Using Col. John Fitzgerald’s name for our waterfront park is highly deserved because of this Irish émigré’s exemplary military and civilian service to Alexandria and our nation, and we should publicly honor the contributions of the Irish to our city. A Revolutionary War hero,Washington’s aide-de-camp and close life-long friend, Fitzgerald actively promoted Alexandria’s civic, commercial and religious interests.
Fitzgerald was with Washington on March 17 when the British evacuated Boston. The General used "Saint" as the password for the day; the countersign, "Patrick." Perhaps Fitzgerald suggested that choice. He was with Washington when crossing the Delaware on Dec. 25, 1776, at Valley Forge and significant battles, including Trenton, Monmouth, Princeton, Brandywine and Germantown. After being wounded and returning home to recover, in 1781 Fitzgerald saved Alexandria from being burned by tricking the British into believing he had more men than he actually did.
After the war Fitzgerald hosted Washington on several occasions. In 1791 Washington wrote a letter supporting him as the Collector of Customs. In 1795 he persuaded Washington to support the founding of the first Roman Catholic church in Virginia, our St. Mary’s. The President contributed the equivalent of today’s $1,200 toward the effort. Fitzgerald also promoted religious freedom.
Some of Fitzgerald’s other civic contributions included serving as Alexandria’s eighth mayor, assisting in founding and/or directing the Alexandria Library, the Bank of Alexandria, and the Potomac Company. Its mission was to improve that river’s navigation to connect the wealth of the interior to our port which would increase Alexandria’s wealth and prestige. As a merchant he contributed to the prosperity of Alexandria and our environs. His warehouse at the end of King St., the oldest surviving structure on the waterfront, now houses a Starbucks.
Alexandria has no other tangible recognition of Irish contributions to the development and prosperity of our city. We justifiably promote our Scottish heritage and should do the same for our Irish. The new waterfront park is the most appropriate place to do so.
Founders Park, whose name evokes our early history in which Fitzgerald played important roles, is nearby. Citizens have understood for more than five years that waterfront park would bear his name. Before City Council made that designation, there were public hearings and letters to the editor endorsing that choice. The only memorable opposition came from Scottish proponents fearing dilution of emphasis on those contributions. Council adopted the waterfront plan including Fitzgerald’s name as an integral part, equally valid as other parts.
Opposition because Fitzgerald allegedly owned slaves is inappropriate. No proof of that claim has been adduced, nor has anyone even publicly objected on that basis. Staff denied that rumored objection. Only staff has raised a mistaken objection to using Fitzgerald’s name based on a spurious claim about lack of proper process, so it should be promptly withdrawn.
We honor people for the good they have done. Col. John Fitzgerald’s name belongs on our waterfront park.
Ellen Latane Tabb