250 years ago a British army led by General Edward Braddock arrived in Alexandria in route, unknowingly, to a bloody defeat at the hands of the French and Indians. Following is one of a series of articles on that army.
February 17, 1755, Alexandria: John Carlyle wrote today to Sir. John St. Clair, Deputy Quartermaster General of General Braddock’s army, responding to St. Clair’s order that Carlyle buy "198,400 lbs of hay" and additional feed for 400 army horses arriving in Alexandria.
Carlyle was chosen supply officer for the British soldiers headed for Alexandria in part because he was one of the town’s most active businessmen. Over several years he did business as "Carlyle and Dalton," importers of rum, sugar, slaves, and general merchandise; "Carlyle and Adams," exporters of wheat and flour; and the "Old Bloomery Company," producers and exporters of iron, according to Carlyle’s biographer, James Munson.
He also was a large landowner, member of the governing body of Alexandria, a major in the county militia, and a founder of Alexandria.
In 1755, Alexandria was the largest and most northern deepwater port on the Potomac. Georgetown was somewhat smaller (it had been chartered two years later and its canal was far in the future), and where Washington, D.C. is now there were then only creeks, swamps, farmland, and woods.
In this somewhat vacant landscape, Carlyle wrote: "I have taken every method I could think of to purchase the Hay and Corn fodder you desired, but have not been able to buy above ten thousand weigh," far less than the 198,000 pounds ordered. Carlyle knew his reputation was at stake. After he supplied an earlier expedition against the French led by George Washington, the Governor of Virginia complained that Carlyle had not "discharged your duty as Commissary of Stores and Provisions, with the Exactness and Dispatch expected."
Now Carlyle needed to find the supplies quickly. General Braddock was to arrive in Virginia the next week.
Ted Pulliam is a member of the Alexandria Archaeological Commission.