Archibald Alexander Travelogue

Copyright Sherman Isbell


Site 1: Timber Ridge Presbyterian Church
Directions: The church is located north of Lexington, Virginia. From the exit off Interstates 64 and 81 just north of Lexington, go north on U.S. Highway 11 about a mile, and turn right onto county road 716, at the wayside park marking the birthplace of Sam Houston.

Dr. Archibald Alexander (1772-1851), president of Hampden Sydney College (1797-1806) and first professor of Princeton Theological Seminary (1812-1851), was the namesake of his grandfather. The older Archibald Alexander was born in County Donegal, Ireland, on February 4, 1708, the grandson of an emigrant to Ireland from Scotland, and came to Pennsylvania about 1736, settling about fifty miles west of Philadelphia, in Chester County. There he resided during the Great Awakening, when he and his wife were brought to a serious concern about religion through the preaching of George Whitefield at White Clay Creek, Pennsylvania. They were members of the New Providence congregation, where John Rowland was pastor; Rowland's preaching during the revival there is described in Dr. Alexander's The Log College, pp. 210-221. Dr. Alexander's grandfather came to what is now Rockbridge County, Virginia in 1747, and from Benjamin Borden's Grant obtained 980 acres along the west side of South River, opposite the mouth of Irish Creek. The Creek took its name from the many Scotch-Irish settlers along its banks. Though there were earlier Presbyterian churches in the tidewater of Virginia, the Presbyterian congregations in the Shenandoah Valley were distinctively Scotch-Irish, and were the result of the migration into the valley around 1730 to 1750. Alexander was the first sheriff of the county, and was an elder at Timber Ridge Presbyterian Church, which was organized in 1746. Timber Ridge Church belonged to the New Side group, favorable to the Great Awakening.

Timber Ridge Church erected its present building in 1756. The communion table in the church was built and given to the church the same year, and is the oldest known piece of Rockbridge County furniture. Timber Ridge would be the church where Dr. Archibald Alexander would have been baptized in 1772. There is an interesting historical display in the vestibule of the church. Near the church is a marker for the birthplace of Sam Houston (1793-1863), governor of Tennessee and of Texas. Robert Houston, grandfather of the governor, belonged to Timber Ridge Church and gave the land for the present building. The older Archibald Alexander died about 1780 and is apparently buried two miles north, at Muse Cemetery, the older burying ground for Timber Ridge Church, though his grave stone is now gone.

In 1776, Liberty Hall Academy (the school which developed into Washington and Lee University) was moved to a site near Timber Ridge Presbyterian Church. The academy began elsewhere as Augusta Academy in 1749; it was founded by the older Archibald Alexander's brother, Robert. Control of the school passed to the Presbytery of Hanover in 1774. William Graham (1746-1799) was called in 1776 to be pastor of Timber Ridge Church, and of Hall's Meeting Place (later New Monmouth Church), which was located west of Lexington. Graham was also given responsibility for the academy. Graham was a recent graduate of the College of New Jersey at Princeton, New Jersey. Liberty Hall was given its new name in 1776, at the outbreak of the Revolution, about the same time that the new town of Lexington took its name from the Massachusetts village which was the scene of the first armed conflict in the war. Graham moved to a farm on Mulberry Hill near Lexington in 1779, and Liberty Hall was reopened at the new site in 1782. Meanwhile, about 1779, young Archibald Alexander was sent at the age of seven to board with a relative while attending a school on Timber Ridge. He had previously memorized the Westminster Shorter Catechism's 107 questions, and now began learning the Larger Catechism.

Site 2: Archibald Alexander's birthplace on South River
Directions: To reach the Alexanders' farm, go south on Timber Ridge Road (county route 716), to the bridge over the South River. The land along the west side of the river where the road makes its final descent off the mountain was part of the Alexander property. Cross the bridge over the South River and turn left onto county route 608. About a mile later, Irish Creek flows into the South River, and county route 603 turns off on the right.

