George Peabody

From Infogalactic: the planetary knowledge core
Jump to: navigation, search

<templatestyles src="Module:Hatnote/styles.css"></templatestyles>

George Peabody
Born (1795-02-18)February 18, 1795
Peabody, Massachusetts, U.S.
Died Script error: The function "death_date_and_age" does not exist.
London, England
Resting place Harmony Grove Cemetery, Salem, Massachusetts
Occupation Financier, Banker, Entrepreneur
Net worth USD $16 million at the time of his death (approximately 1/556th of US GNP)[1]
Parent(s) Thomas Peabody and Judith Dodge

George Peabody (/ˈpbədi/ PEE-bə-dee;[2] February 18, 1795 – November 4, 1869) was an American-British entrepreneur and philanthropist who founded the Peabody Trust in Britain and the Peabody Institute and George Peabody Library in Baltimore, and was responsible for many other charitable initiatives.


Peabody's birthplace, now the George Peabody House Museum

Peabody was born in 1795 what was then South Danvers (now Peabody), Massachusetts. His family had Puritan ancestors in the state, but was poor. As one of 7 children, George suffered some deprivations during his childhood. These factors influenced his later devotion to both thrift, and philanthropy. His birthplace at 205 Washington Street in the City of Peabody is now operated and preserved as the George Peabody House Museum, a museum dedicated to interpreting his life and legacy.

In 1816, he moved to Baltimore, where he made his career and would live for the next 20 years. He established his residence and office in the old Henry Fite House, which had briefly served as the meeting site for the Second Continental Congress in 1776–77, and later as a noted tavern and hotel. He became a businessman and financier. In Baltimore he founded the Peabody Institute, devoted to music and arts education and performance.

At that time London, Amsterdam, Paris and Frankfurt, were at the literal center of international banking and finance. As all international transactions in that day were settled in gold or gold certificates, a developing nation like the United States had to rely upon agents (e.g., Peabody) and Merchant Banks, like Peabody's; to raise capital through correspondent relationships with the Merchant Banking houses in Europe. Only they, then held the quantity of reserves of capital necessary to extend long-term credit, to a developing economy like that of the US.

Peabody first visited the United Kingdom in 1827, seeking to use his firm and his agency, to sell American States' (Maryland, New Jersey, etc.,) Bond Issues, in order for the States' to raise capital for their various programs of "internal improvements", principally the transportation infrastructure improvements, such as roads, railroads, docks and canals. Over the next decade Peabody made four more trans-Atlantic trips, establishing a branch office in Liverpool. Later he established the banking firm of "George Peabody & Company" in London. In 1837, he took up permanent residence in London, remaining there for the rest of his life.

In February 1867, on one of several return visits to the United States, and at the height of his financial success, Peabody was suggested by Francis Preston Blair, an old crony of President Andrew Jackson and an active power in the smoldering Democratic Party as a possible Secretary of the Treasury in the cabinet of President Andrew Johnson. At about the same time, Peabody was also mentioned in newspapers as a future presidential candidate. Peabody described the presidential suggestion as a "kind and complimentary reference", but considered that at age 72, he was too old for either office.[3]

Personal life

Although Peabody was briefly engaged in 1838 (and later allegedly had a mistress in Brighton, England, who bore him a daughter), he never married.[4]

He died in London on November 4, 1869, aged 74, at the house of his friend Sir Curtis Miranda Lampson. At the request of the Dean of Westminster of the Church of England, and with the approval of Queen Victoria, Peabody was given a temporary burial in Westminster Abbey.[5]

His will provided that he be buried in the town of his birth, Danvers, Massachusetts. Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone arranged for Peabody's remains to be returned to America on HMS Monarch, the newest and largest ship in the Royal Navy, arriving at Portsmouth, New Hampshire. He was laid to rest in Harmony Grove Cemetery, in Salem, Massachusetts, on February 8, 1870. Peabody's death and the pair of funerals were international news, through the newly completed trans-Atlantic underwater telegraph cable. Hundreds of people participated in the ceremonies and thousands more attended or observed.[6]


While serving as a volunteer in the War of 1812, Peabody met Elisha Riggs, who, in 1814, provided financial backing for what became the wholesale dry goods firm of Riggs, Peabody & Co., specializing in importing dry goods from Britain. Branches were opened in New York and Philadelphia in 1822. Riggs retired in 1829, and the firm became Peabody, Riggs & Co., with the names reversed as Peabody became the senior partner.

