  His first wife Sarah bore seven children, five of whom died in childhood.  Sarah died in child birth.  Carlyle’s second wife, Sybil bore four children, only one of whom lived to be fifteen years old

     Appointed commissary of the Virginia militia in 1755 John Carlyle had a close view of the British attitude toward the colonies and complained that the British troops “by some means or another came in so prejudiced against us [and] our Country . . . that they used us like an enemy country and took everything they wanted and paid nothing, or very little, for it. And when complaints [were] made to the commanding officers, they [cursed] the country and inhabitants, calling us the spawn of convicts the sweepings of the gaols …which made their company very disagreeable.”

     Relations between Great Britain and the colonies continued to deteriorate over the years.  In 1774, Carlyle joined the newly formed the Fairfax County Committee of Safety.  When war came, Carlyle risked everything and warmly supported the Revolution. 

A quick historical look at murder most foul in the Virginia of colonial times and the early Republic. Behind the facade of graceful mansions and quaint cobblestone streets evil lurks.

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