Early Georgetown

A Few Georgetown Residents


Georgetown was settled 50 years before the Federal City became the nation's capital. In a manner, Georgetown was the parent city of Washington. Georgetown was originally the site of the Indian village of Tahoga and was once part of Maryland, the town being founded three years after nearby Alexandria.; In about 1703 a Scotsman Colonel Ninian Beall, Commander in Chief of the Provincial Forces of Maryland patented 795 acres and many of those who followed were Scots, resulting in the area being called for a time. New Scotland Hundred June 8, 1751, the Assembly of Maryland completed a survey, finding tracts owned by George Beall and George Gordon to be most convenient for the new center which was to be named for George II, the reigning king.; Two hundred and eighty pounds were paid for the 60 acres of town site extending from the river to the N Street and from the site of Georgetown University to near 30th Street. Its original 80 lots were supplemented by six further additions, but not until 1789 was it formally incorporated.

A Few Who Lived in Georgetown

Capital City

In 1783 Congress, weary of moving the National Capital about from one city to another, decided to fix on a permanent residence for the Capital. A location on the Delaware was selected and two weeks later it was decided that, in addition, a second National Capital should be formed at or near the lower falls of the Potomac at Georgetown.; An idea of two Capitals did not receive great enthusiasm; seven years later Georgetown learned that a plan for one Capital had been adopted and that it was to be on the Potomac .General Washington, President of the United States, would view the proposed site. On October 15, 1790 Washington, several commissioners and the principal citizens of the town set out to inspect the surrounding area. January 1791 the Potomac site east of Georgetown to be known as the "Ten Miles Square" authorized by Congress had been selected and work on the Federal City began October 12, 1792 with the cornerstone of the President's House being laid. The almost hundred and fifty year old Georgetown, supplying the lodging for nearly all of the members of Congress and government visitors in the beginning, was not President Washington's desired location for establishment of government workers, but rather in Washington proper.

Early Years

However, for the first decade of the 19th century the quieter and more established culture of Georgetown continued to overshadow the cosmopolitan Federal City. As late as 1835, a British visitor, Harriet Martineau, wrote:" The city (Washington) itself is unlike any other that ever was seen, straggling out hither and thither, with a small house or two a quarter of a mile from any other; so that making calls in the city we had to cross ditches and stiles, and walk alternately on grass and> pavements, and strike across a field to reach a street...".; By 1862 it was not greatly improved and Mary Clemmer Ames described it as "Capitol Hill, dreary, desolate and dirty stretched away into an uninhabited desert,--arid hill and sodden plain showed alike the horrid trail of war...".It is easy to see why the majority of visitors, the great and near-great who passed through the Capital City, chose to cross the creek and stay in Georgetown. Georgetown for many years was a prosperous port town offering the best of inns, shops, schools and lodgings. Even though it was a port town, Georgetown had a very neat appearance, the houses consisting mostly of brick.


Many of the prosperous lived along the N Street area in elegant row houses, in which property of many of the homes stretched down to personal wharves on the Potomac River. On R Street the large country style homes were built.; Reverend Francis Makemie, the first Presbyterian minister to arrive on the Eastern shore of Maryland, wrote describing the countryside "here we have a clear and serene> air,...a long and hot summer, a short and sharp winter, a free and fertile soil...here are vast quantities of timber for shipping, trade and architecture...here are in most places bricks to be made at every man's door for building."; In Georgetown many of the old brick sidewalks and street-gutters still exist, as well as many of the beautiful dwelling houses and high brick walls. The bricks, an unusual dull salmon color, used in these were larger than those made today and were set in a special way. The most prominent citizens and visitors of the District gathered in inns and private houses of Georgetown. Several such places of popularity were the Masonic Lodge (1810 to 1840) at Thomas Jefferson St. NW, The Anchor, The Sailors, The Sign of the Indian King, The Fountain Inn (also called Suter´s Tavern) and the great Union Tavern (later known as Crawford´s Hotel built in 1796), where many transactions in connection with the establishment of the Federal City across Rock Creek took place. A large coach known as The Royal George delivered guests to and from the Capital.

At various times Jerome Bonaparte, Talley-rand, John Adams, Robert Fulton and many other famous personages visited. For a time, Georgetown was the home of Thomas Jefferson, Secretary of State, as well as Francis Scott Key, attorney and composer of "The Star-Spangled Banner". The prosperity of early Georgetown stemmed from its unique position as the tobacco inspection station nearest the Potomac headwaters. The citizenry of the early city consisted of a large number of blacksmiths, boat builders, teamsters, wharf workers, silversmiths, and millers. Mills run by waterpower generated at the canal locks lined the waterfront. Whereas, tobacco, originally the chief cash crop of the area, was soon to be replaced by wheat. In 1871 the separate charter which Georgetown had kept even after its inclusion within the District of Columbia was relinquished and by Act of Congress became a part of Washington. The Capital now entirely surrounds it, but the quiet, cultured personality which gave Georgetown it's own unique self-entity, remains. Notable Residents - Francis Scott Key attorney and the author of the "Star-Spangled Banner", resided just west of Key Bridge. Cabinetmaker& William King began his business in Georgetown in 1795. The shop was located on the west side of Jefferson St.& One of the two dozen chairs President Monroe bought for the East Room of the White House remains in the White House today.; He also made coffins and kept "mortality books" spanning the years 1795 - 1832.; The many epidemics that occurred in the area forced King to spend much time on coffins.

Charles Burnett was one of the leading silversmiths out of some 65 silversmiths located in the Georgetown area circa 1800. Richard Redin an artist residing in Georgetown, painted the beautiful view of the "Little Falls" of the Potomac in 1830.Dr. William Thornton, physician, architect, inventor, painter, astronomer, poet, financier....was born to Quaker parents in 1761, came to America in 1787 and subsequently moved to Georgetown following his win in the competition for plans of the National Capital building.