The Peter Family
Martha Parke Custis and Thomas Peter
Martha Parke Custis was born in the Blue Room at Mount Vernon on December 31, 1777. Her father, John Parke Custis (1754-1781), was Martha Washington’s son from her first marriage to Daniel Parke Custis, and her mother was Eleanor Calvert Custis (1758-1811), the granddaughter of Charles Calvert, 5th Baron Baltimore and Proprietary Governor of Maryland. John Parke Custis died from Camp Fever contracted at Yorktown in 1781 and two years later, his widow Eleanor married Dr. David Stuart (1753-1814), a close friend and business associate of George Washington. Martha and her elder sister Elizabeth “Eliza” Custis grew up with her mother and stepfather at his Hope Park estate in rural Fairfax County while the two youngest siblings Eleanor “Nelly” Custis (1779-1852) and George Washington Parke Custis (1781-1857), were raised at Mount Vernon as the adopted children of their grandparents, George and Martha Washington. In September of 1793, Martha Parke Custis and her sister accompanied George Washington to the ceremony for the laying of the Capitol Building’s cornerstone.
In 1795 Martha Custis married Thomas Peter. Thomas Peter was the eldest son of Robert Peter. From 1801 until his death in 1834, Thomas served five terms as a Justice of the Peace for the County of Washington. He was also a director of the Bank of Columbia and a vestryman of St. John’s Protestant Episcopal Church in Georgetown. Along with many other citizens of the day, he enjoyed thoroughbred horse racing as a favorite hobby.
Their wedding ceremony took place at Hope Park, the Fairfax County estate of Martha Custis’ mother and stepfather, Eleanor and David, and occurred on the 35th anniversary of George and Martha Washington’s wedding. After the wedding, they resided in a house built by Thomas’ father, Robert, on Wapping Street (now K Street) near Rock Creek. President Washington, Martha’s step-grandfather, was often a guest at the house, when he rode over to survey the progress of construction on the Federal city. The former president spent his last night in the Federal City at the Peter’s K Street house in November 1799.
Following her grandmother’s 1802 death, Martha Peter received two significant gifts: the 1796 engraving of General Washington after a portrait by Trumbull that had formerly hung in the stair hall at Mount Vernon and the writing table that Mrs. Washington had used in Philadelphia and in her retirement. Her husband, Thomas, was one of the executors of the estate. In accordance with Mrs. Washington’s will, certain items were bequeathed to family members and the remaining items sold in an estate sale. Martha and Thomas purchased a large quantity of objects at the sale at Mount Vernon ranging from furniture and porcelain to personal items and letters.
Martha and Thomas Peter acquire Tudor Place
In 1805 Martha and Thomas Peter purchased Tudor Place. The Peters then asked their friend and self-taught architect, Dr. William Thornton (1759-1828), to design a home for the property overlooking the Potomac and the port of Georgetown. In addition to owning Tudor Place, they owned a large agricultural estate of more than 500 acres called Oakland that was located near Seneca, Maryland and a small farm in Northeast D.C. known as Effingham.
Martha and Thomas Peter had ten children. Born at Tudor Place on January 28, 1815, Britannia was the youngest of the ten children arriving just five months after the British attacked Washington in August 1814, she was given the middle name Wellington at her christening. Unlike her sisters who were educated in Philadelphia, Britannia was schooled locally in Georgetown spending four years at the Young Ladies Academy at Georgetown’s Visitation Convent, now Georgetown Visitation Preparatory School.