Dr. Alexander's father, William Alexander, was born in Chester County, Pennsylvania, on March 22, 1738, and came to Rockbridge County, Virginia with his father. William's son Archibald was born on his grandfather's land on South River, nearly opposite the mouth of Irish Creek. Just north of Irish Creek, a private bridge on the left crosses to the west side of the South River. Dr. Archibald Alexander was born in a log house on the west side of the river, on April 17, 1772. An historical plaque to mark the area where Dr. Alexander was born was set up about 1958, but has been repeatedly washed out by local flooding, and is presently stored in the basement of the Rockbridge Historical Society's Campbell House at 101 East Washington Street in Lexington.

Site 3: Location of Archibald Alexander's boyhood home in Lexington
Directions: Entering Lexington from the north, Jordan's Point is reached by taking U.S. Highway 11 South across the Maury River into Lexington, and then turning sharply onto Moses Mill Road, the first road on the right after the bridge. The first stream one crosses is Wood's Creek, and the second is the mill race.

In 1775, William Alexander moved to the North River (now known as Maury River), and settled just north of Lexington, on what is now called Jordan's Point. Here Alexander lived and operated a store. There was a ford across the river here, on the Great Wagon Road which ran from Pennsylvania through the Shenandoah Valley and was the route taken by many Scotch-Irish settlers who founded Presbyterian congregations along the Shenandoah Valley. The farmers brought their products along the river in bateaux constructed by laying a raft over two canoes. After Alexander left Jordan's Point about 1793, additional commerce and industry developed here, including mills and forges. It was apparently near the mill race that the Alexander home and store were located. Archibald Alexander spent much of his boyhood here, and from here he was sent to the school on Timber Ridge.

In later years, William's son, Major John Alexander (1776-1853), a veteran of the War of 1812, built a home less than a mile down the river, and on the opposite shore. The thirteen-room manor house, known as Clifton, is reached by crossing back over the Maury River on U.S. Highway 11 North, and then turning right onto county route 631. John Alexander was a trustee of what is now Washington and Lee University, in Lexington (1812-1853), and an elder for 47 years at Lexington Presbyterian Church.

Site 4: Ruins of Liberty Hall on Mulberry Hill
Directions: Follow U.S. Highway 11 (Main Street) south and turn right on West Nelson Street, which becomes U.S. Highway 60. After crossing Woods Creek and passing Liberty Hall Road on the right, turn right onto Mitchell Place. The high walls of the ruins will be visible on the left, across from Wilson Field.

In 1779, William Graham, who also became pastor of the Presbyterians meeting in Lexington, had moved to a farm on Mulberry Hill on the west side of Lexington. Liberty Hall Academy was reopened there in 1782 on a site of 120 acres, with part of the land given by Graham, and part by Dr. Alexander's father, William Alexander, who was a trustee of the college (1782-1797). The first academy buildings on Mulberry Hill were erected in 1783. Dr. Archibald Alexander studied here with Graham until 1788; Dr. Alexander's son commented that "To no man did Dr. Alexander own himself more indebted, in regard to the direction of his studies and the moulding of his character." The biography of Dr. Alexander, pages 17-20 and 37, contains an account of Graham. Alexander studied the classics and natural and moral philosophy at Liberty Hall Academy, with Graham giving the course taught by John Witherspoon at Princeton, New Jersey. In 1788, Dr. Alexander's father sent him away to act as a tutor in a household near Fredericksburg, Virginia. He returned to Lexington in 1789 and the following year began to receive further theological instruction from Graham, in preparation for entering the ministry. Alexander's description of this course of study is found on pages 82-84 and 104-110 of his biography.

The largest of several structures on the Mulberry Hill campus was a three-story, limestone building, used for classes and dormitory rooms; it was built in 1793 and burned in January 1803. Its ruins, locally known as Liberty Hall, have been excavated by Washington and Lee University. An unusual feature of the Liberty Hall building are the four corner chimneys; they are also found in the Alexander-Witherow house which William Alexander built in Lexington about 1793. Graham resigned as rector of Liberty Hall Academy in 1796. During a time of financial instability, George Washington gave the academy one hundred shares in a canal company, and the gift drew attention to the needs of the institution, which the trustees in 1798 renamed the Washington Academy.

