Historic House in Washington, D.C.
Tudor Place is a neo-classical architectural masterpiece in Georgetown that is unique because it was owned by six generations of the same family. Martha Custis Peter, a granddaughter of Martha Washington, and her husband, Thomas, purchased the property in 1805. To preserve the material legacy of the Washingtons, the Peters filled their home with decorative arts and mementos purchased from Martha Peter’s grandmother’s estate sale at Mount Vernon. Visitors can see many of those items today, as well as additions made by other family members until the death of the last owner, Armistead Peter 3rd, in 1983.
The immersive environment of the home’s public, private and service spaces provide a window into the lives of an elite D.C. family and the enslaved and free domestic laborers who made the Peters’ lavish lifestyle possible. The combination of storytelling, architecture and artifacts makes a visit to the historic house and garden a memorable experience.
The Nacotchtank/Anacostin and Piscataway people inhabited land along the Potomac River when the English began exploring the area in the early 1600s. Infectious diseases introduced by Europeans and armed conflict that resulted from indigenous people defending their ancestral lands devastated these communities. These events combined with unscrupulous land deals provided the English with the means to claim ownership of land, including the “Rock of Dumbarton” tract. A portion of this tract is where Tudor Place sits today.
Two adjacent brick structures existed when the Peters bought the property in 1805. The center block that joined these structures into a single home was designed by architect Dr. William Thornton. Completed in 1816, the house’s most architecturally significant feature is the domed, marble-floored Temple Portico, which extends into the house itself, with a curved wall of floor-to-ceiling windows. It is the only known full temple portico embedded into a U.S. residence, still standing today.
Martha and Thomas Peter, like many property owners in early 19th century Georgetown, exploited the knowledge, labor and bodies of African Americans by participating in the system of slavery.
While some enslaved individuals were held in bondage at Tudor Place, most were forced to live and work on the Peter family’s other properties in the District and Montgomery County, Maryland. Although written records often dehumanize these men, women and children, Tudor Place is working to restore their agency by providing visitors with a fuller accounting of their lives.
Following the Civil War and the abolition of slavery, the Peter family turned to paid domestic laborers, many of whom were recent Irish immigrants to the United States. The transition to paid labor was not easy for many former enslavers because these workers could quit while their pre-Civil War enslaved staff could not. Still the Peters employed a number of people who worked for the family for decades. Their stories are told through employment records and recollections saved in the Tudor Place Archives.
The Tudor Place Collection consists of over 18,000 objects and represents six generations of the Peter family and their enslaved and free domestic laborers. The Washington Collection, second in size only to George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate, contains both finely crafted goods and humble domestic items. The collection also boasts a large assortment of historic decorative arts, fine arts, textiles, ceramics, silver and jewelry. Besides the house itself, Armistead Peter 3rd’s 1919 Pierce-Arrow Roadster is the museum’s largest artifact.
Visitors see many of the artifacts displayed in the house just as the last owner left them. You can explore more of the collection by clicking on the online database here.
The Tudor Place Archive consists of approximately 250,000 items of the personal papers of Peter family members from the mid-18th century to 1983. It includes correspondence, diaries, scrapbooks, maps, financial records, inventories, blueprints, architectural drawings and ephemera – covering topics related to the Custis-Peter family and its collateral branches, the social and economic history of Georgetown and enslavement. A collection of 5,000 books from the 18th through 20th centuries and mid-19th century photographs complete this rare resource.