In the middle of the 18th century, John Carlyle, a merchant from Scotland, wanted to build a spectacular home for his bride, Sarah Fairfax. The result of that effort, which was completed in 1753, still stands in Old Town Alexandria, Virginia and is known as Carlyle House.
The home, which was built by the labor of both indentured servants and slaves, was the setting for much heartache for the Carlyle family. The day they moved into the house, Sarah gave birth to their first child. He would be the first of seven children, but only five survived past the toddler stage. Sarah died giving birth to her last child, a daughter named Ann.
Set along the Potomac River, Carlyle House has the distinction of being the only home in Alexandria that is a stone, 18th century home in the Palladian style. John and Sarah Carlyle enjoyed entertaining in their beautiful home. Sarah came from on the most prominent families of the day, and the family was connected to many prominent social and political people. Grand dinners and other social events were regular occurrences in their home.
In 1755, Carlyle was forced to host a rather unwelcome group of guests. General Edward Braddock, who held the title Commander-in-Chief of His Majesty's Forces in North America, had been sent to oversee the French and Indian War. When he arrived in Alexandria, along with 1200 troops, the general selected Carlyle house as his headquarters.
He was in the home for three weeks during which time John Carlyle wrote these words to his brother, George, about the general.
""too fond of his passions, women and wine...'' He also said that general had "abused his house and furnishings...''
Still, the fact that history was being made inside his home was not lost on him, despite the inconvenience that his house guests were causing. He also wrote this to George:
"their was the Grandest Congress held at my home ever known on the Continent.'' The meeting, held by General Braddock, included five colonial governors.
John Carlyle died in 1780 at which time the house was passed on to his daughter Sarah. Sarah lived in the home with her own family, but by the time 1827 rolled around, the home was no longer in the hands of the Carlyle family. The house was bought and sold several times and served a variety of purposes, including serving as a Civil War hospital.
Today, the home is operated by the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority, which purchased it in 1970 and spent six years restoring the property before opening it to the public. Visitors can tour the home and see interpretations of daily life in Colonial America.
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