Fresh on the heels of the new Silver Line in Northern Virginia, Alexandria will usher in a new era of rapid transit tomorrow with the debut of “Metroway.” The region’s first bus rapid transit will move along a middle of the road “Transitway” lane that stretches from edge of Crystal City to the Monroe Avenue Bridge.
One of its five Potomac Yards stops is at the intersection of Route 1 and Swann Avenue. Our history crew got to talking about Swann, and we realized, other than the small historical marker at the Swann-Daingerfield House on Prince Street, we didn’t know doodley squat about him. And even our thoughts there, it turns out, were wrong.
If you google "Swann Alexandria," you will find some information on Thomas Swann. Born in Alexandria in 1809, he rose to prominence as mayor of Baltimore (1856-1860), 33rd Governor of Maryland (1866-1869), and representing Baltimore in the U. S. House in 1869-1979.
He made his money in the 1840s as president of the B&O Railroad.
Gaining this knowledge, I went back to the marker.
Swann-Daingerfield House, 712 Prince Street
Swann-Daingerfield House, built in 1802 by Thomas Swann, purchased in 1832 by Henry Daingerfield and enlarged. St. Mary’s Academy 1889-1943, restored in 1978 by Mr. and Mrs. Hugh E. Witt.
Wait a minute. If 1802 is correct, then the Thomas Swann that built this house is not the same person as the other Thomas Swann.
Ok, not a problem, this is more than likely a father and son deal. Should be easy to find this out.
Google only found Thomas the politician.
I then searched The Alexandria Gazette and found a Thomas Swann who shows up around 1808-1811. Armed with this clue, I searched google again and found out the relationship was indeed father and son. The elder Thomas was United States District Attorney for the District of Columbia from 1821-1823. Interestingly enough, Swann came before Francis Scott Key.
The search of the Gazette also revealed that Thomas the father dabbled in real estate. Further searching revealed an ad in the paper from 1810. Swann was looking for Dandridge, his “negro slave.”
History can be complicated. We marvel at the Swann-Daingerfield House and look up to men like Thomas Swann, the father. But we must also be aware and be reminded of who else lived in that house.
Maybe one day a high-profile road in Alexandria will be named "Dandridge," or perhaps part of this new Metroway will be re-named to pay honor to Dandridge or others like him. Freedom of movement was something they never took for granted.