Martha Washington’s Waxwork Tableau

Fine Arts Conservator Amy F. Byrne of Amy Fernandez, Inc, and Textile Conservator Jennifer Zemanek, examine a tableau made of wax and shells, that once belonged to Martha Washington. The tableau, which depicts the parting of Hector and Andromache, is now part of the collection at Tudor Place Historic House and Garden in Washington, DC.

Below is an article from the Winter/Spring 2010 Tudor Place Times describing the piece in more detail:

A Curious Piece
by Leslie Buhler
Resting atop a sideboard in the Parlour is a curious piece that surprises today’s visitors. It is a rare wax and shell tableau within a glass and wood frame box that was once a prized possession of Martha Washington.

The wax and shell tableau was given to Martha Washington by Samuel Fraunces, an ardent supporter of General Washington. Fraunces owned a tavern in New York City frequented by Washington and his men. It was there on December 4, 1783, that General Washington gave his farewell address to his Revolutionary War officers. (Fraunces Tavern at 54 Pearl Street in lower Manhattan was restored as a Museum and is open to the public.) After he was elected President of the thirteen United States in 1789, President Washington selected Samuel Fraunces to be the household steward of his executive mansion in New York City.

Samuel Fraunces created wax figures, a popular art form during the 18th century. Spectacular displays of life-sized historical figures in elaborate garments were in fashion in both England and the American colonies.
Fraunces chose to create for Mrs. Washington a wax and shell tableau depicting the parting of Hector and Andromache, a popular subject for engravings and paintings during the mid to late 18th century. The waning Age of Enlightenment, the rise of interest in Roman mythology, and a developing Romanticism found expression not only in script but also, in paintings, engravings, and other art forms. Fraunces probably selected his subject because Andromache was honored as the epitome of the loyal wife. An engraving on this same subject was at Mount Vernon and now is held at the Alexandria Masonic Lodge.

Having completed the wax and shell tableau, Fraunces wrote to President Washington: “I most earnestly beg your Excellency will order about the Carriage of a small piece of Shell-Work which I have lately completed for Mrs. Washington purposely – whose acceptance of it will confer the greatest honor on me – the field is Hector and Andromache adorned with Shell-Flowers the collections of a number of years.” New York Governor George Clinton facilitated the shipping of the wax and shell tableau, noting on March 5, 1785 that it was a “. . . very Ginger Bread piece of work.” Upon receipt, it is believed that Martha Washington placed the tableau in the bedroom she shared with her husband.

The wax and shell tableaux was purchased by Thomas and Martha Peter, Martha Washington’s granddaughter, at the 1802 estate sale following Mrs. Washington’s death. The Peters also purchased the chest-on-chest upon which it stood. When the Peter’s home at Tudor Place was completed, the chest-on-chest with the tableau was placed in the upper hallway of the center block. The chest-on-chest remained in this position for six generations of the Peter family. It was a constant reminder of the family’s ties to the Founding Father and his beloved wife.

The winter of 1954/55 the last owner of Tudor Place, Armistead Peter 3rd, was dismayed by the condition of the waxwork. He explained in his book, Tudor Place:

“At some time it had apparently been dropped or treated extremely badly, probably in the moving of the furniture which I have described earlier, at the time of the Civil War. The figures were all thrown about, the nurse on the left side had the right side of her face bashed in, and was lying in the summerhouse. The man had been thrown over and his head snapped off. The woman was still standing but her arm had been pulled loose from the corner of the frame. Most of the flowers had fallen down into the bottom, because it had evidently been put in such heat that the wax had melted that held them together; the animals were in disarray; the whole thing was really a shambles. I decided to do something about this . . . and took it down to the shop, opened it up, took the figures out and laid them carefully on bath towels that I had provided for the purpose, emptied out all the shells that had been parts of the flowers, sorted them all out into similar categories, took out the little summerhouse, and put the whole thing back together in the condition that you now see it.”

Today, however, the wax and shell tableau which so poignantly depicted the sacrifices of the wife of the Founding Father is in a state of severe deterioration. The chest-on-chest on which it so proudly stood is now undergoing a comprehensive conservation effort on Williamsburg, Va.; now this historic tableau also needs major conservation, and funding is sought to repair the ravages of time.

