In the heart of Alexandria lies a story of resilience, determination, and profound impact. George Lewis Seaton’s life is a testament to the indomitable spirit of African Americans during the challenging post-Civil War era. His legacy, especially in the Hayti Neighborhood (pronounced haytie), is a beacon of inspiration for all who tread the streets of Alexandria.
From Humble Beginnings
Born free in the 1820s in what was then the District of Columbia, Seaton’s early life was rooted in Alexandria. His parents, George and Lucinda Seaton, were free blacks believed to have once been enslaved at the iconic Mount Vernon. Despite the societal challenges of his era, Seaton was not to be held back. He learned to read and write and meticulously honed his skills as a carpenter.
A Symbol of Success: Seaton’s Home in Hayti
The Hayti Neighborhood of Alexandria cradles a significant emblem of Seaton’s achievements: his residence at 404 S. Royal Street. More than just a dwelling, this house is a testament to Seaton’s stature and success within the community. The neighborhood, with historical houses dotting the 400 block of South Royal and the 300 block of South Fairfax Street, whispers tales of a rich past. Among these tales is the story of the Wilkes Street Tunnel. Initially constructed for the Orange and Alexandria Railroad between 1851 and 1856, it transitioned from serving railroad traffic to welcoming pedestrians and cyclists, offering them a window into history.
In recognition of its historical significance, the George Lewis Seaton House was proudly added to the Virginia Landmarks Register and the National Register of Historic Places in the early 2000s.
A Life of Service and Impact
Seaton’s influence wasn’t confined to carpentry. He ventured into the political arena, attending Republican Party meetings, gracing conventions, and even securing a seat in the House of Delegates in 1869, representing Alexandria. Seaton was also a grand jury member that indicted Jefferson Davis, adding another layer to his multifaceted contributions to history.
But his heart was always with the community. He was instrumental in building schools for African Americans and proudly served as a trustee of the First Free School Society of Alexandria. His craftsmanship, a testament to his dedication, can be seen across Alexandria. Seaton’s touch is evident from municipal buildings to the Odd Fellows Hall, with the latter being listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Throughout his life, he remained a fervent advocate for education, championing equal rights and opportunities for African Americans.
A Legacy Etched in Stone, Yet a Mystery Remains
For all his contributions to Alexandria, the final resting place of George Lewis Seaton remains shrouded in mystery. While it is widely believed that Seaton might be buried in the Trinity United Methodist Cemetery, part of the Wilkes Street Complex, where his parents, brother, and other family members found their final resting place, there’s speculation that he could be interred at the Union Cemetery. The actual location remains elusive. His spirit is palpable as we walk the streets of Alexandria, especially when passing by 404 S. Royal Street. Each step taken near these historic cemeteries is a poignant reminder of Seaton and the trailblazers who shaped the city’s history and future.
George Lewis Seaton’s journey from a free black child in the 1820s to a pillar of Alexandria’s community is a story of perseverance, education, and unwavering commitment to the betterment of society. His legacy in the Hayti Neighborhood and beyond serves as a beacon, inspiring future generations.
Sources of Information
Pippenger, W. E. (1992). Tombstone Inscriptions of Alexandria, Virginia: Volume 1. Family Line Publications.
Bernstein, Peter et al. 2001. The Life and Times of George Lewis Seaton. Alexandria Archaeology Publications, No. 121. Printed 2003.
Pippenger, W. E. (2014). Tombstone Inscriptions of Alexandria, Virginia: Volume 5. Heritage Books.
Alexandria Times. (2021, April 29). Hayti: One of Alexandria’s first African-American neighborhoods.
Virginia MLK Commission. Year. “Biography of George Lewis Seaton.” Retrieved September 11, 2023.