Enjoy a virtual visit to Tudor Place.
The words of past owners Britannia Wellington Peter Kennon and Armistead Peter 3rd will guide you on an inspiring video tour of Tudor Place Historic House & Garden.
TUDOR PLACE | OPEN Tuesday – Saturday 10 am – 4 pm and Sunday Noon – 4 pm. Click for info.
Enjoy a virtual visit to Tudor Place.
The words of past owners Britannia Wellington Peter Kennon and Armistead Peter 3rd will guide you on an inspiring video tour of Tudor Place Historic House & Garden.
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.
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.
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.
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.
New Holiday Installation Recalls the Mansion’s First Electrified Winter
In December 1914, the Peters of Tudor Place and their servants returned after a long absence to a newly renovated mansion, just in time for Christmas. For the museum’s 2017 holiday installation, Curator Grant Quertermous has recreated that moment when family traditions met the novelties of electric lights, state-of-the-art appliances, and other changes in an ancestral home.
All through December, Tudor Place visitors can take in artifacts, vignettes, and stories showing how the family observed the holiday that year. They can also see how the estate’s servants prepared for the season’s numerous meals and celebrations even as they adjusted to new and unfamiliar technology. The installation covers every room of National Historic Landmark, from the formal Drawing Room tree covered in period and historic ornaments, to teenaged Armistead’s bedroom with its “high-tech” radio, to the sparkling new kitchen where longtime Cook Annie O’Connor was mastering a new combination gas-and-coal stove from DuParquet on the fly. In some rooms, later furnishings have been removed and rarely displayed objects set out to recreate the home’s 1914-era appearance.
Such detailed interpretation took months of detailed research and planning within and beyond the Tudor Place collection and archive. To learn what types of food would have appeared on the family’s tables and in its larders, for example, Grant consulted grocery and dry goods receipts in the archive. Diaries and letters provided information about dining, gifts exchanged, and the season’s social events. Ledgers revealed names and roles of servants in the family’s employ, their pay, and the end-of-year gifts they received from the Peters.
Artistically and technically inclined, young Armistead Peter 3rd enabled a detailed recreation of his ham radio set-up through detailed drawings and photos he made of it. Relying on those and consultations with vintage radio specialists, the curator has precisely recreated “the boy’s” arrangement of radio equipment in the same location and on the same table where he used it over 100 years ago.
The full installation can be seen on all house tours and public programs in the historic house, including daily public tours, evening Candlelight Tours, a Saturday, December 2, family program of house explorations and holiday crafts, and Tudor Lights, the December 7 cocktail party featuring Christmas décor indoors and festive holiday lights in the garden, newly added this year. Most holiday programs sell out, so reserve soon for your chance to experience An Illuminated Christmas, 1914.
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.
By Tudor Place Curator of Collections Erin Kuykendall
Francis Scott Key (1779 – 1843) was considered a great patriot in his lifetime. On a diplomatic mission during the War of 1812 to secure the release of an American prisoner, the eloquent lawyer witnessed the fierce September 1814 attack by British Admirals Cockburn and Cochrane on Baltimore’s Fort McHenry. Key’s life after the war, including as District Attorney for Washington City from 1833 – 1841, is as significant as his authorship of the “Star Spangled Banner” while still in Baltimore Harbor. His legal counsel captures the pulse of American society from the “Era of Good Feeling” during President Monroe’s administration until Key’s death in 1843.
Born on August 1, 1779, to John Ross Key (1754 – 1821) and Anne Phoebe Charlton Key (1756 – 1830), Francis Scott grew up at estate Pipe Creek, today known as Terra Rubra, west of Frederick, Maryland. He attended grammar school in Annapolis under the supervision of his uncle, attorney Philip Barton Key (1757-1815), and from 1794 to 1796, studied at St. John’s College, where he met his life-long friend Roger Brooke Taney (1777-1864), future Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Key married Mary Tayloe Lloyd in January 1802 in Annapolis. Their union raised eyebrows in elite Maryland society, including those of Rosalie Stier Calvert, Martha Peter’s observant and opinionated aunt. “I must tell you of an event of Annapolis Society,” Calvert confided in a letter to her father. “Polly Lloyd is to be married next month to Frank Key who has nothing and who has only practiced for two years as an [attorney].”1
The Keys moved to Georgetown in 1805, where they raised six boys and five girls, all of whom survived infancy. The family’s two-and-a-half story brick residence was constructed ten years prior in 1795 by merchant and real estate investor Thomas Clarke of Georgetown. The stately residence afforded the growing family a prominent view of the Georgetown port to the east, efficient access to the commercial heart of the city on Bridge and Water Streets, and genteel terraced gardens sloping toward the Potomac. They entertained in two large parlors on the first floor, while the basement contained a kitchen, dining room and conservatory.2 When construction began in 1830 on the C&O Canal, directly behind their home, the Keys relocated to a smaller house at 308 C Street in Washington’s Capitol Hill neighborhood, but for several years, Key maintained his law practice in a small addition to his former Georgetown home.3
The family also worshiped in Georgetown, at St. John’s Episcopal Church on Second Street (present-day “O” Street), where both Key and Tudor Place’s Thomas Peter served as vestrymen.4 The uncle who oversaw Key’s education, Philip Barton Key, also helped establish him as a young lawyer, announcing in the Washington Federalist newspaper in December 1805: “Mr. Francis S. Key will attend and conduct as an Attorney at Law any professional business confided to him from the office on Bridge Street.”5
In February 1807, Key argued the first of what would amount to more than 100 cases heard by the United States Supreme Court. The court met, under Chief Justice John Marshall, in temporary chambers in the original Capitol, which was designed (like Tudor Place) by architect William Thornton. Key advocated on behalf of two adventurers implicated in former Vice President Aaron Burr’s treasonous plot to invade and conquer Mexico. (Burr aimed to establish a separate state from which to invade the United States and conquer Jefferson’s newly obtained Louisiana Purchase.) The scandal had enthralled the American public and, by the proceedings’ end, having secured his clients’ acquittal, Key established a reputation as a gifted orator and legal mind. The case marked the start of a promising career6 that lasted until his death at age 63 in Baltimore, on January 11, 1843.