Posted by: Heather Bartlow, Director of Communications

Why I Love Tudor Place Volunteers…

Volunteers are seldom paid; not because they are worthless, but because they are PRICELESS!
–author unknown

As the Communications Director here at Tudor Place, visitor feedback is vital to many of my marketing decisions.  So, in 2010 we started distributing an improved visitor survey.  Over the last 6 months I have analyzed data from hundreds of these surveys and the one thing that has stood out to me is the constant praise our volunteers receive.  On virtually every survey, a visitor comments on how fantastic their tour guide was, how he or she was knowledgeable, friendly, patient, helpful, the list goes on and on!  These knowledgeable and friendly people are what keep places like Tudor Place alive. They give up their afternoons, evenings, weekend to help us further the mission of this historic site.  It does not matter what type of exhibit we have, what historic rose is blooming in the garden, or what great event we have coming up, a visitor who has a bad experience at Tudor Place is not likely to return.  Additionally, visitors do not return because we have a really great advertisement in the newspaper, they come back because they had an enjoyable experience that they want to repeat or share with a friend.  This experience is more often than not provided by our volunteers, and they are doing a heck of a job!
So, on behalf of all of us who can continue to keep places like Tudor Place running because of the great experiences provided to visitors by volunteers, THANK YOU!!
Tudor Place volunteers not only give tours, but some help in the garden, in the administration offices, at special events, and/or education programs. Additionally, our very capable and friendly volunteer coordinator, Jeralynn Graham, provides educational programs exclusive to volunteers, once a month. Recent programs have included:


A lecture on the Underground Railroad in Washington, DC by Jenny Mazur
A tour of Dumbarton House’s exhibit Preparing for the Ball: Costume of the Early Nation
A lecture on the restoration of George Washington’s Chest-on-Chest by Executive Director, Leslie Buhler
Strands of Time – The Hairwork Jewelry Collection at Tudor Place, lecture by Collections Manager Fay Winkle


Tudor Place is in need of more volunteers!  If you or someone you know are interested in volunteering, please see below.

Museum Docents:

Volunteers are needed to lead house tours! Training is provided, on-site parking is available. For further information call Jeralynn Graham at 202-965-0400 x 115 or email

Tudor Place Garden Volunteers :
Tudor Place is currently seeking volunteers to help support the garden staff with the upkeep of our 5 ½ acre historic estate. Volunteer days are currently Monday and Friday with two shifts, (9:30 am – 11:30 am) or (1:30 pm – 3:30 pm). We can accommodate other schedules depending on skill level. Garden volunteers can expect a wide range of tasks including weeding, dead heading, seed collecting, mulching, and pruning. Volunteering requires the ability to work within a group setting or work independently, at times. This is an excellent opportunity for new gardeners or those who have been gardening for years to learn more about horticulture and the challenges of landscape preservation. Please contact Suzanne Bouchard, Director of Gardens & Grounds, at (202) 965-0400 ext 111 or email for more information.

Tudor Place is located in the neighborhood of Georgetown in Washington, DC. Please visit our website,, for more information about the museum and our gardens.

Post by: Heather Bartlow

“Gentlemen, you have played this d—d well.”

The outbreak of Civil War brought turmoil and tragedy to citizens in Georgetown and across the capital city. For the Peter family, the most tragic occurrence of the conflict was the execution by hanging of two family members accused of being Southern spies. They were executed 147 years ago today June 9, 1863. The below article from Harper’s Weekly tells their story…

Orton & Gip in their Confederate uniforms (photo on display in the SW bedroom at Tudor Place).


In the case below the photo are the spurs that were removed from their bodies at the time of their disinterment. Inscription: “Two pair of spurs that were removed from the boots of Uncle Gip and Cousin Orton when Father had their remains disinterred after their execution – given to me by Father, AP, Jr.

HARPER’S WEEKLY – July 4, 1863


WE are indebted to Mr. James K. Magie, of the 78th Illinois Regiment, for the sketch of the execution of the two rebel spies, WILLIAMS and PETERS, who were hanged by General Rosecrans on 9th inst. The following account of the affair is from a letter written by the surgeon of the 85th Indiana :



June 9, 1863.

