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How Cabin John got its name

Lots of Legends

There are several primary legends as to the source of the name Cabin John. There are also many versions of each legend. In all likelyhood Cabin John was named for a "Captain John" who ran a tavern near the present intersection of River Road and Seen Locks Road. The creek now called "Cabin John Run" was likely originally called "Captain John's Run". It is also possible that the name has some relationship to Captain John Smith the explorer, however while this is a nice idea, there is no strong evidence to back it up.

And now for the legends...

John of the Cabin

Legend holds that a hermit named John came to the area now called Cabin John long ago. Some stories place his appearance immediately after the Revolutionary War, others place his appearance shortly after the War of 1812, but all of the legends agree that he was gone before the Civil War broke out.
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A 1900 era reconstruction of John's Cabin can be seen under the bridge
Cabin John Legends
John lived in a cabin built close to the side of the creek valley; several spots have been identified over the years as his cabin's location, but always located on the west side of the creek. John hunted up and down the valley for his food and had a small garden, he seldom spoke to anyone. He appeared in the area as a young man and disappeared as an old man. Over the years the area where he lived was called 'John's Cabin' or 'The Cabin of John' and he was referred to as 'John of the Cabin'. The legend that states that 'Cabin John' is a shortened version of 'The Cabin of John'.

In 1911, J. S. Tomlinson began to develop Cabin John as a modern suburban community. Tomlinson related the story of John of the Cabin and went as far as including a photo in one of his publications showing the location of John's Cabin and another photo reputedly showing John's Ghost stand among the trees of the creek valley.

John, the husband of 'The Female Stranger'

In a cemetery in Alexandria Virginia is an elaborate gravestone, under this stone is buried "a female stranger" as the inscription reads. There are many legends surrounding this grave including one that says it may hold Arron Burrs lost daughter Theodosia - but this is not the legend we care about here.
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The tomb stone of the 'Female Stranger' in Alexandria, Virginia
Cabin John Legends
Our story links the Female Stranger to the Hermit John. John and his wife (or fiance' depending on the version) came to America from England, fleeing her father's wrath. John was a commoner, but his lover's father was a nobleman and against their relationship.

On the long boat trip across the Atlantic she became very ill. Their ship landed in Alexandria where she was cared for at a local inn. Sadly her illness became worse and she died. John, grief stricken and unwilling to see his lover's body taken back to England, had her buried in an unnamed grave so he could visit it without risk of her father ever finding her and taking the body for interment in her family's cemetery. John in his grief followed the River north and settled in a wide creek valley, rich with trees and wildlife where he lived out his life grieving his lost love.
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One of the several poems about John, published around 1905
Cabin John Legends

Captain John the Pirate

This legend states that John was a sea captain and a pirate at that. When he had had enough of the sea he sailed his ship up the river to Little Falls, he went overland further up the river where his old enemies were less likely to find him. He buried his treasure, chests of gold, in or near the creek valley, and then killed the men who came with him to keep the treasure's location a secret. The Captain John lived out his days hunting for his food in the area. This tale says that 'Cabin John' is a corruption of "Captain John'
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A sketch of John's cabin from over 100 years ago
Cabin John Legends

Tomlinson's land sales catalog included references to this legend and the business, The American Land Company, reserved rights to 1/2 of any treasure found on the property he was selling. I believe that there is even a clause to this affect in some early deeds.
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Tomlinson's attempt at locating John's cabin is marked with an 'X' (ca 1912)
Cabin John Legends

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