Tudor Place and the Civil War Home Front

Original research, undertaken in 2013 and expanded in 2019, describes the travails and business operations of Britannia Peter Kennon, Tudor Place’s second owner, when she navigated between the threats of the North against the South, working to save her family’s estate from confiscation and penury during the Civil War. The essay for the first time identifies the Union officers, surgeons, and others who boarded at Tudor Place during the conflict, and describes how a household of owners, boarders and servants, including some previously enslaved, survived and coexisted in wartime.


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From Our Garden | The Pecan Tree

By Kellie Cox, Director of Gardens and Grounds

With the season upon us for nutty treats like stuffing and candied pecans, our thoughts turn to an arboreal star at Tudor Place, its widely admired pecan tree. (If this makes your thoughts turn to nutty treats, try our Candied Pecans recipe!)

In our historic gardens, we are fortunate to have a magnificent pecan tree (Carya illinoensis), Washington, D.C.’s, oldest and largest living specimen, according to the Casey Trees Living Legacy Campaign. This 80-foot-plus tree was planted from a seed nut ca. 1875, when Britannia Peter Kennon (Thomas and Martha Peter’s daughter) owned Tudor Place. Britannia planted the nut in the Dining Terrace, southwest of the historic house, from a pecan nut given to her by Maggie Carraher, an Irish immigrant who worked as the Tudor Place cook. Surprisingly, given pecans’ preference for southern climates, the tree has survived and produces fruit to this day.

The pecan tree to my left was planted during my great-grandmother’s lifetime, in the east end of the arbor, by the kitchen. I think that she had expected it to shade the path in front of the house in the afternoon, but they decided that it was a little too close to the house, and it was then moved down to where you now see it. My Father said that it stayed there for many years, practically with out growing at all, probably as a result of cutting the tap root. However, a few years later it started to grow and ever since then has made a splendid growth every year.

— Armistead Peter III

History of the Pecan Tree

The name ‘Pecan’ is a Native American term, translating to “all nuts requiring a stone to crack”.  The history of pecan trees can be traced back to as early as the 1500s. Many people consider the pecan to be one of the most valuable North American nut species, as it is the only major tree nut that grows naturally in North America. One of the earliest pecan tree plantings was documented to around 1711, 60 years before the first recorded planting by colonists in the future United States. The first pecan tree planting on these shores occurred in Long Island, N.Y., in 1772. Towards the end of the 1700’s, pecan trees were planted along the eastern coast, including in the gardens of George Washington (ca. 1775) and Thomas Jefferson (ca. 1779). Their cultivation and commercial planting started in the 1880s, in Texas and Louisiana, and sales of pecans emerged throughout the country. Where Maggie Carraher obtained the nut she gave Britannia is unknown. It may have come from Mount Vernon or a local store in Washington.

Try Communications Director Mandy Katz’s recipe for candied pecans (great for homemade gift-giving!). And visit the historic pecan tree here any Tuesday through Sunday on a walk or self-guided tour of the 5½-acre historic garden for only $3 a visit. We also offer scheduled garden programs throughout the year, including monthly guided garden tours in spring through fall.  Thanks for reading and stay tuned for a new From Our Garden post in December!

BONUS: A recipe for Candied Pecans. Try it!
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Lives Measured in the Garden: “As Time Goes By”

· Family and Friends ·

Armistead Peter Jr., the third owner of Tudor Place, cherished the labors and traditions of the estate’s landscape. His grandmother, Britannia Wellington Peter Kennon, inherited the property from its founders, her parents. She taught her grandchildren to honor these forebears and in many ways Armistead Peter Jr. measured out his own life by following the garden’s rhythms and answering its demands. This essay by Archivist Wendy Kail traces intergenerational change within the Peter family through diaries, notes, and the natural history of Tudor Place.

A mid 20th-century view of the Box Knot rose garden, where time’s passing registers on the face of a sun dial from Crossbasket Castle.


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We’re in the Comics! An Animated History of D.C.’s Start

Note: Post updated, February 23, 2012, with addition of an older comic — sort of a ‘flashback Flashback,’ regarding another real estate transaction involving Tudor Place forebear Robert Peter. (Click on comics to see enlarged.) 