Site 5: Ruins of New Monmouth Presbyterian Church
Directions: Leave Lexington on U.S. Highway 60 West. There is an historical marker on the right side of the road just before reaching the Kelley's Corner Store on the right side of the road. The field containing the ruins and cemetery is overgrown, but there is a gate on the right side of the field, and the ruins have a marker attached to them.

William Graham was a preacher in the revival around Lexington in 1789 and 1790. One of the places where the preaching occurred was New Monmouth Presbyterian Church. In 1789 the congregation was divided into two parts, one part worshipping in Lexington and the other at New Monmouth, with Graham as pastor. The stone building at New Monmouth building was erected in 1789 at Graham's urging. Archibald Alexander came back to Lexington before the revival began in 1789, and when Graham heard about the scenes of revival elsewhere in Virginia, he took young Alexander with him to witness what was happening. They returned to tell the people of Lexington about the serious concerns respecting religion which were being felt in other congregations, and Alexander's memories of the meeting at New Monmouth Church when Graham related his observations are found on pages 66-67 of Alexander's biography. Some of Alexander's trial discourses in preparation for the ministry were given at New Monmouth Church.

From the site of New Monmouth Church, there is a good view of House Mountain, which dominates the area around Lexington. Alexander's reflections on House Mountain and the rugged scenery of Rockbridge County are found on pages 24-31 of his biography. Alexander's first public exhortation took place at a log home on Kerr's Creek, where Graham had two of his students deliver some words. Alexander's experience on this occasion is related on pp. 85-86 of his biography. Kerr's Creek is a community a few miles further west on Highway 60. Lavender Hill Farm, telephone 540-464-5877, is a bed and breakfast on Route 631 along Kerr's Creek.

Site 6: William Alexander house on Main Street in Lexington
Directions: The Alexander-Withrow House is located on the northwest corner of Main and Washington Streets.

About 1793, William Alexander, father of Dr. Archibald Alexander, built a fine brick home on a lot he had purchased in the town of Lexington, whose streets had recently been laid out. It was both his home and his store, and he was also the town's first postmaster. The house is now an inn, known as the Alexander-Withrow house. Call 540-463-2044, and ask for a room in the Alexander-Withrow House; rooms in several buildings are handled by the same management. Because most of the buildings in the town were destroyed by a fire in 1796, the Alexander-Withrow house is said to be the oldest building remaining in Lexington. The town fire gutted the interior of the house, whereupon William moved out and his eldest son Andrew rebuilt the interior. In 1851, the level of Main Street was lowered considerably to allow for a less steep grade; until the street was lowered, the ground-level entrance to the house was on what is now the second floor. After the street was lowered, the basement was exposed, and the lowest level of some houses, such as the Alexander-Witherow house, was then given a facing of stone slabs. The interior of the house was further renovated about this time, and the Italianate roof line was added around 1856.

William Graham was pastor of the Lexington Presbyterian Church until he left the area in 1796, and William Alexander was an elder in the congregation. The original building was of brick, and stood in a beautiful grove of trees on South Main Street, not far from the Alexander-Withrow House. The spot is marked in the gounds of the Stonewall Jackson Cemetery; the church was located on the street, and Virginia Military Institute professor Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson's grave is further back in the cemetery. The present church building, erected in 1845, is also on South Main Street. This is the congregation in which Jackson was a deacon. Jackson became a Presbyterian while living in Lexington. A block from the Alexander-Witherow house is the house on East Washington Street where Jackson lived during the lifetime of his second wife; it is open to the public.

Site 7: Location of William Alexander houses at Washington and Lee University
Directions: On the north side of West Washington Street is the front campus of Washington and Lee University, and just west of the Robert E. Lee Episcopal Church is the president's house, now known as Lee House.

