The Washington Collection
For 178 years, six generations of the Custis-Peter family used, maintained, and treasured their more than 200 artifacts, gifts, heirlooms, and manuscripts from Martha and George Washington. Martha Custis Peter, who with her husband Thomas built Tudor Place, was a granddaughter of Martha Dandridge Custis Washington and enjoyed a loving relationship with her and the President, her step-grandfather. And Thomas Peter, like his father Robert, transacted business and enjoyed friendly ties to the former President. In her will, executed in 1802, Martha Washington named Thomas an executor of her estate.
The Washington Collection, second only to George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate, Museum and Gardens’ in size, contains both finely crafted goods and humble domestic items. In materials, production techniques, and design, these objects provide excellent examples of 18th-century craftsmanship. Their mix of European-, Chinese-, and American-made elements also speaks to the nature of circum-Atlantic commerce in the 18th century and the emergence of a self-consciously “republican” esthetic on American shores.
The collection includes 40 pieces of a Sèvres porcelain dinner and dessert service used in the first Presidential household; a Chinese export porcelain soup plate from the ca. 1784 Society of Cincinnati service; Martha Washington’s English Gothic-style china table, ca. 1750 – 75; one of two surviving American-made camp stools Washington commissioned in 1776 for use during the Revolutionary War; fragments of silk clothing, lace, and personal accessories; a 1734 silver porringer owned by Martha Washington’s son (Martha Peter’s father), John Parke Custis; and a rare wax-and-shellwork tableau presented to Martha Washington in 1783 by New York entrepreneur and tavern-keeper Samuel Fraunces.
The cornerstone of the Washington Collection’s papers is George’s letter to Martha announcing his 1775 appointment to lead the Continental Army, one of only three surviving pieces of the couple’s personal correspondence. Additional correspondence relates to business transactions and condolence letters received by Martha Washington after her husband’s death.