Mapping Georgetown: Tour Guides Capture Tudor Place Women’s History

The Georgetowner

Read the full article click here

Francis Scott Key’s Desk and the Snow Riot

by Curator Rob DeHart

Partner’s Desk, probably WDC | MD, c. 1830-40. Walnut, tulip poplar, white pine, yellow pine. Tudor Place Historic House & Garden, 4049.01.

One of the standout pieces in the Tudor Place Collection is a partners’ desk that belonged to Francis Scott Key. Known primarily as the lyricist for the “Star-Spangled Banner,” Key was a prominent lawyer in Georgetown and served as District Attorney for Washington City from 1833 to 1841. The desk, which dates to the 1830s, likely saw Key through his district attorney years and witnessed one of the most violent instances of unrest in the city’s history.

In August 1835, an alleged threat by an enslaved Black man toward his female owner instigated days of rioting by whites that targeted Black businesses, churches and schools. Eventually called the “Snow Riot” after Black restaurateur Beverly Snow (whose business was destroyed by one of the mobs) it represented the culmination of years of racial and class tensions in the city and a central figure trying to resolve the effects of the chaos was Francis Scott Key. ¹

By 1835 the free Black population in Washington City had outgrown the city’s enslaved Black population. The city was becoming a destination for free Black entrepreneurs who desired access to African American-run institutions. This dynamic was one of many factors that combined to make the city rife with tension between whites and Blacks and ripe for the outbreak of violent riots that would erupt that summer. 

It began on the evening of August 4 when 18-year-old Arthur Bowen left a debating society meeting led by prominent Black educator John F. Cook, Sr. His meetings were regular events where free and enslaved Blacks could gather and discuss slavery, temperance and other contemporary issues.

Slavery was certainly on Bowen’s mind because he was  owned by prominent Washingtonian Anna Maria Thornton, whose late husband, Dr. William Thornton, had designed Tudor Place and the first U.S. Capitol building. Bowen learned how to read and write and moved about the city with relative independence, but much to the disappointment of his mother, Maria Bowen, his attentions were directed mostly toward horse racing and drinking.  After the meeting, a very inebriated Bowen returned to the Thornton house on the north side of F Street between  13th and 14th Avenues. Rather than go straight to bed, he picked up an ax and approached the door of the bedroom shared by Anna Maria Thornton, her mother and Bowen’s own mother. He opened the door with the ax under his arm and shouted to the startled occupants, “I’ve got just as much right to freedom as you!” While his mother tried to restrain him, Anna managed to escape and alert neighbors, whose arrival drove Arthur off. 

This incident played into the fears of many whites and slaveholders that free Blacks and abolitionists were loosening the chains of slavery in the city. To slaveholders, talk of emancipation only poisoned the minds of ‘docile slaves’ by giving them the impression that they could thrive outside the institution of slavery.

Evening Star Sept 25 1932

Evening Star Sept 25 1932

Four years earlier a rebellion of enslaved Virginians in Southampton County led by Nat Turner killed over 50 whites, validating (in the fearful eyes of white onlookers) the deadly risks of such ideas. The Bowen/Thornton incident was seen to further prove their fears correct. Bowen ended up in the city jail, but the fact that he had not harmed anyone was not enough to prevent a white lynch mob from descending on the jail. As District Attorney, Francis Scott Key deterred the mob by stationing a detachment of U.S. Marines at the jail. Their blood-lust thwarted, but still desiring to send a message to the city’s abolitionists and free Blacks, the mob took out its anger on Black owned businesses, homes and institutions, including Beverly Snow’s Epicurean Eating House on the corner of 6th and Pennsylvania Avenue. The destruction lasted for days and ended with the intervention of President Andrew Jackson.

The causes of the riot actually went much deeper than the Bowen/Thornton incident. While slaveholders feared the influence of abolitionists and free Blacks, it was white workers who did the actual rioting, and with different motivations than the slaveholders (though both freely used the city’s Black residents as scapegoats). White workers resented the city’s Black population because African Americans competed with them for jobs. White workers believed Black workers received more federal contracts because they accepted lower wages, perhaps not realizing that Black workers had little power to negotiate terms. Ironically, many white workers had equal disdain for the slave holding class, who they viewed as condescending and obstacles to the working class’s effort toward obtaining true political and economic power. In any case, white workers used rioting against the Black community as a way to vent these frustrations while risking minimal punishment.

