Washington proclamation made city part of D.C.
July 11, 1996
by Pamela Cressey
Andrew Ellicott’s map showing the Territory of Columbia including Alexandria, in January 1793. The map depicts topography, roads and the waterways.
In the last several weeks I have been writing about the history of Jones Point, Belle Haven, and other land along Alexandria’s southern boundary. This area has been extensively studied by the firm responsible for assembling data regarding the effects of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Improvement Project on cultural resources. Parsons Engineering Science, Inc. has brought together abundant information from many sources to chronicle the diverse heritage which may still be preserved on land and underwater. By combining the results of this broad technical report with many specific studies, we can develop an historical framework for Jones Point and other southern points near the bridge.
After exploring the vast prehistoric past of both sides of Hunting Creek, I turned to the history of Jones Point from its hazy beginnings to the repeated attempts by Alexandrians to establish a fortification there. Alas, our town’s surrender to the British in 1814 may not have occurred if a fort had been completed and staffed. This week I turn to a more positive side of Alexandria’s association with the District of Columbia, and one of the most significant aspects of Jones Point.
One of the issues of new United States was the selection of the capital’s location. Various sites were proposed, such as Kingston, New York, Annapolis, Nottingham, New Jersey, and Williamsburg. Discussed since 1779, it was not until July 15, 1790, that Congress passed the Residence Act authorizing President George Washington to locate the ten mile square capital on the Potomac River between the Eastern Branch (Anacostia River) and the Connogochegue, near Williamsport, Maryland.
On January 24, 1791, Washington issued a proclamation stating where the beginning of the district would be: "Running from the Court-House of Alexandria in Virginia, due South West half a Mile, and thence a due South East course till it shall strike Hunting Creek, to fix the beginning of the said four lines of experiment." This land in Alexandria, however, was not included in the original Residence Act, and a amendment was required. As T. Michael Miller writes in his history of Jones Point, "Washington was concerned that the new capital contain good port facilities, and thus, Alexandria, a vibrant maritime center was included...." It should be noted, that the southern boundary of the district was placed just four miles north of Mount Vernon.
Washington selected Andrew Ellicott to survey the district’s boundaries. Wasting no time, Ellicott arrived in Alexandria in February 1791, "but the cloudy weather prevented any observations being made until Friday which was very fine" he wrote to Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson. When Ellicott did begin surveying, he found that he needed to begin the measurements on Hunting Creek so that "This plan will include all the Harbor and Wharfs at Alexandria, which will not be the Case if the two first lines mentioned in the proclamation are to remain as now." Washington took Ellicott’s advice and on March 30, 1791, issued a proclamation designating the district’s boundaries "Beginning at Jones Point, being the upper cape of Hunting Creek...."
Ellicott wrote his wife: "I have been treated with great politeness by the inhabitants, who are truly rejoiced at the prospect of being included in the Federal district. I shall leave the town this afternoon to begin the rough survey of the ten miles square." Although Alexandrians did not continue their rejoicing as the next century advanced, they must have felt great optimism in 1791. As Ellicott set out to survey, our ancestors prepared to enter the Territory of Columbia with their long-time friend and neighbor, George Washington, serving as president.