Last evening about sundown two strangers rode into camp and called at Colonel Baird’s head-quarters, who presented unusual appearances. They had on citizens’ overcoats, Federal regulation pants and caps. The caps were covered with white flannel havelocks. They wore sidearms, and showed high intelligence. One claimed to be a colonel in the United States Army, and called himself Colonel Austin; the other called himself Major Dunlap, and both representing themselves as Inspector-Generals of the United States Army. They represented that they were now out on an expedition in this department, inspecting the outposts and defenses, and that day before yesterday they had been overhauled by the enemy and lost their coats and purses. They exhibited official papers from General Rosecrans, and also from the War Department at Washington, confirming their rank and business. These were all right to Colonel Bayard, and at first satisfied him of their honesty. They asked the Colonel to loan them $50, as they had no coats and no money to buy them. Colonel Baird loaned them the money, and took Colonel Austin’s note for it. Just at dark they started, saying they were going to Nashville, and took that way. Just so soon as their horses’ heads were turned the thought of their being spies struck Colonel Baird, he says, like a thunder-bolt, and he ordered Colonel Watkins, of the 6th Kentucky cavalry, who was standing by, to arrest them immediately. But they were going at lightning speed. Colonel Watkins had no time to call a guard, and only with his orderly he set out on the chase. He ordered the orderly to unsling his carbine, and if, when he (the Colonel) halted them they showed any suspicious motions, to fire on them without waiting for an order. They were overtaken about one-
third of a mile from here. Colonel Watkins told them that Colonel Baird wanted to make some further inquiries of them, and asked them to return. This they politely consented to do, after some remonstrance on account of the lateness of the hour and the distance they had to travel, and Colonel Watkins led them to his tent, where he placed a strong guard over them. It was not until one of them attempted to pass the guard at the door that they even suspected they were prisoners. Colonel Watkins immediately brought them to Colonel Baird under strong guard. They at once manifested great uneasiness, and pretended great indignation at being thus treated. Colonel Baird frankly told them that he had his suspicions of their true character, and that they should, if loyal, object to no necessary caution. They were very hard to satisfy, and were in a great hurry to get off. Colonel Baird told them that they were under arrest, and he should hold them prisoners until he was fully satisfied that they were what they purported to be. He immediately telegraphed to General Rosecrans, and received the answer that he knew nothing of any such men, that there were no such men in his employ, or had his pass.

Long before this dispatch was received, however, every one who had an opportunity of hearing their conversation was well satisfied that they were spies. Smart as they were, they gave frequent and distinct evidence of duplicity. After this dispatch came to hand, which it did about 12 o’clock (midnight), a search of their persons was ordered. To this the Major consented without opposition, but the Colonel protested against it, and even put his hand to his arms, But resistance was useless, and both submitted. When the Major’s sword was drawn from the scabbard there were found etched upon it these words, “Lt. W. G. Peter, C.S.A.” At this discovery Colonel Baird remarked, “Gentlemen, you have played this d—d well.” “Yes,” said Lieutenant Peter, “and it came near being a perfect success.” They then confessed the whole matter, and upon further search various papers showing their guilt were discovered upon their persons. Lieutenant Peter was found to have on a rebel cap, secreted by the white flannel havelock.

Colonel Baird immediately telegraphed the facts to General Rosecrans and asked what he should do, and in a short time received an order “to try them by a drum-head court-martial, and if found guilty hang them immediately.” The court was convened, and before daylight the case was decided, and the prisoners informed that they must prepare for immediate death by hanging….. (read the REST OF THE STORY HERE)

Book Inventory Revelations!

For the last few months interns Torrance Thomas and Yyonette Fogg have been unpacking, cataloguing, photographing and re-housing over 3,000 books currently in storage in the garage building at Tudor Place. No one really knew what they would find when they started the project, as these books had been sitting in storage for years. What they discovered was a very diverse collection ranging from Bibles to books about the constellations. Below are some of their more interesting finds: (though our Archivist would yell at me for using the word “find.” “We have always known where they were,” she says):

Holy Bible, Containing The Old and New Testaments, with Copious Marginal References (1814)
Inscribed: Beverly Kennon Peter from his Grandmother/This Bible belonged to his Great Grandmother Martha Custis Peter.


Colton, J.H. Coltons’ Map of Virginia (1861) Drawn before there was a West Virginia!


