In 1805 the nations’ capital had only been established at its current site on the Potomac for a few years, having moved from Philadelphia. Originally know during its construction as Federal City, Congress met in newly named Washington City, as it was then known, for the first time in November 1800, the man for whom the city was named had died in December of the previous year, and in February 1801 the District of Columbia, which at the time also included the cities of Alexandria and Georgetown, was placed under the control of Congress. In January 1791, President George Washington had announced his choice for the federal district: 100 square miles of land ceded by Maryland and Virginia, in 1846, the Virginia land was returned to the state, shrinking the district by a third. The Potomac River, at that time, especially in the area around Washington, was shallow and its shores consisted of large areas of mud flats, where the water was only inches deep. During harsh winters the shallow waters easily froze putting an end to navigation until the spring. On February 20, 1805, after being frozen over for more than 2 months, leaving those in Washington City in desperate straits because of lack of supplies the Potomac River was once again deemed fit for navigation as the ice jams broke and commerce resumed.
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