The Royal Visit: “Two burning, boiling, sweltering, humid furnace-like days in Washington”

United Kingdom king george VI and his wife queen elizabeth standing at top of stone steps with dignitaries
The King and Queen’s arrival at the British Embassy garden party, June 8, 1939. Press photograph now part of the Tudor Place Collection.

As Great Britain prepared for World War II, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth made an historic visit to the United States. A 1939 party invitation in the Tudor Place Archive led to research by Curator Grant Quertermous; here is his article with the story of the royal visit to Washington, DC and how that involved members of the Peter family.

Read the essay.

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

Many Admirers… But Still a Widow: Reflections on Britannia Peter Kennon’s Widowhood

Nora Pehrson explains the origins of her essay on Britannia, written while interning here during her senior at Woodrow Wilson High School in Washington, D.C. Nora now attends Colby College in Waterville, Maine.

I was drawn to Britannia’s story because of an abiding interest in women’s history. I wanted to situate  Britannia in the broader context of her time. Around the time that Britannia was on the marriage market, the abolitionist and advocate for women’s rights Sarah Grimké wrote “Letters on the Equality of the Sexes,” in which she asserted that the American woman was “a cipher in the nation” because marriage rendered her invisible in the eyes of the law.

I decided to look at how widowhood might have represented a challenge to the cult of domesticity and especially to coverture laws, which took away a woman’s legal rights upon marriage. Although there are no definite answers to the questions that I began with, my research revealed Britannia’s decision to remain a widow allowed her to own and control the estate, which, remarkably, remained in the same family for six generations. Her “tenacity and perseverance,” Armistead Peter 3rd  declared,  “did as much as anything in the world to preserve this house to the present day.”

Offered through DC Public Schools and taught by the inimitable Cosby Hunt of the Center for Inspired Teaching, Real World History brings together students from across the city to explore a topic of American history in depth and learn what it means to be a historian. After a semester of reading primary sources, conducting oral histories, and making site visits to archives and museums, students go out into the world and serve as interns at various cultural sites throughout DC. During my time at Tudor Place, I did self-guided research and developed my own tour of the house as a docent. Working with the Education Department under the supervision of Laura Brandt was an amazing opportunity to learn how historic house museums operate and, especially, how to make the stories of the house come alive for the public.

When I arrived at Tudor Place as its first high school intern, I was intrigued by Britannia’s story. Why might she have chosen widowhood over marriage? In a time when the social status of women was so closely connected to the status of their fathers or husbands, why didn’t Britannia remarry? What might her motivations have been? These questions formed the basis of my research project for Tudor Place and the culmination of a year of an extracurricular class called Real World History.

Every visitor who takes a tour of Tudor Place learns the basic outline of Britannia Peter Kennon’s life. Born at Tudor Place in the early years of of the New Republic, Britannia lived for nearly a century. Her decades-long ownership of Tudor Place (from 1854 to 1911) preserved its history and legacy for future generations. Britannia carried out her vision essentially singlehandedly: She was widowed fourteen months into her marriage and never remarried.  “Although she had many admirers,” after being widowed in 1844, as her great-grandson Armistead Peter 3rd recalled, she chose to remain single for the rest of her life.

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.

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!
View previous blogposts

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.


« Return to Topic

Pencils, Paperclips, and Mystery Objects: Sorting the 20th-Century Desk

By Becky Bacheller, Tudor Place Collections Management Intern
The first-floor office is one of the rare rooms at Tudor Place whose furnishings point to a single era rather than a span of time and use. The mansion’s fourth and final owner, Armistead Peter 3rd (1896-1983), worked here into the 1980s, but maintained the room and its furnishings much as his father had set them up in the 1920s. With its natural artifacts and memorabilia, book-lined décor, and veridian walls, the room by design continued to reflect the tastes and interests of Armistead Peter, Jr., (1870-1960), who worked here throughout his adult life.

Armistead Peter, Jr.’s, partner desk: Made by W. K. Cowan Company (Chicago, 1894 to 1916), ca. 1900.

In fall 2012, my internship in collections management focused entirely on the Office — focused, in fact, on a single piece of its furniture, the ca.-1900 Colonial Revival partner desk that anchors the room. The cataloging project required inventorying the contents of the desk, manufactured by W. K. Cowan & Company of Chicago as a replica of George Washington’s presidential desk in New York City. It came to Armistead, Jr., on November 3, 1912, as a gift from his wife, Anna “Nannie” Peter (1872 – 1961).

Sorting through its accumulation of office supplies proved to be a way of sorting through the past century. Like virtually everything in the museum, the desk – down to the interiors of its drawers: pens, pencils, stamps, and stationary supplies – had transferred intact to the Tudor Place Foundation after Armistead 3rd‘s death. Its contents were catalogued then and left undisturbed. For preservation reasons, it recently became necessary to re-house them, and that is where I came in. My internship project was to sort, label, and rehouse the drawers’ contents, photographing, measuring, and cataloguing them in the museum’s PastPerfect digital collections database as I progressed.