Francis Key Scott. Photo: Library of Congress.

When order was finally restored, it was up to Key as District Attorney to ensure that justice would be served and prevent future unrest. He had recently moved from Georgetown to a home in Washington City on C Street near 3rd Avenue. From this base and his office in city hall, he formulated the prosecution of Arthur Bowen, members of the white mob, and an abolitionist named Reuben Crandall who had recently been arrested for possessing a trunk full of anti-slavery literature. Justice would be served, but it became clear that it would not be distributed equally. Despite the pleadings of Anna Maria Thornton that Bowen had meant no harm on the night of the incident, Key succeeded in getting a guilty conviction with the sentence of death by hanging. Not to be deterred, Thornton took her case to President Andrew Jackson, who eventually issued a presidential pardon that permitted Bowen to avoid the death penalty and be sold to a slaveholder in Florida. Shortly after the sale, Thornton and Bowen stopped corresponding and the eventual fate of Bowen is unknown.


Key also aggressively went after abolitionist Reuben Crandall. A white schoolteacher who had recently
moved from New York City, Crandall swore that he had no intention of distributing the abolitionist pamphlets that were found in his home. But Key and other slaveholders viewed abolitionists as even more dangerous than free Blacks for inciting rebellion in enslaved communities. Key himself was an advocate for colonization, the idea that the United States could end slavery by sending emancipated people to Africa. But he certainly did not believe in racial equality and feared what would happen if enslaved people were simply freed to live and function in white American society. In the end, Key was not successful with this prosecution; abolitionists funded Crandall’s defense and he was acquitted.  The results of Key’s prosecution of the white rioters were mixed. He achieved 10 convictions, but all were released with fines and no jail time. Worse still is that none of the Black property owners were compensated for their losses. In fact, the city imposed new restrictions on free Blacks: to move to Washington City, a free black person had to post a $1000 bond approved by five white residents. The city also tried to restrict free Blacks to the trades of cart and carriage driving, but so many refused to follow the law that it was eventually struck down by the courts.

Detail of Partner’s Desk.

Key’s simple, sturdy partners’ desk manufactured by an unknown Washington, DC maker is one of the few remaining pieces of material culture that reflects his role during this critical time in the city’s history. Key’s initials appear on the top of the two pedestals, on which sits a broad top; they also appear on the bottom of several drawers. After Key’s death in 1843, the desk ended up with his friend and legal contemporary, James Dunlop Jr. It descended in that family before being sold to Armistead Peter Jr. in 1917, and has remained at Tudor Place ever since. 

Peter desired the desk because of Key’s fame as the lyricist to the “Star-Spangled Banner,” but it also holds a much deeper meaning to Tudor Place today. Key’s role as District Attorney of a young and rapidly changing city, the Snow Riot and the successes and failures of Key’s justice are a poignant illustration of the city’s early and ongoing struggles with racism and inequality. Through it, we are offered an opportunity for reflection surrounding the efforts for equality that continue today.

 

 

 

[1] “Snow Riot” material drawn from Jefferson Morley, Snow-Storm in August: The Struggle for American Freedom and Washington’s Race Riot of 1835 (New York: Anchor Books, 2019); Chris Myers Asch & George Derek Musgrove, Chocolate City: A History of Race and Democracy in the Nation’s Capital (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2017).

 

 

 

 

Jockeying for Position: Horseracing among the Early Washington Elite

 

 

The elite of early Washington talked politics at the Jockey Club and horses in the U.S. Senate Chamber. The most famous horses in American history, like Secretariat and Man o’ War, are tied to some of the most famous men in American history.  Join Tudor Place Curator Rob DeHart and Dr. Lindsey Apple, historian and member of the Advisory Board of Ashland, The Henry Clay Estate in this dynamic discussion about the early DC horse racing industry and correspondence between Tudor Place’s Thomas Peter and Secretary of State Henry Clay of Kentucky about the sale of a prized racehorse.  Learn how Henry Clay, Thomas Peter and their contemporaries like Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren jockeyed for position — mixing politics, business and pleasure.

Photo collage: Ephemera, Tudor Place Archive; The Farmer of Ashland engraving of Henry Clay, Henry Clay Memorial Foundation.

Click to watch video.

