"A portrait is a picture in which there is just a tiny little something not quite right about the mouth." -- John Singer Sargent

Sunday, February 27, 2022

Sandy Alexander


This image of the Reverend Sandy Alexander appeared in the Washington Post on  February 16, 1896 in an article entitled Patriarch Of His Race: Rev. Sandy Alexander Has Rightly Earned That Title. The abstract of the article at ProQuest reads:

Born a Slave in Virginia, He Was Freed by the Will of His Mistress and Came to Washington Long Before the War--His Memories of Early Times at the Capital are Most Interesting, and He Has Achieved Distinction as a Minister. Waited on Webster and Calhoun. Studied for the Ministry. Memories of early Washington.

Sandy Alexander was born enslaved in Prince William County, Virginia on January 18, 1818 on a plantation called Mt. Pleasant owned by 4 unmarried sisters named Hancock. When the last sister, Catherine Hancock, died she freed her slaves in her will including 12 year old Sandy Alexander. Virginia law at the time required freed slaves to leave the state. Alexander hired out to a man named Thompson, who was in the wood business and moved to Washington, DC., where he had  to pay an  annual $3,000 bond that he would not become a public pauper. 

He eventually came to work as a waiter at Mrs. Mount's boardinghouse. The Post article says “It was there that he waited on Webster and Calhoun.” Much is made of Sandy Alexander working for Daniel Webster. An 1897 article in the Post describes the then elderly Sandy Alexander as having been “In ante-bellum days the slave and bodyguard of Daniel Webster,” a very surprising claim considering Webster's well-known stance against slavery. A 1901 article in the Washington Evening Times says  “ When a young man, Rev. Alexander was Daniel Webster’s personal servant.”

He later worked at Brown's Hotel.  He worked in the dead-letter office of the Post Office Department for “over nineteen years” while studying for the ministry and he worked for the Patent Office for another fifteen years until he retired to become full-time pastor of the First Baptist Church of Georgetown, which he had founded in 1862. 

The First Baptist Church of Georgetown has this photo of Rev. Alexander, which matches the image above. (See Georgetown: the Undisclosed History.)

The Washington Bee in 1886 identifies Rev. Alexander's home as “his handsome 3 story  residence No. 2725 Dunbarton st. West Washington.” Here's the Google street-view of 2725 Dumbarton Street.

2725 Dumbarton Street

The 1896 Post article says that "He was also chaplain of the old Senate of the District of Columbia, when Fred Douglass was member. His appointment was met with considerable opposition at the time on account of his color."

In 1894, when he was 71 years-old,  he was struck by a cable car in Washington, while returning from a council meeting (See The Washington Bee, November 3, 1894.)

Sandy Alexander's March 1902 obituary in the Washington Evening Star sums up his career.

Rev. Alexander was a native of Virginia and was styled “Father” Alexander by the Baptist ministers, being the oldest preacher of his race in the service. In 1871 he was elected chaplain of the District legislature and at different times was a member of the board of trustees of the public schools. He held a position in the patent office at one time, but resigned to accept the pastorate of the First Baptist Church in West Washington, where he served for forty years, he was said to be a zealous worker, being especially successful in managing the finances of the church. He also served the Second Baptist congregation as pastor for seven years, but recently retired from the active ministry. 

Rev. Alexander was buried in the Columbian Harmony Cemetery which was where the Rhode Island Ave.  Metro Station is today. (Find-a-Grave.) For more on Columbian Harmony Cemetery see Landmarks: Columbian Harmony Cemetery.

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