Close those history books. It’s time to learn a little D.C. history from the “funnies” page!

First, some background: Many people know that Robert Peter

(1726-1806)

, first mayor of Georgetown, tied his family to that of George Washington in 1795, when his son, Thomas

(1769-1834), married Martha Washington’s granddaughter, Martha Parke Custis (1777-1854). Martha and Thomas Peter went on to buy, build and reside at Tudor Place. But what is less well know is that, four years before the wedding, Robert Peter and the President engaged in a different sort of transaction, one that helped to bring about the new District of Columbia.

Georgetown was a wealthy colonial port and the nearby capital city no more than a promise and a sea of mud when the President authorized his agents to secure land for a new city. It’s brought to life in this February 5 “Flashbacks” by Patrick M. Reynolds:

 

CLICK TO VIEW ENLARGED

A successful tobacco merchant, Peter was born in Scotland with little prospect (as a later-born son) of inheriting the family estate of Crossbasket. He is thought to have arrived in the American colonies in 1745. He and his wife, Elizabeth Scott (1744-1812), had 10 children, of whom seven survived to adulthood.

Thomas and Martha Peter also had 10 children, of whom five reached maturity. Britannia (1815-1911), the youngest of these, inherited Tudor Place.

 

 

It would be more than a half century after the Meridien Hill sale before the rustic, under-populated District overtook (and, in 1851, incorporated) its more prosperous neighbor, Georgetown. The property Mayor Peter sold to Washington’s agents later was the site of a 19th-century society “castle” and is now a renowned park.

And here’s another ‘Flashback’ to a later land deal by Robert Peter:

“Sleeping Time” and Christmas Memories


Tudor Place Drawing Room,
watercolor by
Armistead Peter 3rd.
by Mandy Katz, Communications Officer

In the folio book on Tudor Place he published  in 1969, Armistead Peter 3rd dwells lovingly on many of the mansion’s objects and features. One of these is the Drawing Room mantel, “which must have been made here,” he writes, “as it is of exactly the same design as the simpler mantels up in the bedrooms.” The Drawing Room version, however, is graced by a special feature, one that called to mind the passage of time.
“I have always particularly liked the carving of Father Time with his broken scythe, sleeping, and giving the feeling that time stands still for those who live in this house,” wrote Armistead, the last of six generations of Custis-Peters who would live here. “It is a charming symbolism. 
Father Time with his broken
scythe, sleeping

“As I stand before this figure of ‘sleeping time’ I think that I should recall some of the things that took place in this room during my lifetime,” he continued. “First of all were my Christmas parties with a splendid tree in the center of the north side of the room. My great-grandmother [Britannia] Kennon was always present, and there is a winged Victorian armchair in the garret on the flat arm of which may be seen the fine lines made by her fingernails as she tapped them quietly while watching the festivities…

“I am happy to say that we had many happy gatherings of our friends in these rooms throughout the years, over which my wife presided with the beauty of one of the little porcelain shepherdesses that might have come to life and slipped out of the cabinet for the occasion. I can still see her in the blue dress that I loved best, sitting on the end of the sofa, waiting for her guests to arrive.”
 I can still see her sitting on the end of the sofa,
waiting for her guests to arrive.
There are many opportunities in the coming month to picture these touching scenes for yourself while making your own holiday memories. Our regular, hourly docent tours show the house dressed for a gay 1920s Christmas that Armistead himself might have presided over with his wife, Caroline, a society beauty who spent much of her childhood in France. The same settings will sparkle by night on December 1, during Tudor Nights, our quarterly, adults-only members’ celebration. (Non-members may attend for $15, space permitting, or are invited to take the occasion to support Tudor Place by joining us.) And guests of all ages can enjoy a tour of one, two, three or four historic houses, all decked for the season, during the “Holidays Through History” open house, 4:00 to 8:00 p.m. on Saturday, December 3.


Please come see us this winter and reflect for yourself on a place where time “sleeps,” yet never truly stands still.