Museums 101: Primary Sources on Tour

Have you ever wondered how docents and tour guides knew all the stories that they told? Have you ever wondered if the stories they recited were even true?

Check out this Museums 101 video to see how Tudor Place found primary sources for a popular story that is part of the historic house  tour.

Then: Explore historic newspapers from your home state on Chronicling America

Find more Education at Home posts.

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.


« Return to Topic

#DayOfFacts at Tudor Place

On February 17, 2017, Tudor Place joined hundreds of other museums, historic sites, archives, libraries, science centers and cultural organizations on social media to address confusion over “alternative facts.” This “Day of Facts,” in the words of its grass roots organizers, reaffirmed “values of curiosity, intellectual pursuit and openness. Facts matter, our visitors matter, and we will remain trusted sources of knowledge.”

These are the stories behind the facts shared by Tudor Place:

Marietta Minnigerode Andrews: Artist, Poet and Author

Suffragist cover by Marietta M AndrewsBorn in Richmond, Virginia, Marietta Minnigerode Andrews (1869-1931) studied art in Washington, New York, Paris, and Munich. In 1895, she married her former art instructor, Eliphalet Fraser Andrews, Director of the Corcoran School of Art.  After he died in 1915, she began to write and publish prose and poetry.  She was also a founding member of the Washington Watercolor Club, a designer of stained glass windows, and creator of intricate paper silhouettes.  This cover drawing for the April 18, 1914, issue of The Suffragist, called “Signs of Spring,” depicts a woman orator addressing a crowd. The Suffragist was published by the National Women’s Party and issued monthly from 1913 until 1921. A group of works by Andrews came to the Tudor Place collection by way of Helen T. Peter, widow of Minnigerode Andrews’s son. Helen married Armistead Peter 3rd, the property’s last private owner, following the death of his first wife, Caroline.

Max F. Rosinski: “Washington’s Finest Cabinetmaker”

reproduction chippendale chair

This ca. 1903 Rosinski chair matched a Peter family set once owned by George Washington.

Max F. Rosinski (1868-1962) was born in West Prussia and moved to Washington, D.C., with his family at age 13. On March 12, 1895, he took the U.S. oath of citizenship. After an apprenticeship in cabinetmaking, he established his own shop in the city, where he was active for over 60 years. Tudor Place owner Armistead Peter 3rd was a loyal client, describing him as “the finest cabinet maker that Washington ever had.”

Rosinski’s works at Tudor Place include original pieces like a telephone table and an unusual sideboard/serving table in the Dining Room referencing Colonial style, as well as a pair of chairs commissioned to match the Peter family’s set in the Queen Anne-Chippendale style that were owned by George Washington in the presidential mansion in Philadelphia. Peter also employed Rosinski to repair significant pieces, including the square piano on view in the Saloon, and even had him work on the eight maple doors and pocket doors in house’s reception rooms.

John Luckett: Enslaved by Virginians and Union Soldiers

John Luckett w garden tools, A1.41bw

John Luckett, in characteristic apron and derby hat, with tools on South Lawn.

During the second Battle of Manassas, the Union army sacked a plantation in Lewinsville, Va., in Fairfax County, and “stole” several enslaved people. One of them was John Luckett. Impressed to drive a pair of mules pulling an army supply train, Luckett hatched an escape plan with 20 other men but was one of only three who actually ran. With no pass from an “owner,” Luckett ran the risk of recapture and imprisonment. As he told the story to his first Tudor Place employer, Britannia Peter Kennon, which she then recounted to her grandson, Armistead Peter Jr., Luckett and his fellows were again detained by Union forces but managed to convince them they had been visiting friends. His account of his enslavement and escape ended with, “I just kept on—crossed the Chain bridge and made for Georgetown.”

Kennon described Luckett’s 1862 arrival at Tudor Place in her reminiscences:

John came to ‘Tudor’ in March 1862. I was standing on the brow of the hill by the gate when he came in and asked: ‘Do you want to hire anybody?’ ‘Yes,’ I said. ‘I do want to hire somebody!’ ‘Well, I’s looking for a job!’ ‘Where did you come from?’ I asked. ‘Over yonder!’ ‘But, where is ‘over yonder’?’ ‘Over yonder,’ he said. Well, as I wanted some one to work the gardens, I asked him, ‘What wages do you ask?’ ‘Fifty cents a day and you needn’t be afraid to take me neither! Which I told him I was not and from that day to this John has proved to be all that I could wish for.”