Burrit, Elijah H. Atlas, Designed to Illustrate the Geography of the Heavens (1835)


Swift, Jonathan. First Edition of Gulliver’s Travels Originally entitled Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World. (1726)
The Jonathan Swift novel was found with a Christmas card inside indicating that it was a gift to Armistead Peter, Jr. from his wife Nannie Peter in 1922.


Morrison, William H. Morrison’s Stranger’s Guide for Washington City (1882)

18th Century Double-Barreled Pistol Discovered During Dig on Historic Tudor Place Grounds

Press Contact:
Heather Bartlow,
202.965.0400 ext. 104
Tudor Place Historic House and Garden
1644 31st Street NW
Washington, DC 2007

Download the PDF

March 15, 2010

Washington, D.C. – March 15, 2010 — A late 18th to early 19th century brass flintlock pistol was discovered early in the day March 10, 2010 on land that was once part of the 8 acre Tudor Place estate. Landscapers working on the property directly north of the Tudor Place administration building uncovered the antique double-barreled pistol. The current property owner immediately called Executive Director Leslie Buhler about the discovery. The brass flintlock pistol appears to have been manufactured in Belgium probably dating to the late 18th or early 19th Century according to Phillip Schreier, Senior Curator of the National Firearms Museum. The wood handle has rotted over time but the brass is in good condition with beautiful roping and linear details and a distinct oval proof mark. This type of pistol was often used for personal protection and dueling during the late 1700’s as it had a short effective range. It was also common for a woman to own this weapon since it was small and easy to carry in a waist pouch.

Further archeology on the site on March 11 revealed what appears to be an ash pit, both hand and machine made bricks, and an iron hinge complete with screws and wood fragments. Additionally a square block of schist was discovered that could potentially be a foundation pier for a structure!

These discoveries are extremely exciting and significant. The Tudor Place estate was originally the entire city block from Q to R streets and 31st to 32nd Streets. The northern portions of the land were sold after the Civil War, and despite all that is known about the site, there are still many unanswered questions. “We have yet to establish the location of slave quarters and service buildings vital to the function of an early Georgetown estate. Historical documentation has not yet revealed information about these features and archeology may be our only method for discovering this potentially enriching aspect of the site’s history.” says Executive Director Leslie Buhler.

Located in Georgetown’s Historic District, this National Historic Landmark is a house museum distinguished for its neoclassical architecture, decorative arts collection, and five-and-a-half acre garden. Built in 1816, it was home to Thomas Peter and his wife, Martha Custis Peter, granddaughter of Martha Washington. It housed six generations of the Peter family over the course of 180 years. Now, open to the public, the historic home is one of our nation’s hidden gems. For details visit

Blizzard Damage 2010

One of the stories that we tell during the house tour at Tudor Place is how the original boxwood Flower Knot was destroyed during the Civil War by intruders making Christmas wreaths.  Before February of this year we were fortunate that we could only imagine what that must have looked like…

Though the snow was pretty while it was falling (see the dozens of snow pictures on our facebook & flickr pages), the Blizzard of 2010 was particularly harsh to the historic garden.  The snowfall was almost as destructive as the 19th century intruders, but this time to the whole 5.5 acre garden instead of just the Flower Knot.  As the snow melts, we can see the tremendous damage to historic boxwood and shrubs, especially the Boxwood Ellipse. At least five trees were felled and more must be examined further for structural damage.

A 50 foot Holly Tree planted in 1963 by Armistead Peter 3rd fell and blocked the main gate. Various other trees were downed or lost branches.

The historic boxwood Ellipse suffered substantial damage. – some of the boxwood was over 200 years old.

The English Boxwood Ellipse is one of the earliest plantings on the property and dates to the time of the first owners, Martha and Thomas Peter. It is believed that the first planting came from a Mount Vernon cutting.
  Above: Before                   Below:  After


Fortunately, The Ruth S. Willoughby Foundation has generously committed a $5,000 matching grant directed specifically to the care of the trees and shrubs damaged by the storm.

This means that every $1 donated will be worth $2!

If you would like to help, click here & designate your donation to Storm Damage 2010.

Cleaning House – Behind the Scenes Slideshow

The January clean is complete! Tudor Place re-opens for tours on February 2, at 10:00 a.m. Here is a slideshow of photos taken during the clean…

Cleaning House Part II – Cleaning the Federal Period Chandelier

Well, we are almost done!  A lovely slide show of pictures will be posted next week, but until then, here is a short video of the chandelier cleaning. 

