Living History

As Southern novelist William Faulkner wrote in Absalom, Absalom! in 1936, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” His words still ring true.

While researching Tudor Place in the nation’s capital for this issue, I discovered that owner Martha Custis Peter (a granddaughter of Martha Washington) witnessed the burning of the Capitol by the British Army during the War of 1812.

How ironic (and frightening!) that while reading about that 200-year-old event, we were watching in real time as a mob of our own citizens, convinced that the 2020 presidential election had been stolen, breached “the people’s house” and sought to hunt down members of Congress and “stop the steal.”

In both instances, our democracy held, but barely. Such events should remind us that the survival of our fragile freedoms cannot be assured if civic participation and civil discourse based on a shared truth elude us.

Since its completion in 1816, Tudor Place has paid homage to the nation’s ideals by preserving artifacts that belonged to George and Martha Washington—even as its owners relied on the labor of enslaved Africans to grow and preserve their own wealth. The museum continues to expand its interpretation of that complex history by discussing the lives of all those who lived and worked there.

Also in these pages, we explore how furniture maker Herman Veenendaal interprets the 18th Century in the Cape he built mostly with his own hands in Ontario.

His attraction to Georgian architecture stems from childhood, strongly reinforced by visits to Colonial Williamsburg. After a long career as a scientist, Veenendaal concentrated full time on woodworking, filling his home with museum-quality chairs, chests, clocks, desks, and tables that reflect the fine details of the Queen Anne and Chippendale styles. He added period-appropriate accents by learning some rudimentary blacksmithing and how to paint floorcloths.

Foxie Morgan preserves her own corner of history in the Blue Ridge Mountains as the fifth-generation owner of her family’s 1814 Virginia farm. She and husband Richard have restored the property’s manor house and outbuildings (including the overseer’s house in which they live) and transformed the property’s landscape.

Today the acreage that once grew staple crops yields myriad flowers that fill bouquets and serve as a backdrop for weddings. By creating a profitable business, the Morgans have ensured the survival of their home for future generations.

For those who want to beautify their home’s landscape and/or supplement their diet, we provide sources for heirloom and organic seeds to get you started. In doing so, you can help preserve the diversity of our food supply.

The challenges we face in this era of climate change, a pandemic, political turmoil, and social injustice continue to reinforce the necessity of diversity, inclusion, and a fundamental truth. Although history is usually written by the victors, scholars still strive to find the untold stories and unheard voices that help broaden our understanding of the past.

In our own small way, we seek to do the same in these pages, in the hope that we can share history’s lessons and help protect our fragile experiment in democracy.

Jeanmarie Andrews

Executive Editor

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