Peabody first visited the United Kingdom in 1827 to purchase wares, and to negotiate the sale of American cotton in Lancashire. He subsequently opened a branch office in Liverpool, and British business began to play an increasingly important role in his affairs. He appears to have had some help in establishing himself from William and James Brown, sons of another highly-successful Baltimore businessman, the Irishman Alexander Brown[disambiguation needed], (founder of the venerable investment and banking firm of "Alex. Brown & Son" in 1801) who managed their father's Liverpool office, opened in 1810.

In 1835, Peabody established the banking firm of "George Peabody and Company" in London. It was founded to meet the increasing demand for securities issued by the American railroads, and – although Peabody continued to deal in dry goods and other commodities – he increasingly focused his attentions on merchant banking. The bank rose to become the premier American house in London. Peabody took Junius Spencer Morgan (father of J. P. Morgan) into partnership in 1854 to form Peabody, Morgan & Co., and the two financiers worked together until Peabody's retirement in 1864. Peabody frequently entertained and provided letters of introduction for American businessmen visiting London, and became known for the Anglo-American dinners he hosted in honor of American diplomats and other worthies, and in celebration of the Fourth of July. In 1851, when the US Congress refused to support the American section at the Great Exhibition at the Crystal Palace, Peabody advanced £3000 to improve the exhibit and uphold the reputation of the United States. During the run on the banks of 1857, Peabody had to ask the Bank of England for a loan of £800,000: although rivals tried to force the bank out of business, it managed to emerge with its credit intact.

Following this crisis, Peabody began to retire from active business, and in 1864, retired fully (taking with him much of his capital, amounting to over $10,000,000, or £2,000,000). Peabody, Morgan & Co. then took the name J.S. Morgan & Co.. The former UK merchant bank Morgan Grenfell (now part of Deutsche Bank), international universal bank JPMorgan Chase and investment bank Morgan Stanley can all trace their roots to Peabody's bank.[7]


File:Peabody Trust estate Horseferry Road.jpg
The Peabody Trust continues to provide cheap housing in central London. This sign marks the Horseferry Road Estate in Westminster.

Peabody is the acknowledged father of modern philanthropy,[8][9][10][11] having established the practice later followed by Johns Hopkins, Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller and Bill Gates. In the United States, his philanthropy largely took the form of educational initiatives. In Britain, it took the form of providing housing for the poor.

In America, Peabody founded and supported numerous institutions in New England and elsewhere. At the close of the American Civil War, he established the Peabody Education Fund to "encourage the intellectual, moral, and industrial education of the destitute children of the Southern States."[12] His grandest beneficence, however, was to Baltimore; the city in which he achieved his earliest success.

File:Peabody Buildings 1863.jpg
The first block of Peabody dwellings in Commercial Street, Spitalfields, London. A wood-engraving published in the "Illustrated London News" in 1863, shortly before the building opened.

In April 1862, Peabody established the Peabody Donation Fund, which continues to this day as the Peabody Trust, to provide housing of a decent quality for the "artisans and labouring poor of London". The trust's first dwellings, designed by H.A. Darbishire in a Jacobethan style, were opened in Commercial Street, Spitalfields in February 1864.

Peabody's philanthropy was recognised and on 10 July 1862, he was made a Freeman of the City of London, the motion being proposed by Charles Reed in recognition of his financial contribution to London's poor.[13] He became the first of only two Americans (the other being 34th President and General Dwight D. Eisenhower) to have received the award. A statue of him was unveiled by the Prince of Wales in 1869 next to the Royal Exchange, London, on the site of the former church of St Benet Fink (demolished 1842-6).

George Peabody

George Peabody is known to have provided benefactions of well over $8 million, most of them in his own lifetime. Among the list are included:

1852 The Peabody Institute (now the Peabody Institute Library),[14] Peabody, Mass: $217,000
1856 The Peabody Institute, Danvers, Mass (now the Peabody Institute Library of Danvers):[15] $100,000
1857 The Peabody Institute (now the Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University), Baltimore: $1,400,000
1862 The Peabody Donation Fund, London: $2,500,000
1866 The Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University: $150,000
1866 The Peabody Museum of Natural History, Yale University: $150,000
1867 The Peabody Academy of Science, Salem, Mass: $140,000
1867 The Peabody Institute, Georgetown, District of Columbia: $15,000 (today the Peabody Room, Georgetown Branch, DC Public Library).
1867 Peabody Education Fund: $2,000,000
1875 George Peabody College for Teachers, now the Peabody College of Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee. The funding came from the Peabody Education Fund
1866 The Georgetown Peabody Library, the public library of Georgetown, Massachusetts
1866 The Thetford Public Library, the public library of Thetford, Vermont: $5,000
1901 The Peabody Memorial Library, Sam Houston State University, Texas
1913 George Peabody Building, University of Mississippi [16]
1913 Peabody Hall, housing the Department of Curriculum and Instruction, University of Arkansas:[17] $40,000
1913 Peabody Hall, housing the School of Education (now Philosophy and Religion), University of Georgia:[18] $40,000
Peabody Hall, housing the college of Human Science and Education, Louisiana State University.

Recognition and commemoration

In 1862, Peabody was made a Freeman of the City of London.

On March 16, 1867, he was awarded the United States Congressional Gold Medal.[19]

Statue by the Royal Exchange, London

Also in 1867, he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Laws by Harvard University, and an Honorary Doctorate in Civil Law by Oxford University.[20]

In 1869, the Peabody Hotel in Memphis, TN, was named in his memory as is Peabody High School in Trenton, TN.

The town of South Danvers, Massachusetts, changed its name in 1868 to The City of Peabody, Massachusetts, in honor of its favorite son.

A statue sculpted by William Wetmore Story stands next to the Royal Exchange in the City of London, unveiled by the Prince of Wales in July 1869: Peabody himself was too unwell to attend the ceremony, and died less than four months later.[21] A replica of the same statue, erected in 1890, stands next to the Peabody Institute, in Mount Vernon Park, part of the Mount Vernon neighborhood of Baltimore, Maryland.

In 1900, Peabody was one of the first 29 honorees to be elected to the Hall of Fame for Great Americans, located on what was then the campus of New York University (and is now that of Bronx Community College), at University Heights, New York.

There is a blue plaque on the house where he died in London, No. 80 Eaton Square, Belgravia, erected in 1976.[22]


  1. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  2. This is the standard pronunciation in the United States, and presumably how Peabody himself pronounced his name. In Britain, however, the name of George Peabody himself, and of the Peabody Trust, is invariably pronounced as spelt, Pea-body /ˈpˈbɒdi/.
  3. Parker 1995, pp. 164–5, 203, 214.
  4. Parker 1995, pp. 29–33.
  5. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  6. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  7. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  8. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  9. The Philanthropy Hall of Fame, George Peabody
  10. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  11. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  12. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  13. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  17. University Of Arkansas
  18. [1]
  19. Office of the Clerk, U.S. House of Representatives - Congressional Gold Medal Recipients
  20. Parker 1995, p. 203.
  21. A detailed account of the commissioning, erection and reception of the statue appears in Ward-Jackson 2003, pp. 338–41.
  22. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.

Further reading

  • Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  • Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found. (subscription required)
  • Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  • Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  • Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.

External links

  • Media related to George Peabody at Wikimedia Commons
  • Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum. Repository of 145 linear feet of Peabody's business and personal papers.