Trouble in Alexandria

Illustration of a man riding a horse and grabbing another man who was standing by the back of his jacket.
During the British occupation of Alexandra, Captain John Creighton grabbed British lieutenant John West Fraser by his neck scarf.  Luckily, the scarf gave way, Fraser was not harmed, and the Americans avoided a potential British reprisal.

(c) Gerry Embelton

"The town was providentially preserved from destruction, by the accidental circumstance of the...neck handkerchief giving way...”
--Alexandria Mayor Charles Simms describing the August 28, 1814 incident

U.S. Navy Captain David Porter, Jr., brought in to help defend Washington, was upset. Hard on the heels of the destruction of the capital’s public buildings, Alexandria, Virginia was disgracefully surrendering without firing a shot. Dashing on horseback into Alexandria with Captain John Creighton and Lieutenant Charles T. Platt, Porter may have been the one who decided to take his frustration out on the nearest enemy officer he could find.

A young British lieutenant, John West Fraser, was busy supervising the “requisition” of flour barrels stored in a warehouse in the now-occupied Alexandria waterfront. Suddenly, Porter and Creighton dashed in and Creighton swooped down and grabbed the lieutenant by his neck handkerchief. He rushed away with his enemy dangling behind his horse by the scarf. Fraser had been dragged about 100 yards until the scarf tore.

An alarmed Alexandria Mayor Charles Simms fumed that Lieutenant Fraser might have been killed had not the neck scarf separated. He complained that “this rash act excited the greatest alarm among the Inhabitants of the Town. Women and children running and screaming through the Streets and hundreds of them layed out that night without Shelter.”

The incident also “created a considerable alarm [among the British]; the men retreated to the boats, and prepared their carronades, and were with difficulty prevented from firing.” The mayor did some fast talking to prevent real trouble. Two representatives rowed out to the British commander, Captain Gordon. The brouhaha was explained and “the Signal of Battle was annull’d.” The British “recommended that proper precautions should be taken as a repetition...might lead to the destruction of the town.”

from "In Full Glory Reflected: Discovering the War of 1812 in the Chesapeake" by Ralph E. Eshelman and Burton K. Kummerow

Last updated: August 14, 2023

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