Wilkes Street Cemetery

In colonial America, the area around a church was known as the churchyard. A remote location for burials was known as a graveyard. In 1804, the Alexandria city council banned burials within the city limits due to health concerns related to cholera and other infectious diseases being common in the early years of the 19th century. The City then allocated space for church graveyards south of town, off Wilkes Street, on part of what was known at the time as Spring Garden Farm. This area provided more burial space and located the graveyards down-river from the city water supply.

Christ Church purchased land there for its graveyard on December 15, 1808, as recorded in the land records at Fairfax County Court House. On April 20, 1809 the Christ Church vestry decreed that burials in the churchyard would cease as of May 1, 1809, “and that the Warder or Treasurer be authorized to make sale of lots in the new burial ground to any person”.

Today, the graveyard is bounded on the east by Douglass Cemetery, on the west by a hearse road and Trinity United Methodist church cemetery, on the south by Wilkes Street, and on the north by the former Orange and Alexandria railroad yard which is now Jamieson Street.

There were no public parks in Alexandria’s early days and churchyards and graveyards frequently served as picnic grounds with table marker stones serving as picnic tables. This tradition continued with maintenance of family plots and as part of the observance of Decoration or Memorial Day.

The earliest burials in the graveyard represented much of the gentry in Alexandria, including the burial of members of the Cooper, Daingerfield, Gilpin, Lawrason, Lee, and Mason families. During and shortly after the Civil War, the population of the graveyard grew substantially. Burial of cremated ashes continues today.

There are many Confederate veterans buried in the graveyard and the churchyard.

The graveyard has not always been maintained as it lovingly is today. In its early years livestock may have been allowed to graze there, accomplishing the dual function of trimming and fertilizing. As its use declined in the 20th century, the graveyard was allowed to grow over with natural vegetation. In the mid-1970s, a committee of parishioners was formed for the upkeep of the graveyard. It has since been maintained in a manner that honors the memories of those buried there. For many years a service of remembrance has been held there every year on Memorial Day.

Notable burials

Major Samuel Cooper, Revolutionary War soldier who fought at Bunker Hill, Trenton, Brandywine, Germantown, Monmouth among other battles, died 1840, age 84.

General Samuel Cooper (Major Cooper’s son), Adjutant and Inspector General U.S.A and C.S.A., died 1876, age 79.

John Bathurst Daingerfield, died 1886, and his wife Rebecca Holmes (Fowle) Daingerfield, died 1885.

Thomas Lawrason, died 1819, age 39, who built a house at 301 S. Saint Asaph visited in 1824 by the Marquis de Lafayette

James Lawrason born 1753 and died 1824, was a lieutenant in the Revolutionary War

Edmund Jennings Lee, noted public servant, mayor of Alexandria and attorney, died 1843, age 71.

Commodore Sydney Smith Lee, Confederate States Navy and brother of Robert E. Lee, died 1869, age 66, and his wife Anna Maria Mason Lee, died 1898.

James Murray Mason (died 1871), Confederate envoy, who with John Slidell, passengers on the British merchant vessel Trent, was arrested by the U.S. Navy in November 1861 on the high seas, causing an international incident between the United States and Britain. It is known to history as the Trent Affair.