The Presbyterian Cemetery

William Bartleman: Uncovering the Resilient Life Journey of a Scottish Merchant, Mason, and War of 1812 Veteran

William Bartleman’s life journey from his birthplace in Stornoway, Isle of Lewis, Scotland, to his multifaceted legacy in the United States is a story of resilience, community involvement, and unwavering commitment. A prominent figure in Alexandria, Virginia, Bartleman left a lasting mark as a merchant, Mason, and valiant veteran of the War of 1812. Let’s delve into the various aspects that define the remarkable life of William Bartleman.

A Journey to a New Land

Born in 1767 in Stornoway, Isle of Lewis, Scotland, William Bartleman’s early life was marked by his Scottish heritage and upbringing. At 14 in 1784, he embarked on a life-altering journey, emigrating to the United States with his brother John—their destination was Alexandria, Virginia.

Establishing a Flourishing Merchant Business

In Alexandria, William Bartleman wasted no time becoming an integral community member. He became a merchant and grocer, quickly gaining recognition for his business acumen. His early business operations were on Prince Street, but he eventually moved his establishment to Lower King Street. It was in this town that his legacy began to take shape.

A Home and a Place in History

In 1810, William Bartleman’s influence expanded as he built a house at 207 King Street, a location that would later house Sonoma Cellar’s establishment [link]. Adjacent to this residence stands the “Alley House,” a unique structure with historical significance. Despite its lesser-known status compared to the nearby “Spite House,” the Alley House stands as a testament to Bartleman’s lasting impact on the architecture and heritage of the area.

Embracing Camaraderie and Heritage

Bartleman’s involvement in various organizations reflected his commitment to community and heritage. He became an esteemed Alexandria-Washington Masonic Lodge 22 member, holding the position of Senior Deacon. His Scottish roots were also celebrated through his membership in The St. Andrew’s Society of Alexandria, showcasing his camaraderie with fellow Scots and his dedication to preserving his heritage.

Paying Respects and Ensuring Safety

William Bartleman’s dedication to public service was evident in his membership with the Relief Fire Company. This affiliation highlighted his commitment to community safety and his willingness to serve beyond his merchant endeavors. His participation in the funeral procession of George Washington on December 18, 1799, further demonstrated his reverence for the first President of the United States and his desire to honor national figures.

Valor in Times of Conflict

The War of 1812 marked a significant period in American history, and William Bartleman proved his mettle as a valiant participant. He played an active role in the Battle of the White House, showcasing his determination to defend his country during times of turmoil. This courage underlines his multifaceted legacy as both a community contributor and a patriot.

Family and Enduring Connections

In 1800, William Bartleman married Margaret Douglas, solidifying his family’s place in his legacy. Together, they had several children, including a daughter named Wilhelmina Bartleman. Wilhelmina’s union with George Washington Dennis Ramsay tied the family to historical figures—Dennis Ramsay served as a pallbearer at George Washington’s funeral, bridging the past with Bartleman’s present.

Remembering a Respected Merchant

Memorializing William Bartleman: Obelisk Tribute in Presbyterian Cemetery, Alexandria, Virginia

On December 21, 1842, William Bartleman’s earthly journey ended. His gravestone inscription serves as a reminder of his impact:

Dec. 21, 1842
in memory of
long a respectable merchant
in Alexandria, born in the island of Lewis
Ross Shire
died here Dec. 21, 1842 
in the 75 year of his age. 


This inscription encapsulates a life of accomplishment, service, and dedication.

The legacy of William Bartleman is a testament to the power of an individual’s contributions to a community and a nation. As a merchant, Mason, and courageous veteran, he left an indelible mark that resonates through the years, reminding us of the significance of preserving history and honoring those who shaped it.

Sources of Information

McGroarty, W. B. (1940). The Old Presbyterian Meeting House at Alexandria, VA 1774 – 1874. The William Byrd Press, Inc.

The Alexandria Association. (1956). Our Town 1749-1865 at Gadsby’s Tavern Alexandria, Virginia. The Dietz Printing Company.

Pippenger, W. E. (1992). Tombstone Inscriptions of Alexandria, Virginia: Volume 1. Family Line Publications.

Hamilton, E. J. (2021). A Scottish Migration to Alexandria. Ellen J. Hamilton.

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By David

As a public historian, I am dedicated to preserving and sharing the rich history of Alexandria, Virginia, and the surrounding region. With a deep passion for bringing the past to life, I serve my community in this meaningful role.

Before this, 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.

Since 2015, I have 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 blog focused on Alexandria's cemeteries, where the many souls buried across the city are memorialized. 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, reading my blog, or connecting with me on social media. It is my sincere pleasure to bring the city's captivating past to life and serve my community meaningfully.

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