Luckett was one of thousands of African-American migrants seeking work then in Georgetown and Washington City. A month after he arrived, Lincoln issued his emancipation decree for the District of Columbia. Did Britannia know he had been enslaved? Perhaps, or perhaps she only realized it later, but she was a single woman running an estate in wartime and needed help. Luckett told her only that he came from “over yonder,” later amended in family lore to “over yonder in Virginie.”

Luckett worked at Tudor Place for 44 years and was loved by the Peter family. His recorded wages in 1904 were $22 a month plus holiday gifts and paid sick leave. “Old John was a character (and one we loved dearly),” wrote one local chronicler, “not much over five feet tall, with grizzled hair and goatee, and always wearing an apron tied around his waist and a derby hat on his head.” Though the Peters offered to buy them a house in Georgetown, Luckett and his wife chose to live across the city. They raised six children in a home on Capitol Hill from which John walked to and from Georgetown every work day, almost until his death in 1906.  Family lore maintains that the Peter family adorned his coffin with fronds from their sago palms, a tradition usually observed for family members only.

Margaret Carraher: From a Tiny Pecan, a Mighty Tree

Maggie2

Born in Ireland, cook Maggie Carraher retired from Tudor Place in 1911, the year this was taken.

Margaret, known as “Maggie,” Carraher was an Irish immigrant employed at Tudor Place from 1905 to 1911, when she retired following the death of her employer, Britannia Peter Kennon. Listed on the 1910 census as “cook,” with an immigration date from Ireland of 1868, Carraher was later described by the Kennon’s grandson, Armistead Peter 3rd, who remembered as a small boy “helping” her in the kitchen and “particularly, I used to watch her making bread, which she used to do expertly, and which was the only bread that was used in the house.”

Carraher is perhaps best remembered for a tiny gift she gave Kennon, her mistress: a pecan nut that grew into a tree that today towers more than 80 feet. Britannia planted the nut south of the house. Though pecans’ generally prefer more southern climates, it not only survived but grew so large it had to be relocated, as described in the Tudor Place book by Kennon’s grandson, Armistead Peter 3rd:

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.

While at Tudor Place, Carraher lived in the room that is now shown as the office and helped care for Britannia Kennon in the last years of her life. She retired at age 62. House records indicated that the next owner, Kennon’s son Armistead Peter Jr., sent her cash gifts at Easter and Christmas for several years after.

 

Tudor Place Returns to Agrarian Roots: Re-Interpreting for Its 3rd Century

To meet Americans’ growing fascination with land use, ecology, and food sources, and to mark the site’s bicentennial, the Tudor Place Foundation has reassessed the National Historic Landmark’s interpretive focus. As of today, April 1, 2016, in a nod to its semi-agrarian origins, the site has been converted to a working farm.

Executive Director Mark Hudson, who came to Tudor Place in October, spearheaded the redirection. “Tudor Place was just too many things to too many people,” he explained. “It has a vast archive and more than 15,000 artifacts and tells stories of American domestic and political life over more than 200 years. Imagine trying to cover all that in a 55-minute tour!”

“This way, we confine the story to a single function during a single 20-year time period,” Hudson continued, adding, “So much simpler. And besides, the grain harvest and livestock sales are good for the Annual Fund.”

Since opening to the public in 1988, the historic house was interpreted just as it was lived in by six generations of one family, from the years before its 1816 completion through the last private owner’s death, in 1983. Its five-and-a-half-acre historic garden traced Georgetown’s and the District’s evolution from a rough-hewn, semi-rural community to a major metropolis and offered a haven for plant lovers among elegant lawns, garden rooms, and features like gazebos, fountains and wooded paths.

In what some see as a nod to his Kansas origins, Hudson early in his tenure identified farming as a more profitable function for the site’s Gardens & Grounds professionals. Staff now tend cattle and hogs in the former North Garden, where the Boxwood Knot and its roses have proven especially appealing grazing. Tudor Place’s horticulturalist is also testing crop varieties on the South Lawn, where the Peter family once harvested hay by scythe. The 1919 Pierce-Arrow and new Tudor Place Garden Utility Vehicle now pull plows.