When William Alexander, father of Dr. Archibald Alexander, left the burned house in 1796, he went to an already-existing log house situated on property he owned on the west side of Lexington. The land is now the front campus of Washington and Lee University. William's log house was apparently located just behind where the University president's house now stands. When William Alexander died on May 2, 1797, he was constructing a frame house on the site now occupied by the president's house; Alexander had already moved into the uncompleted house. After the 1803 fire which destroyed Liberty Hall Academy's limestone building on Mulberry Hill, the school moved to its present campus. On March 4, 1803, William Alexander's widow Nancy sold the college the house and thirty acres where she resided, and this became the main campus of Washington and Lee University. At the same time, William and Nancy's son Andrew gained possession of the Mulberry Hill property in an exchange for land that is part of the present campus. Andrew Alexander (1768-1844) was a member of the Virginia legislature, a trustee of the college (1796-1844), and gave Lexington its first water system.

William Alexander's daughter Sarah had married Samuel Legrand Campbell in 1794; Campbell was both an executor of his father-in-law's will and the second president of Liberty Hall Academy. William Alexander's frame house became the residence of the presidents of Washington and Lee, from 1803 until 1844. After 1844, the presidents resided in the neighboring brick house, known as the Lee-Jackson House. While Presbyterian minister George Junkin was president, the appendage on the right side of the Lee-Jackson house was from 1853 the residence of Junkin's daughter and her husband, Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson. After Jackson's wife died the next year, Jackson remained in the house for another three years. Robert E. Lee, president of the college from 1865 to 1870, resided in the brick house until 1869, when a new president's house, designed by Lee, was erected on the spot where William Alexander's frame house had stood. Lee died in the new house in 1870. Today it continues to serve as the president's house. Before Alexander's frame house was removed, it served as a college boarding house from 1865 to 1868 for Confederate veterans who had served under Lee and who had enrolled in the college after the Civil War. Lee's solicitude for the welfare of his students caused him to visit with them at this house which stood next to his own residence. Lee is buried near the president's house, at Lee Chapel; one of the speakers at Lee's funeral was Rev. Henry C. Alexander, a grandson of Dr. Archibald Alexander.

Near these residences are two university buildings housing artifacts associated with Liberty Hall Academy. William Graham went to Philadelphia in 1776 to buy books for Liberty Hall Academy, and some 130 of the 300 books which he secured on that occasion are on view in the Special Collections at the James G. Leyburn Library on the campus of Washington and Lee University. Among the books are Hervey's Works, Owen on Psalm 130, Durham on Isaiah 53, Durham's Unsearchable Riches, and Turretin's Institutio. On display at the Lee Chapel Museum are a silhouette of Graham and the seal of Liberty Hall Academy. Across the room is a portrait of Robert E. Lee's father, Henry Lee, who was a classmate of Graham at the College of New Jersey, at Princeton. Graham is buried on the campus of Washington and Lee University. William Graham's brother Edward, who was a trustee of the college (1807-1840), and taught there (1813-1829), married Dr. Archibald Alexander's sister Margaret (1770-1852), who came to serious concerns about religion at the time of the 1789 Lexington revival.

Both William Alexander's log house and his frame house were moved from the college campus in 1868, and were placed side by side at 207 and 209 North Randolph Street, on Shields Hill in Lexington, where they remain today. At the time the houses were moved, the log house was weather-boarded. The frame house, after its move to Shields Hill, became in 1893 the residence of William Leslie Price, the butler for G. W. C. Lee, son of Robert E. Lee and his father's successor as president of the college. Price turned the frame house around ninety degrees and remodeled it somewhat; originally the house was two stories high and had the general appearance of the weather-boarded log house next door.

Further reading
James W. Alexander, The Life of Archibald Alexander. Available from Sprinkle Publications, P.O. Box 1094, Harrisonburg, Virginia 22801.
William Henry Foote, Sketches of Virginia.
Iain H. Murray, Revival and Revivalism: The Making and Marring of American Evangelicalism 1750-1858. Available from Banner of Truth, P.O. Box 621, Carlisle, Pennsylvania 17013.


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