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George Peabody (1795-1869) Papers

George Peabody (1795-1869) Papers

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GEORGE PEABODY (1795-1869) PAPERS, 1854-1868

Collection Summary

Repository:The Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum 132 Essex Street Salem, MA 01970 Phone: 978-745-9500 Fax: 978-531-1516
Creator:Peabody, George, 1795-1869
Title:George Peabody (1795-1869) Papers
Quantity:0.25 linear feet (1 box)
Abstract:The George Peabody papers consist primarily of correspondence between George Peabody and Sir James Emerson Tennent (1804-1869).
Collection Number:MSS 333

Scope and Content Note

The George Peabody papers consist primarily of correspondence between George Peabody and Sir James Emerson Tennent (1804-1869). Most of the letters are accompanied by their envelopes. Although many letters are undated, postmarks on the envelopes allow fairly close approximation of those dates.

During the period of this correspondence, Tennent was Secretary of the Board of Trade in London, and also appears to have been a close friend of Peabody's. Much of the correspondence concerns Peabody's donation of funds to benefit the poor working class of London, the establishment of a trust to administer the funds, and the decision to use the funds to erect decent, affordable lodgings for the poor (the "Peabody Dwellings"). Some letters concerning the administration of the trust between Tennent and others are in folder 5.

Peabody's beneficence was recognized by Queen Victoria in the form of a letter to him, written in her own hand (folder 4, March 28, 1866), in which she offers him a miniature of herself, as he had refused to accept a baronetcy or other honorific title,. Much time and correspondence is devoted to the preparation of the miniature.

Other correspondence from Peabody, most often addressed to Tennent, documents Peabody's social engagements, and his travels to Scotland for hunting and to Ireland for salmon fishing. His frequent and severe attacks of gout often rendered his handwriting almost illegible and occasioned trips to various resorts. There are some letters, social and complimentary, from Peabody to Lady Tennent and to Miss Tennent, the daughter of Sir Emerson Tennent (folder 1).

A dispute over the lease of a salmon fishery in Ireland between Peabody and a former lessee, resulting in the exchange of insults and various slanderous remarks against Peabody, is documented by letters in folder 3. Peabody apparently kept copies of all the letters, sewn together, to send to his acquaintances in order to justify his own part in the dispute.

Newspaper clippings in folder 6 detail the many philanthropies of Peabody and the tribute received by him both in the United States and England.

Biographical Sketch

George Peabody was born February 18, 1795, in Danvers, Massachusetts, to Thomas and Judith (Dodge) Peabody. He was apprenticed at the age of 12 to Captain Sylvester Proctor and worked in his general store in Danvers. He continued his practical business education in 1811 when he worked for his elder brother, David, in a Newburyport drapery shop. In 1812, at the age of seventeen, George Peabody set up a store in the Washington, D.C. neighborhood of Georgetown with his uncle, John Peabody.

In 1815, Peabody joined Elisha Riggs to create a wholesale dry good firm entitled Riggs Peabody & Co., which they shortly thereafter moved to Baltimore. Peabody would live and work in Baltimore for the next twenty years. In addition to his domestic business, Peabody was a notable name and personage on the international market. Peabody spent a considerable amount of time over the next several decades in London. In 1829, the company restructured. Peabody became a senior partner with Elisha and Samuel Riggs as junior partners. At this time the company was renamed Peabody Riggs & Co.

The 1837 economic panic led to financial failures both domestically and abroad. Two years later, Peabody notified Peabody Riggs & Co. of his retirement from the firm, though he remained a financial advisor.

In 1844, Peabody founded a banking firm, George Peabody & Co. out of London, which dealt with American railroads in addition to dry goods. Peabody worked in partnership with the firm Wetmore & Cryder. This relationship was suspended in 1847 due to the British financial crisis. In 1854, Peabody took on Junius Spencer Morgan (father of J.P. Morgan) as a partner in George Peabody & Co. Ten years later, Peabody retired from the firm which was then renamed J.S. Morgan & Co.

In addition to his vast business acumen, George Peabody was a world-renowned philanthropist. Peabody founded the multi-disciplinary Peabody Institute at Johns Hopkins University in 1857, followed by the Peabody Donation Fund (now the Peabody Trust) of London which, in addition to other works, continues to provide low-income housing. In 1866 he founded Harvard University's Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology and Yale University's Peabody Museum of Natural History. The Peabody Education Fund (founded to develop education in the American South in 1867) created the George Peabody College for Teachers which is now a part of Vanderbilt University. Peabody also founded several public libraries and other schools of education.

Peabody died on November 4, 1869 in England where his body was laid in state in Westminster Abbey before being returned to the United States and buried in Harmony Grove Cemetery in Salem, Massachusetts, on February 8, 1870.

Index Terms

This collection is indexed under the following headings in Philcat. Researchers desiring materials about related topics, persons, or places should search the catalog using these headings.

Peabody, George, 1795-1869
Tennent, James Emerson, Sir, 1804-1869
Victoria, Queen of Great Britain, 1819-1901


Restrictions on Access

This collection is open for research use.

Administrative Information


Requests for permission to publish material from the collection must be submitted in writing to the Manuscript Librarian in the Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum.

Preferred Citation

George Peabody (1795-1869) Papers, MSS 333, Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Mass.


This material was purchased in January 2002 (acc #2002.034).

Processing Information

Collection processed by Frances Malamy, July 2003. Updated by Tamara Gaydos, March 2016.

Related Material

Peabody, Selim H. Peabody (Paybody, Pabody, Pabodie) Genealogy. Boston, MA: Charles H. Pope, 1909.

George Peabody Papers, 1815-1927, MSS 181.

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