Practical functions have likewise been found for iconic but unproductive locations like the Summerhouse, now a grain storage depot, and the Bowling Green, where meals for farm hands — cooked by the Education staff in the 1914 historic kitchen — are laid out daily on trestle tables. The historic house designed by William Thornton has been closed to the public. Its first floor serves important museum and farm administration functions like bookkeeping, stuffing envelopes, grain sales and (to hedge against poor harvests) commodities trading.

On the house’s second floor, the Development department now occupies the west bedrooms and is enjoying a banner year, having sold three generations’ worth of Peter family toys and Caroline Ogden-Jones Peter’s exquisite 20th-century couture collection on Ebay. Britannia’s Civil War-era bedroom has also been emptied, to make room for a state-of-the-art Social Media Suite. That’s where the communications director and former Curatorial staff divide their time between thinking up viral memes using onetime collection objects and tweeting calf and piglet videos.

Outdoors meanwhile, visitors are flocking as never before to the original Tudor Place Smoke House. Recently dated (using dendrochronology) to 1794 and recognized as one of the District’s oldest original service buildings or “dependencies,” the brick-floored, roughly 10-foot-square building now houses D.C.’s newest entry in the popular farm-to-table restaurant space. EAT, the Smoke House Cafe, can accommodate just one table, a two-top. Book soon — the wait for reservations already extends into 2020. Note that Tudor Place members enjoy a 10% discount on dessert!

« Return to Blog

Remembering Austin Kiplinger, Tudor Place Champion

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE CONTACT
November 23, 2015 Mandy Katz
  Director of Communications
  ph: 202.580.7329

This is a charmed place. It just raises your spirits whenever you’re here. And I feel that way and I have felt that way for many years and I’m continuously reminded that there is a continuity in life, and the more we know about it, the better we can cope with changes that are coming… 

— Austin Kiplinger, Honoree, 20th Annual Tudor Place
Spring Garden Party, May 2012

The board and staff of Tudor Place mourn the loss of Trustee Emeritus Austin H. Kiplinger, known as “Kip,” who died November 20 at age 97. His passing leaves a void among lovers of D.C. history. His enthusiasm for preservation and gleanings from our shared past will be sorely missed.

“Working with him for 15 years, I found him to be gracious, ebullient, and generous in sharing his love for the history he knew so well of this city and of Tudor Place,” said Leslie Buhler, Tudor Place Executive Director until October 2015. “He connected the past to the present in very real terms,” she added, praising his “extraordinary memory, sparkle in his eyes, and thirst for knowledge.”

Mr. Kiplinger championed Tudor Place since the museum opened in 1988. He first delved into its history after he and his wife purchased Montevideo, a dilapidated 1830 house in Montgomery County, Maryland, in 1958. Montevideo’s builder, John Parke Custis Peter, was the son of Martha Parke Custis and Thomas Peter, the founders of Tudor Place. Peter built Montevideo to match the Federal-style center block of Tudor Place, his childhood home. His parents’ graves and those of two of their children remain on the property.

With painstaking attention to detail and sound preservation practices, Mr. Kiplinger restored Montevideo, raising his family there with a keen shared interest in its past and its “parentage” at Tudor Place, Ms. Buhler noted. When Tudor Place opened to the public in 1988, he joined the foundation’s Board of Trustees, becoming president two years later and serving in that role for eight years. He continued to support the museum for the rest of his life. Tudor Place celebrated his lasting leadership and commitment in 2012 by naming him honoree of  the 20th Annual Spring Garden Party.

On that occasion, he recalled first encountering Tudor Place not as a homeowner, but as a boy. “When I was in my teens and a student at the great, distinguished Western High School here in Georgetown,” he told the audience of several hundred gathered in his honor, “I used to wander past this great place up on the hill and wonder about it and wonder what went on behind that gate. And little did I know at the time that a lot of American history went on behind that gate, a reflection of it at least, in five generations of one family.”  (See the video.)

A pioneering publisher and journalist, Mr. Kiplinger recognized innately the importance of knowing history to understanding modern times. At Tudor Place, he said in his Garden Party address, six generations of one family “lived through some of the most tortured times in any nation’s history…  And we can deal with the present and the future better if we know something about the past.”

Tudor Place extends condolences to Mr. Kiplinger’s his son and daughter-in-law, Knight and Ann Kiplinger, his companion, Bonnie Barker Nicholson, and the extended Kiplinger family.