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.

An Archival Mystery: Follow the Yellow Brick Road

New discoveries are common at Tudor Place. Whether found in the back of a drawer, the bottom of a trunk, beneath the ground, or amid a box of family papers, encounters with “new” objects and information fuel the imagination and reveal fresh stories about the past. Tudor Place Archivist Wendy Kail’s 2019 discovery of an unattributed manuscript launched an inquiry that combined her skills as a historian, researcher, and sleuth to reveal the author of the work, as well as details of his life and a curious connection to Tudor Place.

The Dower House Celebrates a Milestone Birthday

New research illuminates the history of the 150-year-old Dower House and the close ties between the Beall family, who built it, and the Peter family.

Carol: An Iconic Portrait in the Tudor Place Collection

Carol by Armistead Peter 3rd
Oil on canvas, 1925
Collection of Tudor Place Historic House & Garden

Tudor Place Curator Grant Quertermous tells the romantic story behind this 1925 portrait of Caroline Ogden-Jones Peter, which visitors see in the Dining Room at Tudor Place. Relying on primary sources, Quertermous provides rich details about the painter, his process in creating the portrait, and the American art community’s recognition of the painting.

The article contains footnotes.

Read here.

The Residence on H Street: Mrs. General Hamilton

In 1848 Alexander Hamilton’s widow, Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton, rented a house on H Street in Washington owned by Britannia Peter Kennon of Tudor Place. This house was inherited by Britannia through a series of events that included her marriage to Captain Beverley Kennon in 1842, his advancing naval career, and his sudden death in 1844 aboard the USS Princeton. At the home on H Street, Eliza Hamilton was in the social hub of the city, where she engaged with such notable neighbors as former first lady Dolley Madison and General Winfield Scott.
Tudor Place Archivist Wendy Kail describes the details of the property acquisition, the tragic event that sent Britannia back to Tudor Place, and the activities that took place in and around the H Street house during Mrs. Hamilton’s tenancy.
The article contains footnotes and is followed by a bibliography.

Read here.

The Papers of Martha Washington at Tudor Place

As a granddaughter and namesake of Martha Washington, Tudor Place founder Martha Parke Custis Peter inherited several important pieces of her correspondence following the death of the first president.

Since 2015, the University of Virginia has been annotating and publishing the Mrs. Washington’s letters as part of an ongoing partnership between The Washington Papers project (formerly the Papers of George Washington) and the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington at Mount Vernon. Inspired by this project, Tudor Place Archivist Wendy Kail has added to the record by studying her letters and draft replies at Tudor Place and related documents in other archives for what they reveal about the Washingtons’ marriage, deaths, and legacies. Kail’s richly researched essay is presented here in three parts.

ABOUT THE SLIDESHOW:

  • Detail of letter from Massachusetts patriots requesting lock of Washington’s hair. Collection of Tudor Place Historic House & Garden Archive
  • Gold urn crafted by Paul Revere as repository for the lock of George Washington’s hair given by Martha Washington. Collection of Grand Masonic Lodge of Massachusetts
  • Two engravings by Paul Revere demonstrating his support for the Patriot cause, devotion that later inspired his role in the Massachusetts Masons’ memorialization of George Washington. Collections of Gilder-Lehrman Institute.
  • Revere’s and Warren’s Masonic membership records. Collection of Grand Masonic Lodge of Massachusetts

The death of George Washington was a stunning loss to his country as well as his family. At Mount Vernon, Martha Washington enlisted Secretary Tobias Lear’s help fielding voluminous letters of condolence, tributes, and requests for memorial locks of the President’s hair. Granddaughter Martha Parke Custis Peter inherited some of this correspondence, including Lear’s drafts, and they remain in the Tudor Place Archive. In Part One of the Washington Letters essay, Archivist Wendy Kail delves into records from Martha’s widowhood to divine what Washington meant to his countrymen.

The essay’s second part, “Legal Aid,” reviews profuse discussions of the wills of both Washingtons, following George’s death in 1799 and Martha’s in 1802. Their estates were orderly, with respected (male) relations as executors, but complicated, and hint at family ties and affections but also possible rivalries. The questions that arose concerning both legacies offer a “case study” of not just the big questions that follow a prominent demise but the numerous quotidian details: Who owned the right to harvest and who must pay for the seed for crops on an inherited farm? Would the executors honor Mrs. Washington’s verbal promise to her granddaughters of Sèvres china? And who owned a pair of mirrors plastered to Mount Vernon’s walls?