  
Working drawer by drawer, beginning with the wide central one (open in top photo), I first carefully removed each object from a drawer and placed it for transport in a blue board tray lined with archival tissue paper. I next determined its accession number. Many, like the pencils pictured above-right, were already tagged; these I matched it to physical (printed) accession files as I removed them.

I next photographed each item or group of items to document them and their condition. An abundance of loose tags from the last cataloguing exercise persuaded us that each object this time should be physically numbered. I practiced labeling my own pencils first with the collection labeling kit before venturing (carefully!) to number each of the Peter family’s writing utensils, as shown below:

I hand printed each accession number on a clear base of B-72. Based on the objects’ color, I selected  contrasting inks for maximum visibility. The numbering process is reversible, and I took care to mark the numbers in the least noticeable place on each object. While handling them, I wore nitrile or cotton gloves.
To re-house the collection, I created a cradle of archival tissue paper for each object and then placed the artifacts in customized dividers. Six trays could be stacked in one box. These were temporarily stored under my worktable but are destined for eventual on-site storage with the rest of the collection.

Archival tissue in stacking trays
served to hold the desk contents.

Here is my Collections office work station,  
located in a former bedroom.

After three weeks of cataloging, the first drawer was complete. A total of 41 objects, including pencils, dip pens, mechanical pencils, and fountain pens, all  made during the first half of the 20th century, had been photographed, catalogued and re-housed, filling four sub-divided trays.

One of the things I love about projects like this is the exposure to historical objects and the knowledge gained in figuring out what each one is and how best to describe it. A fat blue pencil became one of my favorite finds in the collection, because of its resonance from an earlier project I had worked on.

As a curatorial assistant researching WWII-era pencils for an exhibition at the Smithsonian Museum of American History, I discovered Bob Truby’s Name Brand Pencils, an entire website devoted to the subject. I learned then that pencils from the Second World War period have distinctive cardboard or plastic ferrules as a wartime adaptation: Metals were needed for the war effort, so hard cardboard or plastic had to substitute for the nickel or brass usually wrapped around the eraser’s base. Although interested to know of this distinction, I was unable to find an example during my Smithsonian tenure.

One year later, in the Armisteads’ desk, I came upon a pencil with a plastic ferrule:

Not everything I found looked familiar, however. The center object in the picture below stumped me at first. On either side are colored pencils “sharpened” by peeling off the wrapped paper. Asking around, I learned from Tudor Place Artist-in-Residence Peter Waddell that the non-writing utensil among them was a tortillon, used by artists to smudge or blend marks.

Peeling pencils (top and bottom), I recognized. But what was the middle object from the pencil drawer, whose ends peeled away without exposing a writing mechanism?

One drawer contained hundreds of unused pen nibs, cloth pen wipes, and
eyedroppers for ink and feather quill pens.

During my fifth week, I found a metal tray full of paper clips. That presented an interesting numbering challenge, as they differ in type and also did not match previous catalogue records. I sorted each type into a separate archival bag to forestall further corrosion and researched the correct name for the contents of each bag. For example, one style, designated a “square clip,” is actually an “ideal” or “triumph” clip according to Early Office Museum, another specialty web site I consulted.

Paper clips: How to sort and number?

By type, of course, and name.

By the end of my sixth week, I had catalogued more than 100 objects. Below you can see the entire contents of the Cowan partner desk, catalogued and re-housed:

What’s in your desk? Armistead Peter 3rd’s contained everything from writing implements and 
sealing wax to drafting tools, photographs, and even a pocket watch.

It included a box of unused book plates in excellent condition. 

Ephemera and manuscript material from the desk, including these plates, were transferred to the Archive.

This assortment of rubber stamps also was stored in the desk. Some had deteriorated: For example, the rubber face of one had melted off the wooden handle and adhered to the bottom of the drawer. Others had unidentified surface crystallization.

The stamp collection numbered over 38 items. During my fourteenth week, I finished cataloguing it. While most of the stamps bore predictable labels like “paid”, “received”, and other terms associated with business transactions, one read simply “pigeons.”  Armistead Peter, Jr., raised pigeons at Tudor Place, selling them to friends and family. He presumably used this stamp to help organize files pertaining to this hobby.

Manicure set.

The unique manicure set at right was another unusual find. I initially took it for a pocket knife, but the delicate spoon and pointed blades — for cleaning ears and getting beneath fingernails — ultimately revealed its true function
.

At the conclusion of my project, I had digitally catalogued over 330 objects and re-housed them in four archival-quality boxes. I feel confident these fragile and tiny objects will be preserved for future visitors and scholars, now that they are safeguarded in improved storage condition. The internship was a fantastic opportunity to experience many facets of historic house collections management, while peering through the “drawers” of the 20th century.

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: