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(1795 - November 4, 1869)
George Peabody was a banker and financier who was born in Danvers, Massachusetts in 1795.
He plays a unique role in American and British history. With no family connections and only 4
years of formal education he created an enormous fortune that enriches people of lesser means
George Peabody volunteered for the War of 1812 at the age of 17 as the British marched on
Washington. In the service he met Elisha Riggs of Baltimore who in 1814 financed the wholesale
dry goods firm of Peabody, Riggs, and Company. He moved to Baltimore, Maryland to direct the
In 1827 he traveled to England to further develop his business contacts. In 1837 he moved to
In 1857 he founded an institute in Baltimore to promote the cultural life of the city that is now the
Peabody Institute (a music conservatory). He inspired his Baltimore friends to found the Johns
Hopkin University (Johns Hopkin), the Enoch Pratt Free Library (Enoch Pratt) and the Walters
Art Gallery (Henry Walters)
In London he founded the Peabody Trust (still active) to provide housing for the city's poor. Over
27,000 people today are being housed because of this fund. During the Civil War he assisted the
government in maintaining British contacts to keep the British from supporting the Confederacy.
After the war he established the Peabody Education Fund to "encourage the intellectual, moral,
and industrial education of the destitute children of the Southern States" He declared that this fund
should benefit the entire population "without other distinction than their needs and the opportunities
of usefulness to them."
He appointed a board to administer the fund including Robert C Winthrop of Massachusetts,
Hamilton Fish of New York, General U.S. Grant, Admiral David G. Farragut, William Rives of
Virginia, William Aiken of South Carolina, George W. Riggs of Washington DC, Edward A
Bradford of Louisiana and George N Eaton of Maryland,. Robert Winthrop was selected as chair.
The trustees selected as their general agent Barnas Sears. Sears was born and raised in rural
Massachusetts. He was educated at Brown University, Newton Theological Seminary and in
Germany. He served as a Baptist minister in Hartford, Connecticut, taught at Madison University,
and then became professor of theology at Newton Seminary, of which he later became president.
From 1848 to 1855 Sears acted as secretary and executive agent of the Massachusetts Board of
Education, succeeding Horace Mann. In 1855 he was called to the presidency of Brown
University. Barnas Sears died in 1880. He served as general agent until his death. His successor
was L. M. Curry.
Why George Peabody gave away so much money can be summed up in a letter to his nephew,
David Peabody from 1831:
"Deprived, as I was, of the opportunity of obtaining anything more than most common education, I
am well qualified to estimate its value by the disadvantages I labour under in the society in which
my business and situation in life frequently throws me, and willingly would I now give twenty times
the expense attending a good education could I possess it, but it is now too late for me to learn
and I can only do to those that come under by care, as I could have wished circumstances had
permitted others to have done by me.";
He died on November 4, 1869 in London. He was given temporary burial in Westminster Abbey
before being returned to American to be buried in Danvers, Massachusetts.
He was awarded the Congressional Medal in 1867 and received the Freedom of the City of
London award (only American other than Dwight Eisenhower to receive this).
|George Peabody (1795–1859), lithograph,
Joseph E, Baker(?), late 19th century.
Harvard University PM 969-5-10/48895.