Posts

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.


« Return to Topic

Many Admirers… But Still a Widow: Reflections on Britannia Peter Kennon’s Widowhood

Nora Pehrson explains the origins of her essay on Britannia, written while interning here during her senior at Woodrow Wilson High School in Washington, D.C. Nora now attends Colby College in Waterville, Maine.

I was drawn to Britannia’s story because of an abiding interest in women’s history. I wanted to situate  Britannia in the broader context of her time. Around the time that Britannia was on the marriage market, the abolitionist and advocate for women’s rights Sarah Grimké wrote “Letters on the Equality of the Sexes,” in which she asserted that the American woman was “a cipher in the nation” because marriage rendered her invisible in the eyes of the law.

I decided to look at how widowhood might have represented a challenge to the cult of domesticity and especially to coverture laws, which took away a woman’s legal rights upon marriage. Although there are no definite answers to the questions that I began with, my research revealed Britannia’s decision to remain a widow allowed her to own and control the estate, which, remarkably, remained in the same family for six generations. Her “tenacity and perseverance,” Armistead Peter 3rd  declared,  “did as much as anything in the world to preserve this house to the present day.”

Offered through DC Public Schools and taught by the inimitable Cosby Hunt of the Center for Inspired Teaching, Real World History brings together students from across the city to explore a topic of American history in depth and learn what it means to be a historian. After a semester of reading primary sources, conducting oral histories, and making site visits to archives and museums, students go out into the world and serve as interns at various cultural sites throughout DC. During my time at Tudor Place, I did self-guided research and developed my own tour of the house as a docent. Working with the Education Department under the supervision of Laura Brandt was an amazing opportunity to learn how historic house museums operate and, especially, how to make the stories of the house come alive for the public.

When I arrived at Tudor Place as its first high school intern, I was intrigued by Britannia’s story. Why might she have chosen widowhood over marriage? In a time when the social status of women was so closely connected to the status of their fathers or husbands, why didn’t Britannia remarry? What might her motivations have been? These questions formed the basis of my research project for Tudor Place and the culmination of a year of an extracurricular class called Real World History.

Every visitor who takes a tour of Tudor Place learns the basic outline of Britannia Peter Kennon’s life. Born at Tudor Place in the early years of of the New Republic, Britannia lived for nearly a century. Her decades-long ownership of Tudor Place (from 1854 to 1911) preserved its history and legacy for future generations. Britannia carried out her vision essentially singlehandedly: She was widowed fourteen months into her marriage and never remarried.  “Although she had many admirers,” after being widowed in 1844, as her great-grandson Armistead Peter 3rd recalled, she chose to remain single for the rest of her life.

Oakland: Far from the Madding Crowd

early 1800s news clippings + map

Though grand by city standards even when the Peters first purchased it in 1805, the original eight and a half acres of Tudor Place was by no means their largest property. Most affluent urban families of the time owned large farms, and the Peters were no exception. Among the lands Thomas Peter inherited from his father Robert was a tract in Montgomery County that the family called Oakland, part of a coveted royal land grant once known as Conclusion. On it they husbanded not just Peter’s cherished race horses, but also crops, lumber, cows and hogs, some of which were transported to Tudor Place every fall for smoking. Enslaved workers also moved between the two locations, family reminiscences and other records indicate.

To at least two generations of Peters, Oakland represented more than a business or country larder. In this essay, archivist Wendy Kail traces the property’s legacy in law, commerce, and family memory.

« Return to Topics, “Georgetown & the Federal City” or “Land & Business”
« Return to Blog

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.”


« Return to Topic