George Peabody House MUSEUM
BIRTHPLACE OF AMERICA’S FIRST GREAT PHILANTHROPIST
George Peabody was born in 1795 in this house, which had been built two years earlier on a 12 acre farm. The house is one of the few remaining Federal-style farmhouses which once were common in downtown Peabody. His father worked in one of the local leather tanneries, but as a young teenager George was apprenticed to a grocer downtown, and then left the town permanently for Newburyport. The Peabody family occupied the house until 1832 and it was later purchased by the nearby glue factory to house its workers. When the Eastman Gelatine Factory took over the glue company, the house was donated to the City for use as a local history museum.
The Great Benefactor
On June 16, 1902, the Peabody Historical Society erected a tablet at his birthplace, 205 Washington Street.
One of the studies which came easy to him was penmanship, and his handwriting became very beautiful, and no doubt had something to do with his success in life.
His school days were over at the age of twelve, as his parents could not afford to send him to school any longer. Once he told school children, “There is not a youth within the sound of my voice, whose early opportunities and advantages are not very much greater than mine. I have never ceased to feel and lament the want of that early education, which is now so freely offered to each of you. It was for this reason that he gave great sums of money later in life, in behalf of the education of the young.
George Peabody is said to have told the story that the first dollar he ever earned was while he was a school boy, for tending a little booth for the sale of apples and other delicacies at a celebration. He stuck to his post and was rewarded to his faithfulness with a dollar which he said gave him more pleasure than any transaction in all the great and successful financial operations of his later life.
For the next four years he was apprenticed to Captain Sylvester Proctor, owner of a general emporium on what is known today as Main Street, Danvers. George Peabody was a good boy, honest and industrious. Most of Peabody’s business ethic was developed during his time at the store including accounting, customer service, and marketing that he would inevitably carry into his adult life. but at the age of fifteen he longed for a change – to leave Danvers in search of more worldly experiences. He wanted to engage in business. Consequently, in 1811 he became a clerk in the dry goods store of his elder brother, David Peabody, at Newburyport, Massachusetts.
His father died a few weeks later, and soon after, the great fire of Newburyport occurred and destroyed his brother’s business-thus throwing him out of employment at the age of sixteen. He was without funds, a position, or influential friends.
During the War of 1812, he volunteered for two years as an artillery soldier and did active military duty at Fort Warburton, which commanded the river approach to the city of Washington, the capitol.
After those two years he opened a wholesale dry goods business named Riggs, Peabody & Co with Elisha Riggs Sr. By 1822, the business successfully expanded to branch offices in Philadelphia and New York. In 1827, Peabody joined the international trade circle embarking on his first trip to London to buy and sell goods. Upon the retirement in 1830 of Mr. Riggs, Mr. Peabody became senior partner of the firm. In the course of his business, Peabody joined the international trade circle embarking on his first trip to London in 1827 to buy and sell goods.
At this time London was the financial center for international banking and Peabody’s reputation of honesty and hard work granted him a successful negotiation of an $8 million loan granted to the State of Maryland. By 1838 he opened offices in London and became the most well-known and trusted American merchant banker abroad. Peabody would prove most influential in his negotiations with large American companies who were buying and selling the raw materials that helped fuel the Industrial Revolution.
In July, 1843, he retired from the firm of “Peabody, Riggs & Co.” and established himself in London where he conducted a very extensive commercial and banking business in partnership with the father of J. Pierpont Morgan. They were known as merchants and money brokers under the firm name of George Peabody & Co. of Warnford Court, London, England. He was remarkably successful in the operation of this business and soon began to accumulate the foundation of the large fortune which he eventually attained.
A reception and dinner in honor of Mr. Peabody was held on October 9, 1856, at South Danvers by the people. Public and private buildings were elaborately decorated and across the streets arches of welcome were placed. There was a grand procession, in which the schools formed a prominent part. A full account of this procession including a sketch of the Peabody Institute at that time, was published by order of the Committee of Arrangements of the Town of Danvers. When he retired in 1864, his business became J.S. Morgan and Company, the predecessor of the famous New York financial institution.
No greater tribute we of the present generation can pay to perpetuate the memory of George Peabody than to have our high school known as the “Peabody High School,” named for him.
The following is a copy of Mr. Peabody’s letter to the committee of the High Schools of Danvers in 1854.
LONDON, 30th Nov. 1853
To the Committee of the Holten and Peabody High Schools of Danvers,
In acknowledging the compliment paid me by giving my name to the High School of the South Parish in Danvers, it is my wish to confer on the schools over which you preside, some more substantial benefit than appertains to a name.
