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.