In 1751, Robert Harper was given a patent on 125 acres (0.5 km²) at the present location of the town. In 1761, Harper established a ferry across the Potomac, making the town a starting point for settlers moving into the Shenandoah Valley and further west. In 1763, the Virginia General Assembly established the town of "Shenandoah Falls at Mr. Harper's Ferry."
On October 25, 1783, Thomas Jefferson visited Harpers Ferry. He viewed "the passage of the Potomac though the Blue Ridge" from a rock which is now named for him - Jefferson Rock - the view from which is illustrated above.
Jefferson was on his way to Philadelphia and passed through Harpers Ferry with his daughter Patsy. Jefferson called the site "perhaps one of the most stupendous scenes in nature.”
The Patowmack Company (which was formed to complete river improvements on the Potomac and its tributaries), inspected Harpers Ferry during the summer of 1785 to determine the need for bypass canals. In 1794, Washington's familiarity with the area led him to propose the site for a new United States armory and arsenal. Some of Washington's family moved to the area; his great-great nephew, Colonel Lewis Washington, was held hostage during John Brown's raid in 1859.