Key’s solid partner’s desk in the Tudor Place collection is a significant example of cabinetmaking from Washington, D.C. in the 1830s. Preliminary research suggests its form is undocumented in other major museum collections, and therefore may be a rare example of the kind of furniture lawyers, politicians and other professionals working in the capital commissioned at that time. Unlike furniture made by purveyors to the elite – such as Georgetown cabinetmaker William Worthington, Jr., who supplied elegant furniture to Presidents Madison and Monroe and clients like the Peters of Tudor Place – the unidentified local cabinetmaker who built Key’s desk likely served a more middling clientele. Men like Key, of modest means but in prominent civic positions, also needed furnishings designed to impress in private spaces as well as public settings like City Hall and Key’s District Attorney’s office.
The Tudor Place desk is one of only a handful of furnishings and personal effects associated with Francis Scott Key or his wife Mary found in museum collections today. The large Key family appeared to live modestly and without extravagance compared to Georgetown gentry like the Peters. In 1814, he complained to his mother “the expenses of living here are enormous.”7 References to their furnishings are scattered, piecemeal, among his papers. In March 1837, for example, he purchased two mahogany bookcases and a writing table for his home office on C Street.8 The latter could be a reference to the well built “partner’s desk” – so called because it is accessible from two sides – now at Tudor Place.
Given the colossal weight of a desk this size of solid walnut, the piece is constructed from three separate cases: a top containing three drawers, and two pedestals offering additional storage. In the center, two adjustable writing surfaces finished with felted green wool provide a smooth surface on which Key and his clerks or colleagues could have written. To either side of these, thick solid walnut boards were expertly selected for their grain. The desk includes 22 drawers, in all: one dozen 6-inch square drawers on the rear, six rectangular drawers on the front, and one 22-inch drawer sandwiched on top between two 13-inch drawers. The outer drawers on the front extend the entire depth of the top; however, a novice user might overlook the tiny, wooden spring that prevents the drawers from fully extending unless depressed. Perhaps this mechanism provided security for documents cached in the drawers’ back sections.
Artists and artisans who furnished Washington City’s public buildings like the Capitol and City Hall were highly alert to the democratic precedents government officials set with each passing year of the young country. Unlike furniture commissioned for private spaces, seen by only small social or familial circles, furniture for public buildings would have had an impact on people from across the country and around the world. This may explain the presence of two faint, illegible pencil signatures freshly discovered on Key’s desk. The cryptic marks appear in the back right corners of either pedestal; the consistency of their strokes indicates they were written by the same hand, and both underlined for emphasis. Further research is needed to reveal the name of this individual, however, who may be the cabinetmaker.
Key himself also signed the desk in numerous locations; the large, sweeping letters “F. S. Key” or “F. S. K.” appear in ink across the width of both pedestals, and on the underside of several drawers. What accounts for this vigorous labeling? Key may have marked the desk for transport from the cabinetmaker’s shop to his City Hall office. When the Keys relocated from Georgetown, perhaps he marked each piece before it was carried by cart down Bridge Street. Could he have been worried about theft in the event of a fire? Or if he had personally furnished the desk for the District Attorney’s office, perhaps he marked it for removal from City Hall after his three terms ended, in 1841.
Key’s prominence in the capital’s legal community also brought him squarely into the country’s debate on slavery. While he personally owned slaves and prosecuted abolitionists in his role as District Attorney, he also deplored the slave trade and took on cases, sometimes pro bono, on behalf of free and enslaved African Americans, including suits against slave-owners. Key vocally advocated for African recolonization, a movement that drew criticism from both sides of the slave question but gave rise to the modern state of Liberia.
