Washington History, District Of Columbia
The known history of Washington, DC, United States begins in the late 16th century when Europeans began to explore the Potomac River. George Calvert, aka Lord Baltimore, was the first man to actually try and settle the land that Washington, DC now sits on. He received permission from King Charles I of England to settle a Catholic colony in the New World since Catholics were not permitted to settle on English lands in the Americas at that time. George Calvert died in 1632, but his son Leonard was successful in colonizing Maryland.
At first, they were only able to colonize the coast since efforts to settle further up the Potomac failed due to hostile Native Americans in the area. However, large manors which acted as small communities eventually spread up and down both sides of the river, including the land that is now Washington, DC. Many of the landowners made their fortunes through tobacco plantations and the use of slaves.
A society in which large manors housed wealthy and hospitable Lords and Ladies was sure to bring a delightful social life to the area. There were many social calls, dinner parties, and men’s sporting events, such as horse racing and fencing. Of course, the wealthy upper-class were not the only settlers in the area. There were many small farmers working the less-fertile land plots and tenant farmers who rented land from the manors. Also, indentured servants settled in the area and worked as laborers, artisans, and mechanics.
After the Revolutionary War in which the American colonies were freed from British rule, the Continental Congress began to meet in order to set up the new nation. They did not have a permanent meeting place but they soon sought one that was on mostly unsettled land. After almost a decade of competition between the northern and southern states, the Congress decided that the new “Federal town” should be located on the Potomac since there were few towns in the area.
In 1791, President George Washington chose the land that is now the District of Columbia to be the nation’s capital. Plans for the new federal city were made and many of the federal buildings were completed; however, the city was not quick to grow because of a lack of cooperation by the neighboring landowners and also by investors responsible for building up the city.
In December of 1799 President Washington passed away but Congress still met in their new permanent home for the first time a year later. During Thomas Jefferson’s presidency, society in Washington grew at the hands of future First-Lady Dolly Madison whose husband was Jefferson’s Secretary of State at the time; however, during the off-season the city appeared to be a ruins and was still not experiencing any major growth.
During the War of 1812 with England, Washington, DC was left undefended and most of the federal buildings were burned by British troops. The new White House was built in 1817 and the rest of the city was rebuilt by December of 1819.
Washington society began to boom again, but it was not until the United States Civil War in 1861 that the city really began to grow. This was not only due to the Army of the Potomac which was set up exclusively for the defense of the federal city and brought many soldiers to reside there, but also to the additional government administration which was required during the war. For the most part, the Army of the Potomac and a ring of new forts around Washington, DC helped to deter any attacks on the city during the war. Toward the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, projects meant to beautify and modernize the city were put underway.
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