The essay’s third and final section, “A Tug of War,” examines one America’s rarest early documents – a letter from George to Martha Washington. In the Tudor Place Archive, it’s one of just three pieces of their personal correspondence in existence. Washington wrote it upon accepting command of the Continental Army, offering a rare if subtle glimpse of the affection between this notably reticent couple. As Kail notes, the general’s almost apologetic argument for service “foreshadows the struggle they both would endure for the next seven years, literally a tug of war between duty and domicile.”

Each essay section contains footnotes, and a Bibliography comprises essay Part Four.


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Thomas and ‘Patty:’ Meet Tudor Place’s Founders

Who were they, the founders of Tudor Place? Martha Parke Custis Peter and Thomas Peter, civic leaders in Georgetown and the capital city, helped shape our national life but few Americans today know their names. That anonymity belies the tangible legacy they left, thanks to the constancy of their descendants and an almost genetic devotion to preservation in the lasting family line.

A businessman, landowner, and slaveholder, Thomas began life with great wealth accumulated by his father, a Scottish immigrant. Active in the business of Georgetown and the new city of Washington, he pursued personal interests extending to farming, horse racing, playing his flute (now in the Collection), and courting a certain debutante with illustrious Virginia origins.

She was Martha Parke Custis Peter, called Patty, and their 1795 marriage united two prominent American families. Patty was born at Mount Vernon to Martha Washington’s son and his wife, a daughter of Maryland’s founding Calvert family with the inherited title Baron Baltimore. A favorite of her grandmother, she was also close to her step-grandfather, the President.

Meet the Peters in this essay by former Executive Director Leslie Buhler, from Tudor Place: America’s Story Lives Here, newly published in collaboration with the White House Historical Association.


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Tudor Place Family Hero: George Peter and the War of 1812

In the state of Maryland, every September 12 is Defenders Day, commemorating a crucial American victory in the War of 1812. The Battle of Fort McHenry helped reverse American losses and also inspired a British prisoner’s poem that became our national anthem. It also recalls a hero with ties to Tudor Place who, less than a month before, had defied U.S. Army superiors to fight the calamitous British attack on Washington.

Tudor Place founder Thomas Peter had no fancy for a military life, but his brother George Peter (1779-1861) did. On August 24, 1814, Major Peter commanded a light artillery company that was one of the few to return fire at Bladensburg, Maryland, slowing the British advance on Washington. As the British tried to cross Turncliffe’s Bridge, they met crossfire from Peter’s Commodore Joshua Barney’s batteries (story begins page 8 at the link). Though taking vicious fire, Peter defied early orders to retreat before finally capitulating. The British burned the capital that afternoon and night.

During a long life of military and public service, George became the most publicly known Peter family member. His first “enlistment” came at age 15, when he ran off to join Maryland’s Whiskey Rebellion. (His parents sent an emissary to retrieve him.) Later commissioned by George Washington into the U.S. Army, he attained the rank of major before seeking election to the U.S. House of Representatives, ultimately serving several terms there and in the Maryland House of Delegates. His legacy and the legacy of the War of 1812 are reflected at Tudor Place in Peter’s artifacts (including a rare “square” piano he purchased for his daughter), in Peter family correspondence and activism relating to the war, and in the family’s relationship with anthem-author Francis Scott Key.

Even the very names of the property’s owners reflect the war’s impact. George Peter named his son Armistead for one of his favorite lieutenants. A medical doctor, Armistead Peter married his Tudor Place cousin, Thomas Peter’s granddaughter Martha Custis Peter. Their son and grandson, the Armistead Peters,  Jr. and 3rd, later inherited and stewarded the family’s storied estate.

  • Learn more about Tudor Place denizens and history in our Reading Room.


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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.

American History TV · Washington’s Descendants at Tudor Place

Grant Quertermous at lectern, TV screenshot

Curator of Collections Grant Quertermous talks on American History TV about the Washington descendants at Tudor Place. The family, which built and remained at Tudor Place through six generations, descended from Martha Custis Washington’s son John Parke (“Jacky”) Custis, George Washington’s stepson. Quertermous shares how and what we can learn about the Washingtons, the owners, servants and slaves at Tudor Place, and the history around them, by studying and preserving the thousands of objects they left behind, including more than 200 of the Washingtons’ personal items and a rich archive of documents and correspondence.


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