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George Lewis Seaton: Uncovering the Legacy of an Alexandria Trailblazer

Introduction

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.

Historical plaque marking George Seaton’s previous residence at 404 S. Royal Street in Alexandria, Virginia.

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.

A sepia-toned albumen photograph of a photomechanical newspaper representation showcasing the grand jury that indicted Jefferson Davis. The caption at the top of the faded image reads: [THE GRAND JURY / This is the Grand Jury that indicted Mr. Davis and was the first mixed jury ever impaneled in this country]. The photograph features two rows of men: a seated row and a standing row behind them. Notably, the image includes five African-American jurors. They are Cornelius Liggan Harris (seated, third from right); Dr. Fields Cook (standing, 2nd from left), who is interred at Bethel Cemetery, Wilkes Street Complex; John Oliver (seated, far left); George Seaton (standing, 5th from right); George W. Simms (standing, far right); and Rosina Beckley (standing, 4th from left)—collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.

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.

Conclusion

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.

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By David

Hello! My name is David Heiby, and I am a passionate public historian dedicated to preserving and sharing the rich history of Alexandria, Virginia, and the surrounding region. With a deep love for bringing the past to life, I am honored to serve my community in this meaningful role.

Before starting this journey, I enjoyed a fulfilling career as a businessman and entrepreneur. Now retired, I have found a new sense of purpose in my work as a public historian. My passion for history was ignited at a young age growing up in the congregation of the Old Presbyterian Meeting House in Alexandria, VA, where many historic figures are buried in its 18th-century burial ground. I still attend to this day.

Since 2015, I have also had the privilege of serving as the Superintendent of the historic Presbyterian Cemetery and Columbarium, located within the Wilkes Street Cemetery Complex in Alexandria. This cemetery holds a special place in my family's history, as it was started in the early 1800s by the Old Presbyterian Meeting House, a historic congregation dating back to 1772 that is situated one mile east in the heart of Old Town. The cemetery is the final resting place of my parents, and the Meeting House is where I have worshipped for over 60 years.

As a public historian, I am thrilled to lead tours of the Wilkes Street Cemetery, which has thirteen cemeteries in a complex with over 35,000 interments. It is considered the most historic cluster of cemeteries in the United States. These sacred grounds offer a fascinating glimpse into the story of Alexandria and its people. I also enjoy guiding tours of nearby Civil War battlefields, combining my passion for history with the compelling narratives of those who fought and fell on these hallowed grounds, bringing their stories to life. I primarily lead tours of Harpers Ferry, South Mountain, and the Antietam Battlefields, along with tracing the footsteps of those involved in the Assassination of President Abraham Lincoln in April 1865. I am also a licensed tour guide in Washington, D.C.

To further engage the community, I manage a comprehensive website dedicated to Alexandria's cemeteries, where the stories of the many souls buried across the city are shared, and their lives are commemorated. This platform serves as a valuable resource for those interested in exploring the rich history of Alexandria through its final resting places. I am also an active Board Member of the Alexandria Historical Society and the Lee-Fendall House Museum.

Whether you are a resident or a visitor to the area, I invite you to explore Alexandria's rich history by joining one of my cemetery or battlefield tours, visiting my website to research the stories of those who have shaped our city, or connecting with me on social media. My website is a comprehensive resource for those seeking to uncover the fascinating tales and histories intertwined with Alexandria's cemeteries. Please don't hesitate to reach out if you have any questions or would like to schedule a tour. I am pleased to bring the city's captivating past to life and serve my community meaningfully.

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