Exhibitions - Alexandria Archaeology Museum

Excerpts from the Exhibition Catalogue (1983)

The Alexandria Gazette has recorded the history of Alexandria and its merchants since 1784. Artifacts from archaeological excavations on the sites of early shops and residences, together with advertisements from early issues of this newspaper, provide insight into the history of Alexandria merchants and their wares. The artifact assemblages from wells behind Alexandria shops provide an inside look at the products sold by specific merchants in the late 18th and 19th centuries. Early newspaper advertisements provide clues to the origin of consumer goods which were discarded in Alexandria’s backyards.

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The Town

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The town of Alexandria was laid out in 1749 on the site of a tobacco warehouse. Led by Scottish merchants, the town evolved into a major commercial port by the end of the century. Although international trade dwindled with 19th-century competition from Baltimore and other northern cities, an increasing variety of goods reached Alexandria shops from other American ports. These imported items and manufactured goods were sold to country merchants as well as to residents of the town.

Most of Alexandria’s early shops were clustered along King Street, near City Hall and the Market Square, and close to the waterfront. Merchandise was also sold directly from the wharves or auctioned by the vendue merchant. A farmers' market, established in 1753, supplied fresh produce.

Today, Alexandrians shops at malls and supermarkets for many of their basic needs, yet the farmers' market continues to sell produce and handcrafts early on Saturday mornings and specialty shops still line King Street. Twentieth-century shops sell food, medicine, clothing, fabric, shoes, china, glass, hardware and toys as did their 18th and 19th-century counterparts. Many original buildings have been restored to house today's shops, and some of Alexandria's 19th-century retail ventures survive today in new surroundings. King Street and Market Square continue to be a center of commercial and social activities for Alexandria and the region.

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The Alexandria Gazette

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The Alexandria Gazette was established in 1784, and was printed daily from 1825 until just a few years ago. America's oldest daily newspaper, the Gazette is an exceptional source of Alexandria's political, social and economic history. The activities, merchandise and business acumen of Alexandria's merchants and shopkeepers are chronicled through over 200 years of advertisements.

The Office of the Alexandria Gazette was located at 105 South Royal Street from about 1820 until the death of its editor Samuel Snowden in 1831. Archaeological excavation took place in a well on this property in 1974. Hundreds of pieces of lead type and spaces used in printing early issues of the Alexandria Gazette were among the finds.




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