Collections Assistant Joni Joseph explains the process of cleaning the Federal Period chandelier that hangs in the dining room while Nina Owcsarek dusts the crystals.

This chandelier is believed to be one of the few lighting fixtures to survive from the Federal period. Armistead Peter, III wrote that it originally hung in the Drawing Room, where Lafayette was entertained in 1824. A. Peter, III writes further, “It had been taken down, the crystals appeared to have been senselessly pulled apart, and had been packed in a box in this condition. The frame had been put with them in the attic….” This was probably prior to the Civil War when Britannia W. Kennon installed gasoliers. Many years later A. Peter, III restrung the chandelier. At that time he discovered that apparently not all the holes pierced in the metal frame for stringing had been used. Without a complete set of crystals, it was impossible to be certain of the original configuration. The tin wax-cups, “…are original, and were made because the candles dripped upon the shoulders of the people below. My great-grandmother told my father [A. Peter, Jr.] that they were made locally. The chain around the upper part is an improvisation of my own….”

Metal and cut glass; English; c. 1810

We’re Cleaning House! (Part I)

Every January Tudor Place is closed to the public for the entire month. It may seem quiet on the outside, but the inside is buzzing with activity! Right now our Collections and Conservation staff is doing an extra thorough clean and assessment of the historic house and objects on display. The rugs are pulled up, furniture is pulled out, ladders are climbed to reach the highest parts of the ceilings and light fixtures, etc. Basically, it is our version of “spring cleaning.”

This year we thought it would be fun to share some of the projects that are going on inside the house while the gates are closed….
Cleaning the Historic Marble in the Foyer:
Director of Architectural Conservation, Cynthia Silva explains how she is cleaning the historic marble floors…. “After testing a number of surfactants the most effective product was chosen to complete the cleaning of the marble vestibule floor, this was a pH neutral gel formulated to remove soiling from marble and limestone. In order to better control the cleaning, a work area approximately 3×8 feet was taped off, the marble was then dampened with a sponge and an even thickness of gel cleaner was applied to the marble. Because the gel required a dwell time of 30 minutes to achieve the desired result, plastic sheeting was placed over top the work area to prevent drying. After 30 minutes, the surface was agitated with a soft bristled brush to help loosen and lift the now softened dirt and grime. The floor was then sponged with clean water to completely remove the product. Once all sections of the floor are completed the marble will be assessed for any additional spot treatments required to minimize the appearance of stubborn stains.”


The below photo shows the contrast between the gel-treated edges and the center of the floor pre-treatment…

Next:  Taking apart the Drawing Room….

There’s no place like (a historic) home for the holidays!

Home for the Holidays: Celebrate the Season at Tudor Place!

Once again Tudor Place has decked the halls this holiday season.

This year there is a 1930’s theme. In 1932 the Peters came home for a family Christmas. Owner Armistead Peter, Jr. was joined by his son and daughter-in-law, Armistead Peter 3rd and Caroline, their daughter Anne, and Caroline’s mother Suzanne Bartlett. The house will be decorated with historic Christmas decorations they may have used in their celebration of the holiday.


No 20th century Christmas would be complete without a Christmas tree in the corner of a room, but that doesn’t mean chopping down a real one! All the trees on display will all be artificial, but that is still historically accurate. First produced in Germany, but later in the U.S.A., artificial trees were already popular by the early twentieth century. In the 1890s, German trees made from green-dyed goose feathers attached to wire branches wrapped around a wooden dowel trunk were in fashion. The first American-made feather trees were sold in 1913 through the Sears, Roebuck and Company catalog. They did not shed needles like real trees and they could be used for years. One of the highlights of the holiday display in the Parlour will be a c.1910 feather tree from Germany decorated with original ornaments. The Tudor Place tree will be hung with an unusual assortment of period ornaments including two goldfish, a bucket, two owls, a seal, a frog, an ostrich, a stork, a turkey, a wild boar and a pig. Come for a tour or a holiday program and see if you can find them all!

This holiday season we are offering Wreath making, Gingerbread Workshops, Chocolate tasting & teas, and more!  Go to for schedules and to find out how to register.


Other Historic Houses that are “dressed up” for the holidays:
Woodrow Wilson House -1920’s theme –