Final 3 of 3 Parts. General Robert E. Lee (1807-70) and Philanthropist George Peabody (1795-1869) at White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, July 23-August 30, 1869.

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Final 3 of 3 Parts. General Robert E. Lee (1807-70) and Philanthropist George Peabody (1795-1869) at White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, July 23-August 30, 1869.

By Franklin Parker and Betty J. Parker, 63 Heritage Loop, Crossville, TN 38571-8270. Email

A contemporary news account described the petty jealousy: “When the mighty men of Boston knew that England’s…”Monarch” was bringing the body of the great philanthropist to his last resting place, they called a meeting and decided with what fitting honors and glories it would be received…. but, when the telegraph flashed the astounding news that little Portland was to be the port…all was changed….[Bostonians were sure] that the Portlanders…would blunder….”

On January 14, 1870, on President U. S Grant’s approval, 7-U. S. Navy Secretary George Maxwell Robeson (1829-97) ordered Admiral David Glasgow Farragut (1801-70), a PEF trustee, to command a U.S. naval flotilla to meet HMS Monarch and USS Plymouth in Portland harbor, Maine (January 25, 1870). HMS Monarch‘s captain then requested, on behalf of Queen Victoria, 8-that the coffin remain aboard the Monarch in Portland harbor for two days (January 27-28, 1870).as a final mark of respect. Thousands of visitors, drawn to the spectacle, viewed the coffin in the somberly decorated Monarch‘s mortuary chapel. Peabody’s remains then 9-lay in state in Portland City Hall (January 29-February 1, 1870), viewed by thousands. 10-A special funeral train from Portland, Maine, bore the remains to Peabody, Massachusetts (February 1, 1870). 11-Lying in state of Peabody’s remains took place at the Peabody Institute Library (February 1-8, 1870).

The final ceremony, the press announced to an awed public, was to be 12-Robert Charles Winthrop’s funeral eulogy at the South Congregational Church, Peabody, Massachusetts, attended by New England governors, mayors, Queen Victoria’s son Prince Arthur, and other notables (February 8, 1870). Final burial would then follow at 13-Harmony Grove Cemetery, Salem, Massachusetts.

Why Such Unprecedented Funeral Honors?

Daily reports on Peabody’s sinking condition in London had appeared in the British press. After his death the London Daily News recorded (November 8, 1869): “We have received a large number of letters, urging that the honours of a public funeral are due to the late Mr. Peabody’s memory.” The Dean of Westminster Abbey, Arthur Penrhyn Stanley (1815-81), was in Naples, Italy, November 5, 1869, when he read of Peabody’s death. Years later he recorded: “I was in Naples, and saw in the public papers that George Peabody had died. Being absent, considering that he was a foreigner, and at the same time, by reason of his benefactions to the City of London, entitled to a burial in Westminster Abbey, I telegraphed to express my wishes that his interment there should take place.”

The Alabama Claims
Peabody died during tense, near warlike U. S.-British angers over two U. S. Civil War incidents, the Alabama Claims (1864-72) and the Trent Affair (September 8, 1861). CSS Alabama was a notorious British-built Confederate raider which sank 64 northern cargo ships during 1862-64.

Without a navy, with its southern ports blockaded by the North, Confederate agents slipped secretly to England, bought British-built ships, armed them as Confederate raiders, renamed them Alabama, Florida, Shenandoah, and others, which sank northern ships and cost northern lives and treasure.

Officially neutral in the U. S. Civil War, British officials were continually reminded of their breach of neutrality by U. S. Minister to Britain Charles Francis Adams (1807-86). Official U. S. demands for reparations for damages from British-built raiders (from1862) were resolved at a Geneva international tribunal (1871-72), requiring Britain to pay the United States $15.5 million indemnity.

At Peabody’s death, November 4, 1869, this Alabama Claims controversy was unresolved and tense. Americans were angry; Britons were resentful. A desire to defuse angers over the Alabama Claims was one reason British officials first, and then United States officials to surpass them, outdid each other in unusual homage to Peabody’s remains during his transatlantic funeral.