I will transmit to you in the autumn of 1854 the sum of two hundred dollars, and will continue to send the same sum annually (provided the results shall be satisfactory), during my life, to be expended as rewards of merit to the pupils at their yearly examinations.
Very respectfully and truly yours,
On August 5, 1867, Mr. Peabody established a fund of $2,000 for the medals to replace his annual gift of $200.
Other Gifts of George Peabody were:—A liberal contribution in 1835 toward the erection of the Lexington Monument–a memorial to the Minute Men from Danvers who fell on April 19, 1775, at the Battle of Lexington. This monument is located at the corner of Main and Washington Streets in Peabody. In 1843, the South Church was destroyed by fire, at which time he made a generous donation towards the new church building.
A gift of $15,000 to the American Exhibition at the Crystal Palace, London, in 1851. The following year he gave $10,000 towards the Kane Arctic Expedition in search of Sir John Franklin.
In 1866, Mr. Peabody founded the Peabody Institute in the present town of Danvers.
He founded the Peabody Institute in Baltimore, Maryland. It is a beautiful marble building on Mount Vernon Square, dedicated in 1866. The sum of money that Mr. Peabody gave was $1,500,000.
In 1866, Harvard and Yale each received $150,000 for museums. The same year he gave $10,000 for a library in Thetford, Vermont.
The Peabody Museum of Salem, Massachusetts, was founded by George Peabody. On February 26, 1867, he gave $140,000 by which the museum of the East India Marine Society, founded in 1799, and the Natural History Collection of the Essex Institute, begun in 1834, were combined in an institution for the “promotion of Science and Useful Knowledge in the County of Essex.”
George Peabody established the Peabody Education Fund for the South on February 7, 1867 and by 1869 he had given a total of $3,000,000 for the promotion of a common school educational system, and the professional training of teachers. In 1875 the Peabody Normal College was started in Nashville, Tennessee. It was a model for Normal Schools throughout the South. In 1909 the Trustees of the Peabody Education Fund caused the Peabody Normal College to become the George Peabody College for Teachers in Nashville.
On March 16, 1867, the Congress of the United States ordered a gold medal be given to George Peabody of Massachusetts for his great gift to the South. On one side of the medal was his portrait in profile, on the opposite side, an inscription, “The people of the United States to George Peabody in acknowledgment of his beneficent promotion of universal education.”
He also made gifts of $15,000 for a library at Georgetown, D.C., and $75,000 for a Memorial Church, and $25,000 for a Library at Georgetown, Massachusetts, the home of his mother.
He gave $25,000 to Kenyon College, Gambia, Ohio, $25,000 to Phillips Academy, Andover, and $15,000 to Newburyport, Massachusetts, for enlarging the library.
It was in 1862 that George Peabody established the Peabody Trust Fund, which eventually amounted to $3,000,000. The purpose of this fund was to build homes for the deserving poor of London.
The London corporation conferred upon their illustrious benefactor the “Freedom of the City.” This gift was enclosed in a gold box. Queen Victoria, upon his refusal of a baronetcy, sent him an autographed letter, accompanied by a miniature portrait of herself in enamel on gold and framed in gold, as a recognition of his munificent gift to the poor of London. Another gold box was given to him by the Fishmongers Company, one of the most ancient guilds of London. These and many other valuable gifts were presented by Mr. Peabody to the Peabody Institute in Peabody, Massachusetts where they are treasured in lasting memory of his benefactions.
Recognition and Commemoration
A replica of this statue was presented to the City of Baltimore by Robert Garrett, for many years President of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. It stands in front of the Peabody Institute there.
When George Peabody came to South Danvers in the fall of 1866, it occurred to the Trustees of the Peabody Institute that he would enjoy meeting the school children in whose welfare he had always had such an interest. The day was set for the occasion and the Institute hall was filled to capacity.
One of the pleasing incidents was the exhibition, for the first time, of the full length painting of Mr. Peabody, by British artists of London. Mr. Peabody was dissatisfied with the painting by Healey, so had it removed from the massive frame, and the present painting put in its place.
Another incident of this occasion was the announcement by Mr. Peabody that he had received a letter from Mrs. Eliza Sutton, in which she proposed giving $20,000 to the Trustees to be known as the Eben Dale Sutton Fund, in memory of her little son, the income of which should be annually used to purchase books of a standard character for the Eben Dale Sutton Reference Library, a separate department of the general library.