No reference to the partner’s desk appears in Key’s will. His wife may have sold or given it to their friend James Dunlop, Jr. (1793 – 1872), a nephew of Thomas Peter and Key’s junior contemporary in Maryland’s legal community. for it was from the Dunlops that it came to Tudor Place. Dunlop and Key never joined in a law practice, but they collaborated on many civil cases. In November 1820, for example, they the estate auction of Fruit Hill plantation in Montgomery County, Maryland.9 In January 1824, they partnered in a civil case, charging their Frederick client $100 because “it was an extremely troublesome case to prepare for trial, & our success has been so complete.”10 The two men established a firm friendship, and Dunlop named his third son (b. 1827) Francis Key. Dunlop’s youngest son, William Laird (1830 – 1916), inherited the desk, probably after Dunlop’s death in 1872. It was Tudor Place’s third owner, Armistead Peter, Jr. (1870-1960), who purchased the desk from Sarah Peter Dunlop (1856 – 1935) in early December 1917, following the death of her husband. Peter paid $150, writing “Indeed I appreciate your letting me have it and shall always value it.”11
Much more than the author of the “Star Spangled Banner,” Francis Scott Key was one of the capital’s best known and hardest-working lawyers for nearly four decades, playing roles in formative legal issues of his day in Georgetown and Washington. His sturdy, unornamented desk from the 1830s offers a tangible window into the complex legalworld he helped shape and their impact on American life today.
Note: The author is grateful to Jerry McCoy, Special Collections Librarian, Peabody Room, Washington D.C. Public Library, Georgetown Branch; Marc Leepson, author of What So Proudly We Hailed: Francis Scott Key, a Life (2014); and Steve Vogel, author of Through the Perilous Fight: Six Weeks that Saved the Nation (2014), for their insights on the life and material world of Francis Scott Key.
1Rosalie Steir Calvert to Charles J. Steir, Bladensburg, December 30, 1801, quoted in Margaret Law Callcott, ed. Mistress of Riversdale: The Plantation Letters of Rosalie Steir Calvert, 1759 – 1821 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1991), 31. [back]
2Steve Vogel, Through the Perilous Fight: Six Weeks that Saved the Nation (Random House, 2014), 15. Sina Dubovy, The Lost World of Francis Scott Key (WestBow Press, 2014), 117 – 120. Marc Leepson, What so Proudly We Hailed: Francis Scott Key, A Life (Palgrave Macmillan Trade, 2014), 16, 21. See also “FSK House” Research File, District of Columbia Public Library, Peabody Room, Georgetown Library. [back]
3The 1834 City Directory lists Key at the Corner of Washington and Beall, north side, but office still on Bridge Street. [back]
4Dubovoy, 123. Richard P. Jackson, Chronicles of Georgetown, D.C., from 1751 to 1878, Reprint (2011), 112. [back]
5Dubovoy, 117. [back]
6Dubovoy, 130-135. Vogel, 14-15. [back]
7Francis Scott Key to Anne Phoebe Key, January 2, 1814, Special Collections, University of Virginia Library. As cited in Leepson, 39n5. [back]
8Dubovoy, 408. [back]
9Advertisement, Daily National Intelligencer. Washington, D.C., October 31, 1820. As quoted in Leepson, 97n6. [back]
10Dubovoy, 292. [back]
11Letter from Armistead Peter, Jr., Washington, D.C, to Sarah Norfleet Peter Dunlop, Rockville, Maryland, December 4, 1917. Tudor Place Archive. Collection of Armistead Peter, Jr., Ms. 14, Box 7, Folder 4. In February 1922, Peter, Jr., commissioned Maximilian F. Rosinski to repair and refinish the desk for $65.00. Tudor Place Archive, Ms. 14, Box 121, Folder 12. [back]
Callcott, Margaret Law, ed. Mistress of Riversdale: The Plantation Letters of Rosalie Stier Calvert, 1795 – 1821. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1991.
Delaplaine, Edward. Francis Scott Key: Life and Times. Stuarts Draft, Virginia: American Foundation Publications, 1998 Reprint.
Dubovoy, Sina. The Lost World of Francis Scott Key. Bloomington, IN: WestBow Press, 2014.
Ecker, Grace Dunlop. A Portrait of Old Georgetown. Richmond, Virginia: Dietz Press, Inc., 1951.
Jackson, Richard P. The Chronicles of Georgetown, D.C. From 1751 to 1878. Westminster: Maryland, 2011 reprint.
Leepson, Marc. What So Proudly We Hailed: Francis Scott Key, a Life. Palgrave Macmillan Trade, 2014.
Vogel, Steve. Through the Perilous Fight: Six Weeks that Saved the Nation. New York: Random House, 2014.
Armistead Peter Jr., the third owner of Tudor Place, cherished the labors and traditions of the estate’s landscape. His grandmother, Britannia Wellington Peter Kennon, inherited the property from its founders, her parents. She taught her grandchildren to honor these forebears and in many ways Armistead Peter Jr. measured out his own life by following the garden’s rhythms and answering its demands. This essay by Archivist Wendy Kail traces intergenerational change within the Peter family through diaries, notes, and the natural history of Tudor Place.
A mid 20th-century view of the Box Knot rose garden, where time’s passing registers on the face of a sun dial from Crossbasket Castle.
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