Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

John P.C. Peter (b. 1799 - d. 1848)
MSA SC 5496-035966
Slaveholder and Property Owner in Seneca Mills, Montgomery County, Maryland


John Parke Custis Peter was born in Georgetown, Washington D.C., on November 14, 1799. His parents were Thomas Peter and Martha Parke Custis, Martha Washington's granddaughter. John P.C. Peter married the Virginia-born Elizabeth Jane Henderson on February 1 or 2, 1830.1 Their children were Sarah E. (b. 1832), Thomas (b. 1834), Martha (b. 1836), John P.C. Jr. (b. 1838), James H. (b. 1840), Jane (b. 1842), Brittania K. (1844), Daniel P. (b. 1846), and one child who died in infancy.2

As the owner of the Seneca Mill near the C & O Canal,3 John P.C. Peter used the mill's red Seneca stone to build his summer house, Montevideo, near Darnestown between 1828 and 1830.4 The two-story manor house stood about a mile north of River Road on a tract called Conclusion5 near the site of his parents' former summer home, Oakland.6 The two-story Montevideo had "large high-ceilinged rooms,"7 with an exterior "covered by stucco then scored to resemble ashlar blocks."8 Montevideo's Federal-style architecture emulated Thomas Peter's Tudor Place in Georgetown, D.C. which John P.C. Peter also used as his winter residence.9

On July 16, 1831, three of Peter's slaves escaped. According to a runaway advertisement in the Daily National Intelligencer, Peter believed that Beverly Davis, Peter Boman, and George Boman has headed towards Pennsylvania.10 In 1840, Peter owned twenty-three slaves, including nine men, six women, four boys, and four girls.11

In 1847, Peter advertised in the Daily National Intelligencer for "an elderly gentleman, ... capable of teaching all branches of an English Education, as a private tutor in his family."12 The position had opened when the children's tutor, Charles Howard Nourse, had left to found the Poolesville Presbyterian Church in April.13

That year, Peter sold red Seneca sandstone from his quarries to the Smithsonian Institution.14 In a letter dated March 22, 1847 from "Monte Video," Peter informed the Smithsonian that he charged "twenty-five cents a perch for all stone intended for face or cut work, and twelve and a half cents per perch for all calculated for backing or rubble work."15 In another correspondence, dated December 9, 1847, Peter observed that the "texture and shade" of the sandstone would provide "a pleasing contrast with the other public edifices in Washington."16 The stone from Peter's mill also composed the aqueduct at the Seneca Creek's outlet, along with many locks for C & O Canal.17

John P.C. Peter died from "lock jaw," or tetanus, on January 19, 1848, and was buried at Montevideo.18 On March 3, 1849, the widowed Elizabeth Peter married Charles H. Nourse, the former tutor of the Peter children.19 The family later erected a twelve-foot monument in Peter's memory in the center of the family cemetery,20 also the site of Thomas and Martha Peter's graves.21 The first president of the Maryland Agricultural Society, John P.C. Peter had also served on the Darnestown District's Board of Education and in the Maryland House of Delegates.22

1.     MONTGOMERY COUNTY COURT, (Marriage Licenses), 1798-1839, Film Reel: CR 8920, [MSA CM724-1]. John P.C. Peter and Elizabeth Jane Henderson, February 1, 1830.
        "Historical and Genealogical Notes." William and Mary College Quarterly. (Vol. 5. Richmond, VA: Whittet & Shepperson, 1897) 140.
         Hugh Montgomery-Massingberd. Burke's Presidential Families of the United States of America (London: Burke's Peerage, 1975) 41.

2.     U.S. Census Bureau (Census Record, MD) for Charles H. Nourse [Elizabeth Jane Peter's second husband], 1850, Montgomery County, Medleys District, Page 14, Line 16 [MSA SM61-142, M 1499-1].
        "Old Graves Discovered in Seneca Burial Plot." News 21 September 1938: 10. Access Newspaper Archive.

3.     Maryland Geological Survey. Maryland Geological Survey (Vol. 2. Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1898) 208.

4.     Clare Lise Cavicchi. Places from the Past: The Tradition of Gardez Bien in Montgomery County, Maryland. (Silver Spring, MD: The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, 2001) 165.
        Roger Brook Farquhar. Historic Montgomery County, Maryland: Old homes and History (Judd and Detweiler, Inc., Washington, DC: 1962) 218.
        Michael Dwyer. Montgomery County (Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2006) 64.
        George M. Anderson. "The Montgomery County Agricultural Society: The Beginning Years, 1846-1850." Maryland Historical Magazine 81.4 (1986): 305.
        "Montevideo." M: 17-58.  Maryland Historical Trust.
        "Seneca Historic District." M: 17-63. Maryland Historical Trust.

5.     MONTGOMERY COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT (Land Records), Liber 1033, Folio 390, [MSA CE 63-991]. Vernon H. Dyson to James M. Barnes and Betty Grove Barnes, July 1, 1946.

6.     "Montevideo." M: 17-58.  Maryland Historical Trust.
         Cavicchi 165.
7.     "Old Graves Discovered in Seneca Burial Plot." News 21 September 1938: 10. Access Newspaper Archive.

8.     Dwyer 64.

9.     Ibid.
        Anderson 305.

10.   "150 Dollars Reward." Daily National Intelligencer 28 July 1831: 1.

11.   U.S. Census Bureau (Census Record, MD) for John P.C. Peter, 1840, Montgomery County, Medleys District, Page 1, 13th line from the bottom [MSA SM61-113, M 4722]. Slaves listed are on Page 2, 13th line from the bottom.

12.   Joan M. Dixon. National Intelligencer Newspaper Abstracts: 1847 (Westminster, MD: Heritage Books, Inc., 2007) 393.

13.   Dona L. Cuttler and Dorothy J. Elgin. The History of Poolesville (Westminster, MD: Heritage Books, Inc., 2007) 62.

14.   Maryland Geological Survey 208.

15.   Smithsonian Institution. Smithsonian Miscellaneous Collections. Vol. 18 (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution, 1880) 663.

16.   Smithsonian Institution 559.

17.   Ibid.

18.   Montgomery-Massingberd 41.
         Farquhar 219.
         "Montevideo." M: 17-58.  Maryland Historical Trust.

19.   MONTGOMERY COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT (Land Records), Liber 2506, Folio 174, [MSA CE 63-2464]. Betty Grove Barnes to Austin H. Kiplinger and Mary Louise Kiplinger, September 16, 1958.
        Farquhar 219.

20.   MONTGOMERY COUNTY COURT, (Marriage Licenses), 1798-1839, Film Reel: CR 8920, [MSA CM724-1]. Charles H. Nourse and Elizabeth Jane Peter, March 3, 1849.

21.   "Old Graves Discovered in Seneca Burial Plot." News 21 September 1938: 10. Access Newspaper Archive.

22.   Dwyer 64.
        "Montevideo." M: 17-58.  Maryland Historical Trust.
        Anderson 305.

23.   Frank E. Grizzard Jr. George Washington: A Biographical Companion (Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, Inc., 2002) 407. 

Researched and written by Rachel Frazier, 2010.

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