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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 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.

Tudor Place Celebrates 30 Years of Open Doors

30th Anniversary house image

CONTACT

press@tudorplace.org
202.580.7329

Time sleeps and his scythe is broken for those who live in this house.
— Armistead Peter 3rd, last private owner of Tudor Place

Washington, DC –The house and garden at Tudor Place suggest a timelessness that is only partly accurate. As an estate, it’s survived more than two centuries and served six generations of one family. As a public museum, though, it’s an up-and-comer, an adolescent on a growth spurt with admired and award-winning education, collections, and research programs. Loyal support from members and donors since its 1988 opening has advanced the museum’s mission of bringing people closer to their own stories and the American story.

Unlike most historic houses, Tudor Place presents not one specific era or topic, but six generations of public and private life, indoors and out, from the agricultural era to the Cold War. No head count can be found for the museum’s inaugural house tour, on October 8, 1988. What can be known is that the site, which in its first three years combined served just 25,000 visitors, now hosts almost that many every year. Of 400,000 counted since 1988, more than a quarter, 121,820, visited since 2013. They include more than 3,000 pre-K-through-high school students annually.

When the museum was new, “the typical visitor was a Washingtonian,” often from the neighborhood, said Elizabeth Taylor, a former economist who delivered the museum’s first tour and still serves as a docent. Today, the museum attracts visitors from across and beyond the United States, as well. In 2017, TripAdvisor listed Tudor Place among the top 100 Things to Do in Washington (number 72 at press time), a rare accolade for a small site among more than 500 competing listings.

In addition to guided tours, a full calendar of public programs gives locals and members more reasons to visit and to return. The museum is known for innovative education and public programs for all ages, supported by a cohort of roughly 50 docents and garden and program volunteers. Its field trip modules meet standards of learning in several disciplines for both one-time visits and year-long partnerships. community favorites like Eggstravaganza, the Earth Day plant sale and picnic, and Tudor Nights themed evenings rank alongside meaty staples like Landmark Society lectures, weekly enrichment programs for tots, and garden programs from guided tours to botanical art classes. The annual spring garden party, first hosted by the Peters in the 1960s, is now a staple of Washington’s social season and the museum’s largest single fundraiser.

Tudor Place enters its third century with a Master Preservation Plan to ensure the future of collections and archive and foster sustainability in building landscape management. The museum has made great strides in 30 years to assess its collection and archive and plan for their future maintenance. When the museum opened, the collection was only partially plumbed; surprises and unlabeled treasures lay in boxes and unopened trunks stacked in closets, back rooms, and attics. More than 200,000 archival items and 15,000 objects now have been assessed, catalogued, and formally accessioned, as have thousands of trees, shrubs, and plants across the five-and-a-half-acre site, enriching interpretation and the visitor experience.

The staff increasingly extends interpretation off-site, as well, through lectures around the region and staff appearances on C-Span and other media. The publication in 2016 of “Tudor Place: America’s Story Lives Here, in collaboration with the White House Historical Association, also broadens access to the treasures housed here.

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Tudor Place South Facade

ABOUT TUDOR PLACE: America’s story lives here! Having celebrated its 2016 Bicentennial, Tudor Place is one of the nation’s finest and best preserved neoclassical estates, built by Martha Washington’s granddaughter and lived in by six generations of her family. Through landscape, architecture, and collections, it tells the story of a family and their young nation, showcasing American design, labor, politics, and technology from the agricultural to the digital age. The William Thornton-designed historic house features furnishings, art, and domestic artifacts collected and used by a family and their enslaved workers and servants over 200 years. In the 5½-acre garden, dotted among varied garden “rooms” and landscape features, visitors will find a 1919 Pierce-Arrow motorcar and the District’s oldest exhibited smoke house. House tours are offered hourly, Tuesday through Sunday.

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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Legal Trouble: Martha Washington’s Will and the Early U.S. Courts

· Georgetown and the Federal City ·

Court Come to Order: MW and Legal Men

Court delays, punishing attorney fees, and prolonged disputes are nothing new in American law, a fact nowhere made clearer than in this account of legal proceedings following the 1802 death of Martha Washington, “The Court Will Come to Order: Dandridge vs. Executors of Martha Washington’s Will,” by Tudor Place Archivist Wendy Kail.

Mrs. Washington’s will, drawn up by Alexandria attorney Charles Lee, named as executors her grandson George Washington Parke Custis, nephews Julius Burbridge Dandridge and Bartholomew Dandridge, and Thomas Peter, the husband of granddaughter Martha Parke Custis Peter and future owner of Tudor Place. The executors wrestled with matters like the assignment of profits from stock and cattle sales, the division of assets named in both her will and that of her (previously deceased) husband, and the evergreen question of whether the practice of law constitutes “a useful trade.”


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A Yale Man at Tudor Place: From the Archive

· Historic Events ·

Yale University’s graduating class of just over 300 men in 1820 included John Parke Custis Peter, a son of founders Martha and Thomas Peter and a great-grandson of Martha Washington. His Yale affiliation may explain (or may have resulted from) his parents’ interest in the writings of 18th-century Federalist, theologian, and education reformer Timothy Dwight, Yale’s president from 1795 to 1817. The Tudor Place Archive includes three volumes of Dwight’s collection of sermons, Theology Explained and Defended, inscribed by either Martha or Thomas Peter.

These were on display during a May 2014 tour by Executive Director Leslie Buhler for supporters of the Yale Center for Historical Enquiry and the Social Sciences, followed by a dinner in the Dower House.


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