Little Falls lies in the Potomac River about four miles upstream from Georgetown. Thomas Jefferson visited Little Falls in 1790 and again in 1802. The falls were a feature of natural history of the kind that always attracted him.

Jefferson's first visit to Little Falls occurred on September 13, 1790, when he and James Madison were determining a site for the seat of the federal government. In his memorandum book, Jefferson recorded payment to the boatmen who took their party to see the falls.[1] One of his traveling companions described the excursion: "We traversed the whole country were joined by the different gentlemen who lived upon the confines and had at last a cavalcade of thirteen: dined at Forrest’s and after dinner went in a boat to the falls 4 miles above the town—romantic scene."[2]

Jefferson made a second visit to Little Falls on July 21, 1802.[3] On this occasion, he wanted to inspect the canal then under construction that would bypass the Little Falls, whose descent was about thirty-six feet in two miles. This canal was one of the main projects of the Potomac Company's effort to open the river to navigation from Georgetown to Cumberland, Maryland, a distance of 185 miles.

Further Sources


  1. ^ MB, 1:766. Transcription available at Founders Online.
  2. ^ Thomas Lee Shippen to William Shippen, September 15, 1790, in PTJ, 17:465. Transcription available at Founders Online.
  3. ^ MB, 2:1078, 2:1078n76. Transcription available at Founders Online.