Trent Affair

There was also lingering resentment over the still rankling November 8, 1861 Trent Affair. On the stormy night of October 11, 1861, four Confederate emissaries, seeking aid and arms from Britain and France, evaded the Union blockade at Charleston, South Carolina, went by ship to Havana, Cuba, and there boarded the British mail ship Trent, bound for Southampton, England.

brThe Trent was illegally stopped in the Bahama Channel, West Indies (November 8, 1861) by USS San Jacinto‘s Captain Charles Wilkes (1798-1877). Confederates James Murray Mason (1798-1871, from Virginia), John Slidell (1793-1871, from Louisiana), and their male secretaries were forcibly removed and imprisoned in Boston harbor’s Fort Warren Prison.

Anticipating war with the U. S., Britain sent 8,000 troops to Canada. But United States jingoism subsided. President Abraham Lincoln reportedly told his cabinet, “one war at a time,” gentlemen, got the cabinet on December 26, 1861, to disavow the illegal seizure, and released the Confederate prisoners on January 1, 1862. But resentments lingered.

Besides softening near war U .S.-British tensions, another reason behind the Peabody funeral honors was British leaders’ sincere appreciation for Peabody’s gift of homes for London’s working poor. Many marveled that an American would give that kind of gift in that large amount to a city and country not his own. Britons also valued Peabody’s two decades of efforts to improve United States-British relations.

Prime Minister Gladstone

On November 9, 1869, in a major speech at the Lord Mayor’s Day banquet, Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone (1808-98) referred to British-U.S. difficulties and then mentioned Peabody’s death: “You will know that I refer to the death of Mr. Peabody, a man whose splendid benefactions…taught us in this commercial age…the most noble and needful of all lessons–…how a man can be the master of his wealth instead of its slave [cheers].”

“And, my Lord Mayor,” Gladstone continued, “most touching it is to know, as I have learnt, that while, perhaps, some might think he had been unhappy in dying in a foreign land, yet so were his affections divided between the land of his birth and the home of his early ancestors, that…his [wish] has been realized–that he might be buried in America, [and] that it might please God to ordain that he should die in England [cheers]. My Lord Mayor, with the country of Mr. Peabody we are not likely to quarrel [loud cheers].”

Prime Minister Gladstone’s cabinet met at 2:00 P.M., November 10, 1869, and confirmed Queen Victoria’s suggestion of a Royal Navy ship to return Peabody’s remains. Peabody funeral researcher Allen Howard Welch wrote: “The Queen, in fact, was personally grieved, and it was her own request that a man-of-war be employed to return Peabody to his homeland.”

In the handing over ceremony of Peabody’s remains from U .S. Minister to Britain John Lothrop Motley to HMS Monarch‘s Captain John Edmund Commerell (1829-1901), December 11, 1869, Portsmouth, England, U. S. Minister Motley explained: “The President of the United States, when informed of the death of George Peabody, the great philanthropist, at once ordered an American ship to convey his remains to America. Simultaneously, the Queen appointed one of Her Majesty’s ships to perform that office. This double honor from the heads of two great nations to a simple American citizen is, like his gift to the poor, unprecedented. The President yields cordially to the wish of the Queen.”

Praise for the Peabody Homes of London, 1862

Peabody’s housing gift for London’s working poor was announced March 12, 1862, while the U. S. and Britain still raged over the September 1861 Trent Affair. Peabody’s gift evoked surprise and admiration in the British press, a sampling of which follows.

London Times, March 26, 1862: “Mr. George Peabody has placed £150,000 in the hands of a committee to relieve the condition of the poor of London. It is seldom that good works are done on such a scale as this one by an American in a city where he is only a sojourner…. [He] gives while he lives to those who can make no return…. He does this in a country not his own, in a city he may leave any day for his native land. Such an act is rare….”

London Daily Telegraph, March 27, 1862: “The noble gift of Mr. Peabody actually takes away the public breath…and sends a thrill through the public heart…. A man gives his fortune during his lifetime for an object going back to a resolution he had held more than a quarter of a century…to elevate the poor. Party strife and national bickering have not changed this good American; wars and rumours of wars have not turned him…from his…purpose.”

