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County to Dedicate Historic Marker Near Chain Bridge

by ARLnow.com November 11, 2011 at 12:30 pm 3,646 15 Comments

(Updated at 4:15 p.m.) Arlington County and the American Foreign Service Association will dedicate a historic marker on the Virginia side of Chain Bridge on Tuesday.

The marker will commemorate the spot where, in 1814, a State Department clerk first hid the Declaration of Independence and some of the young country’s most precious documents ahead of the British attack on Washington, D.C.

From Arlington County:

Arlington County Board Member Jay Fisette and an American Foreign Service Association representative will join residents and history buffs on Tuesday, November 15, to dedicate a historic marker on the Virginia side of Chain Bridge. The dedication highlights Arlington’s early history as the bicentennial of the War of 1812 approaches.

The marker notes that it was to this spot that a State Department Clerk, Stephen Pleasonton, carried the Declaration of Independence and other iconic American documents that he had packed into a wagon on August 23, 1812 1814 as the British marched on Washington. Pleasonton initially hid the documents in an abandoned grist mill at the site. On August 24, 1812 1814, the British burned parts of the District, including the White House and Capitol.

The dedication will take place at 11:00 a.m. The location is described as the “trailhead for Pimmit Run trail under the GW Parkway Bridge, where it crosses over Glebe Rd. at Chain Bridge Rd.”

“Very limited” parking is available.

  • FYI

    “Historic” means something that itself was part of history. “Historical” means something that commemorates history. So these are historical markers. Examples of “historic” markers are be the marble obelisks that mark the boundaries of DC.

  • StrangeTag

    I love how the tags for this article are: Chain Bridge, history… and Jay Fisette!

    Kind of shoots a hole in Darwin’s theory.

  • TMP

    The British burned Washington DC in 1814, not 1812.

  • FYI

    TMP is right! It’s 1814.

    Also, the linked Wikipedia article notes that the savior of the documents (Pleasonton) was the auditor off the Treasury Department rather than a State Department employee (though the documents had been stored at the State Departement). (Even if it had been a State Dept. person, it wouldn’t have been a Foreign Service person, as there was no FS at the time.)

    Sure hope the actual marker doesn’t reflect these errors.

    • bemused bystander

      Please read the Wikipedia article again. It states that Pleasonton was appointed as the fifth auditor in the Treasury Department in 1817, i.e. after the war.

      • TMP

        Still says 1812 in three places. Let’s hope this is a typo on just ArlNow.com and not on the county press release or the marker itself.

        • Actually, it was bad information from Arlington County. We’re correcting the article now.

          • TMP

            Do you believe everything you read in a press release? Just kidding! The only reason I “hoped” it was ArlNow.com’s typo is that if the county got it wrong in the press release, there is chance they got things wrong on the marker!

  • AlexD

    It’s just Arlington. No need to be historic or historical.

    • Richard Cranium


    • TMP

      Sad but true. Arlington reminds me of a bit by Eddie Izzard:

      Yes, and I grew up in Europe, where the history comes from. Oh, yeah. You tear your history down, man! “30 years old, let’s smash it to the floor and put a car park here!” I have seen it in stories. I sawsomething in a program on something in Miami, and they were saying, “We’ve redecorated this building to how it looked over 50 years ago!” And people were going, “No, surely not, no. No one was alive then!”

      I bet you 99% of Arlingtonians could tell you what or where the Ball-Sellers House is. The Hume School may be on the tax sticker, but I dare say the same could be said about that. I once took a wrong turn and ended up finding the Dawson-Bailey House in North Arlington which the historical society’s web page says is “probably the oldest structure in Arlington County” and it’s part of a freakin’ playground!

      • drax

        Perhaps something historic was destroyed to build your house too.

  • To all alert readers of Arlnow.com: I regret the errors that I made in last week’s Media Alert on the County’s planned Nov. 15 dedication of the Chain Bridge historical marker. I have issued a corrected version of the Media Alert — noting that the British burning of Washington DC was in 1814, not 1812, and changing “historic” to “historical.” The errors in the alert were entirely mine. The historic resources staff will probably never speak to me again. I regret the errors and appreciate the comments. Join us tomorrow! — Mary Curtius, Media Relations Manager, Arlington County Government

  • WO

    Can anybody explain why legend [if not history] has Dolly Madison involved with saving these documents at this time ?

    • TMP

      She is credited with *instructing* that silver, Gilbert Stuart’s portrait of George Washington, and an original draft of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution be saved, but didn’t necessarily carry them out of Washington herself. Her own account speaks to this at least as it relates to the Washington portrait:

      “Our kind friend Mr. Carroll has come to hasten my departure, and in a very bad humor with me, because I insist on waiting until the large picture of General Washington is secured, and it requires to be unscrewed from the wall. The process was found too tedious for these perilous moments; I have ordered the frame to be broken and the canvas taken out”….. “It is done, and the precious portrait placed in the hands of two gentlemen from New York for safe keeping. On handing the canvas to the gentlemen in question, Messrs. Barker and Depeyster, Mr. Sioussat cautioned them against rolling it up, saying that it would destroy the portrait. He was moved to this because Mr. Barker started to roll it up for greater convenience for carrying.”

      On of the servants seem to indicate that she only carried some of the silver off herself: “She [Dolley Madison] had no time for doing it It would have required a ladder to get it down. All she carried off was the silver in her reticule, as the British were thought to be but a few squares off, and were expected every moment. John Suse [Jean Sioussat], a Frenchman, then doorkeeper, and still living, and McGraw, the President’s gardener, took it down and sent it off on a wagon with some larger silver urns and other such valuables as could be hastily got together. When the British did arrive they ate up the very dinner that I had prepared for the President’s party.”

      To learn more about Dolley Madison, watch the excellent PBS documentary online at: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/films/dolley/

      I’d also highly recommend visiting the Madison’s home Montpelier (www.montpelier.org) as a great day trip from Arlington. The restoration they’ve been undertaking is really well done.


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