It was with a great deal of pleasure and satisfaction that Mr. Peabody accepted this gift.
On January 28, 1867, Mrs. Sutton placed the fund in the hands of the Trustees of the Peabody Institute.
Extensive additions were made to the Institute building in 1867, including an enlargement of the library room by an extension of forty-six feet in the rear of the building, the erection of a tower on the western side and the addition of a portico on the front of the building.
It was in the new addition to the Institute that a room was assigned to the Eben Dale Sutton Reference Library, and was furnished in a convenient and attractive manner by Mrs. Sutton.
A fine portrait of her son, in whose memory the gift was made, was placed on the wall.
This excellent reference library was opened to the public June 14, 1869.
Mrs. Sutton gave to the library many rare and valuable volumes, including Audubon’s Birds of America, the original edition in four volumes of plates, and five volumes of explanatory text, Catlin’s ‘Hunting Scenes of the American Indians,” “Andros Tracks,” “Bickerstaff’s Boston Almanack’ for 1779, “Pictorial Arts of Japan” by Anderson, in four volumes, “Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, and Vanderbilt House and Collection” by Strahan.
This library is under the control of a sub-committee of the Lyceum and Library Committee of the Peabody Institute.
Prince Arthur accompanied the expedition which included an American ship. The prince attended the funeral services in this country as the representative of his mother, the queen. The only harbor the ship could enter safely was at Portland, Maine. In to this port she centered, and with grand and solemn ceremony the body of George Peabody was delivered to the delegated authorities representing the government of the United States and his native town of Peabody.
The remains were transferred from Portland, Maine, to his native town which in 1868 had been renamed Peabody in his honor. The remains lay in state in the Peabody Institute. Funeral exercises were held in the South Church. The whole town was in mourning, bells were tolled, homes and buildings were draped in black. Peabody’s funeral procession to Harmony Grove Cemetery in Salem is the second most popular funeral procession in United States history rivaling only that of Abraham Lincoln.
No man in this country or any other country has ever exhibited such acts of splendid generosity. George Peabody’s last whispered words were: “Danvers, Danvers, Don’t Forget.” In 1868, only a year before Peabody’s death, his hometown of South Danvers changed its name to Peabody. It was then established as the City of Peabody in 1916. In an effort to remember the man that bears his name, the residents in 1986 established a museum on modern day Washington Street in the only home ever owned by Peabody in his lifetime. He set an example that can never be lost to history.
George Peabody House
Records date back to the ownership of John Southwick Jr in 1769. Southwick gave the land to his daughter, Hannah and her husband, Daniel Puriton, a leather tanner by trade. Mortgage records in 1768 indicate there was a chocolate mill on the property and by 1794 records simply mention “other buildings.”
Thomas and Judith Peabody had been renting the property for approximately a year before they officially bought it in April of 1795. When the Peabody family first arrived to their Washington Street residence, they only had two children at the time: David and Achsah. Six more children would follow and George was the first child to be born at their newly owned residence.
On May 13, 1811, Thomas Peabody died leaving the eldest son, David, as executor. Three mortgages were indebted on the land and buildings for $1,004.64 at the time of Peabody’s death. David took out two more mortgages on the property in 1812.
On November 22, 1816, George Peabody bought the family homestead from his brother for $109.00 and paid off the mortgages by 1817 assuring his mother’s residency in her beloved home.
1n 1832, two years after his mother’s death, George sold the property to David Shove for $1,465.00. The house changed ownership several times and was also used as a tavern in the 1850’s. In 1986, Eastman Gelatine donated the house and the remaining one third acre of land to the city of Peabody. The property was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1988.
The house consists of three parts: the main block, the west ell, and the rear ell.
The west ell may have moved to the main block when it was built. This was a common practice in the late 1700’s. A separate stairway and end-chimney may indicate it was once a separate building.
The rear ell dates back to the mid 1800’s. It may have been built in two sections at different times.
The house remained almost unchanged until city renovations in the 1980’s. The warren of the partition wall in the nearer rear ell was changed to provide restrooms. A part of the second floor was removed to create the second-story meeting room. Two twisting narrow staircases to the basement were removed and replaced by a single staircase to meet present-day building standards.
Help preserve the legacy of George Peabody and the the history of our great city. We accept donations of all shapes and size.
Send us an email if you’d like to learn more or mail your check to: 205 Washington Street, Peabody, MA 01960