John Carlyle was born in 1720 in England, the second son of an apothecary surgeon. He emigrated to Virginia in 1741 as an agent of merchant William Hicks. He built his own career as a merchant in Belhaven, a settlement that would later become Alexandria, Virginia in 1749. Carlyle was one of the founders of the burgeoning city.
That year, Carlyle purchased two, half-acre lots strategically located between the Potomac River and Market Square. He began construction of his Georgian stone mansion in 1751 and moved into the completed house with his wife Sarah on August 1, 1753. Coincidentally, Sarah gave birth to their first son that same night.
Carlyle went on to become very wealthy with land and business interests across Virginia, along with trading operations in England and the West Indies. He was well connected politically and was tapped by Lieutenant Governor Robert Dinwiddie to be major and commissary of Virginia’s forces during the French and Indian War. Carlyle House was the initial headquarters for Major General Edward Braddock during that war.
Sometime around 1770, Carlyle built a summer residence called Torthorwald (later renamed Morven), where he lived out his final ten years. He died in 1780 and was buried at the Old Presbyterian Meeting House in Alexandria.
Today, the John Carlyle House operates as a museum where guides open the doors to Alexandria’s origins. There is a beautiful garden behind the house that is often overlooked by visitors, but is one of Alexandria’s hidden gems.
Know Before You Go
There is a small fee for tours of the house but there is no charge for strolling the grounds and garden.