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Stars and Stripes–Tudor Place Riddled with Military History

The U.S. military newspaper Stars and Stripes received an introduction to the military history of the Peter family and Tudor Place from Executive Director Mark Hudson and Curator Grant Quertermous.

Tudor Place is a Blue Star museum, and is free for active U.S. military and their families from Armed Forces Day (the third Saturday in May) until Labor Day each year.

Tudor Place also honors all active and retired service families with this offer on Veterans Day, November 11.

Tudor Place is open Tuesdays through Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Sundays from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. Tours begin on the hour and the last daily tour starts at 3 p.m. Reserve tours online or at the Visitor Center.

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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Thomas and ‘Patty:’ Meet Tudor Place’s Founders

Who were they, the founders of Tudor Place? Martha Parke Custis Peter and Thomas Peter, civic leaders in Georgetown and the capital city, helped shape our national life but few Americans today know their names. That anonymity belies the tangible legacy they left, thanks to the constancy of their descendants and an almost genetic devotion to preservation in the lasting family line.

A businessman, landowner, and slaveholder, Thomas began life with great wealth accumulated by his father, a Scottish immigrant. Active in the business of Georgetown and the new city of Washington, he pursued personal interests extending to farming, horse racing, playing his flute (now in the Collection), and courting a certain debutante with illustrious Virginia origins.

She was Martha Parke Custis Peter, called Patty, and their 1795 marriage united two prominent American families. Patty was born at Mount Vernon to Martha Washington’s son and his wife, a daughter of Maryland’s founding Calvert family with the inherited title Baron Baltimore. A favorite of her grandmother, she was also close to her step-grandfather, the President.

Meet the Peters in this essay by former Executive Director Leslie Buhler, from Tudor Place: America’s Story Lives Here, newly published in collaboration with the White House Historical Association.


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Tudor Place Family Hero: George Peter and the War of 1812

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.

  • Learn more about Tudor Place denizens and history in our Reading Room.


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