London Morning Herald, March 27, 1862: “One of the merchant princes of the world has just presented [London] with a gift for which thousands will bless his name…. Whilst his countrymen are warring…with each other, this generous American is working out…good-will among his adopted people.” London Sun, March 27, 1862: ” How can England ever go to war with a nation whose leading man among us thus sympathizes with and blesses her poor? Who of us will not set the deed of Mr. Peabody…against that of Captain Wilkes….?”

London Review, March 29, 1862: “From America of late has come war, desolation, and animosity. The close ties of…friendships that linked Englishmen and Americans…seemed dissolved…. In the midst of this comes Mr. Peabody’s gift to discard prejudices on both sides of the Atlantic. We have had a desperate family quarrel, and almost come to blows; Mr. Peabody…by a well-timed act…awakens…better sentiments.” Leeds Mercury, March 27, 1862: “An American citizen has now come forward to excite the wonder and admiration of the world.”

When friend and sometime agent Horatio Gates Somerby (1805-72), a Vermont-born London resident genealogist, sent Peabody these London newspaper clippings, Peabody replied: “I had not the least conception that it would cause so much excitement over the country.”

British Honors

British honors evoked by Peabody’s gift to London included membership in the ancient guild of the Clothworkers’ Company of London (July 2, 1862). He was granted the Freedom of the City of London (July 10, 1862), the first of only five American so honored; others being President U. S. Grant, June 15, 1877; President Theodore Roosevelt, May 3, 1910; General John J. Pershing, July 18, 1919; and President Dwight D. Eisenhower, June 1, 1945.

Peabody had been denied membership in London’s Reform Club (1844) when Americans were disdained because nine U. S. states had stopped interest payments on their bonds sold abroad. When payment was resumed retroactively Peabody, who had publicly urged this course, was admitted to the Parthenon Club (1848), the City of London Club (1850), and the most prestigious Athenaeum Club (March 12, 1862). The Fishmongers’ Company of London made Peabody an honorary member (April 18, 1866). When Oxford University granted him an honorary Doctor of Laws degree (June 26, 1867), undergraduates cheered, waved their caps, and beat the arms of their chairs with the flat of their hands. Jackson’s Oxford Journal (June 29, 1867) recorded: “The lion of the day was beyond a doubt, Mr. Peabody.”

Peabody’s seated statue, sculptured and cast by Salem, Massachusetts-born William Wetmore Story (1819-95), paid for by public subscription, was unveiled July 23, 1869, on London’s Threadneedle Street, near the Royal Exchange, by Queen Victoria’s eldest son, the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII. The only four statues of Americans in London include George Peabody (1869), Abraham Lincoln (1920), George Washington (1921), and Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1948).

Queen Victoria

Queen Victoria’s advisors had informed Her Majesty that, when asked privately, Peabody had declined either a baronetcy or the Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath. To accept would be to lose his U. S. citizenship, which he felt he could not do.

Her Majesty’s Foreign Secretary Lord John Russell (1792-1878) suggested instead a letter from the Queen and the gift of a miniature portrait of the Queen, such as was given to foreign ambassadors who signed a treaty with Britain.

The Queen’s letter to Peabody, March 28, 1866, expressed thanks for his “noble act of more than princely munificence…to relieve the wants of her poor subjects residing in London. It is an act…wholly without parallel…. “The Queen…understands Mr. Peabody to feel himself debarred from accepting [other] distinctions.” [She asks him instead] “to accept a miniature portrait of herself, which she will have painted for him, and which…can…be sent to him in America.”

Peabody thanked the Queen by letter on April 3, 1866. He received Her Majesty’s miniature portrait from British Ambassador Sir Frederick Bruce (1814-67) in Washington, D.C., March 1867. It was 14″ long by 10″ wide, had been especially painted for him by British artist F. A. C. Tilt, baked on enamel, and set in a sold gold frame, said to have cost $70,000. It was deposited in a specially built vault, with Peabody’s other honors, in the Peabody Institute Library, Peabody, Massachusetts.

