The Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum 132 Essex Street Salem, MA 01970 Phone: 978-745-9500 Fax: 978-531-1516
Peabody, George, 1795-1869
George Peabody (1795-1869)
0.25 linear feet (1 box)
The George Peabody papers
consist primarily of correspondence between George Peabody and Sir James Emerson
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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