James Alexander

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James Alexander

James Alexander (March 4, 1804 – October 20, 1887) born in Boston Ma.; married to Rebecca Ann (1808 – 1880); died Charlottesville, Va.; burial Maplewood Cemetery.

The author of these sketches was born in Boston, Massachusetts, March 4, 1804, the eldest son of James Alexander and Elizabeth Williston, his wife. In Memoirs which he prepared for his descendants he states that he came of early colonial stock. His maternal great-grandmother was Ann Brown McMillan, a direct descendant of John (?) Brown who came over in the Mayflower in 1620. This early ancestor served as town crier for the village of Boston and his descendants are buried in the old Copps Hill Cemetery, "from the first settlement of that place." According to the Memoirs, "My father James Alexander was a member of the Antient and Honorable Artillery Company. Its original designation was The Military Company of Massachusetts. It was also styled at different periods The Great Artillery and The Artillery Company. The name Antient and Honorable Artillery was not applied until 1720. No military organization can dispute its title to be the oldest band of citizen-soldiery in America, the company was formed in 1637. A charter was granted in 1638. The first commander Capt. Keayne. I also became a member and did escort duty when Lafayette visited Boston in 1824. I was first Corporal. The reception of General Lafayette was one of the most brilliant occasions that ever took place in Boston. William Alexander the elder brother of my father was captain of this company in 1805. My father's ancestors were attendants at the New North Church."

James Alexander learned printing in Boston and completed his four-year apprenticeship in 1825. He came to Charlottesville in December, 1828, to assist in printing the Memoir, Correspondence and Miscellanies of Thomas Jefferson, edited by Thomas Jefferson Randolph of Edgehill. In December, 1832, Alexander married Rebecca Ann Wills at old Rose Hill near Charlottesville. After a few years of newspaper editing in Abingdon, where he published the Virginia Republican in the early 1830's, he returned to Charlottesville. This was his home until his death, October 20, 1887.

In addition to editing the Jeffersonian Republican, which he founded in 1835, Alexander did considerable publishing for the University of Virginia, including the early magazine The Museum. Having always strong antiquarian tastes, he wrote a history of the Albemarle County court house, of which only one copy is known to survive and that with many pages gone. During the War between the States he served as treasurer for the City of Charlottesville and a record exists of his handling of Monies for Soldiers in 1861.

In the 1870's he was local editor of his old paper, the Jeffersonian Republican. Suspended in the spring of 1862 because of war conditions, it did not resume publication until 1873. It was during 1873-74 that he wrote his Recollections of Charlottesville, now reprinted.

He was a man of strong religious interests, brought up in the Episcopal communion, but having joined the Baptist church before coming to Virginia.

Although a native of New England, Alexander became a thorough southerner and in 1860-61 his newspaper was ardently pro-secessionist. He retained connections, however, with his northern kin and in 1877 he was visited by his cousin and schoolboy chum, Francis Smith, author of our national hymn, "America." This poet, upon his return to Massachusetts, wrote: "I shall always think of Virginia as the land of November roses."

Alexander had two sons and three daughters. Both sons gave their lives in the service of the Confederacy. The elder, James Butler Sigourney Alexander, was graduated from West Point in 1856 in the class with Fitzhugh Lee, with the signature of Jefferson Davis - then Secretary of War - on his lieutenant's commission. He was on duty in Washington Territory at the out-break of the war and resigned at once to enter the Army of Northern Virginia as Captain. Contracting typhoid fever, he died in West Virginia in 1861. The second son, W. W. Alexander, was educated at Colonel Strange's Military Academy in Charlottesville. He had just entered business as a druggist with his shop "across from the Post Office at the University," when the war began, but he volunteered at once and was commissioned a Second Lieutenant. He was killed in the last battle of the Confederacy. The male line of the family thus became extinct, but through the marriage of the daughters a number of descendants survive.

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