John Bright to the Queen on George Peabody

British statesman and Member of Parliament John Bright (1811-89), who had befriended Peabody from 1867 and had gone fishing with him on the Shannon River, Limerick, Ireland, dined with the Queen, December 30, 1868. Bright recorded in his diary the conversation: “Some remarks were made about Mr. Peabody: it arose from something about Ireland, and my having been there on a visit to him. [The Queen] remarked what a very rich man he must be, and how great his gifts.”

[Bright recorded that Peabody] “told me how he valued the portrait [the Queen] had given him, that he made a sort of shrine for it, and that it was a thing of great interest in America. Peabody then “said to me, ‘The Americans are as fond of your Queen as the English are.’ To which she replied, ‘Yes, the American people have also been kind to me.'”

Queen Victoria’s Second Letter to Peabody

Leaving London suddenly on what he knew would be his last U. S. visit, Peabody was in Salem, Massachusetts, when he received Queen Victoria’s second letter. She wrote (June 20, 1869): “The Queen is very sorry that Mr. Peabody’s sudden departure has made it impossible for her to see him before he left England, and she is concerned to hear that he is gone in bad health.”

The Queen continued: “She now writes him a line to express her hope that he may return to this country quite recovered, and that she may then have the opportunity, of which she has now been deprived, of seeing him and offering him her personal thanks for all he has done for the people.”

Publishing the Queen’s letter, the New York Times added: “Queen Victoria has paid our great countryman a delicate and graceful compliment. Mr. Peabody left England unexpectedly, his departure known only to a few friends. His feeble health became known to the Queen through London newspapers. With her goodness of heart which Americans never fail to appreciate she sent him a personal letter.” On July 19, 1869, Peabody replied, assuring the Queen of his “heartfelt gratitude.”

Queen Victoria’s Last Contact
Learning of Peabody’s hasty return to London (October 8, 1869), before she knew of his precarious condition, she asked her privy councilor Arthur Helps (1813-75) to invite Peabody to visit her at Windsor Castle. Helps wrote to Sir Curtis Lampson in whose London home Peabody rested (Oct. 30, 1869): “‘Regarding Mr. Peabody, the Queen thinks the best way would be for her to ask him down to Windsor for one or two nights, where he could rest–and need not come to dinner, or any meals if he feels unequal to it; but where she could see him quietly at any time of the day most convenient to him.” But it was too late. Largely unconscious his last days, Peabody died November 4, 1869.

U. S. Honors

Chief among Peabody’s U. S. honors was the U. S. Congressional Resolution of Thanks and Gold Medal for his PEF, passed in the U.S. Senate (March 8, 1867), in the U. S. House (March 9, 1867), and signed by President Andrew Johnson (March 16, 1867), who welcomed Peabody at the White House (April 25, 1867). These, his Honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Harvard University (July 17, 1867), and his other honors received in the U. S. and England, are displayed in the Peabody Institute Library, Peabody, Massachusetts.

Winthrop’s Eulogy, February 8, 1870

All was ready for the final act: Winthrop’s eulogy of George Peabody, February 8, 1870, a bitterly cold day. Thousands poured into tiny Peabody, Massachusetts, by special morning trains which ran full from Boston. Large crowds were quiet and respectful. The 50 state troopers had little to do but give directions.

South Congregational Church filled quickly. Queen Victoria’s son, Prince Arthur (1850-1942), in the seventh pew from the pulpit, held all eyes. His retinue, including British Minister to the U. S. Sir Edward Thornton, sat nearby.

Behind Prince Arthur sat HMS Monarch Captain John E. Commerell, USS Plymouth’s Captain William H. Macomb, Admiral Farragut’s staff, Massachusetts Governor William Claflin, Maine Governor Joshua L. Chamberlain, the mayors of eight New England cities, Harvard University President Charles William Eliot (1834-1926), and others.

On the first six rows sat Peabody’s relatives, elderly citizens who knew him in youth, and the trustees of his institutes and funds. Anthems were sung. Scripture was read. Robert Charles Winthrop rose to give the eulogy.

Robert Charles Winthrop was the descendant of an early governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, a Harvard University graduate, trained in Daniel Webster’s law office, member and Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Peabody’s philanthropic advisor, and the PEF board of trustees president.

Winthrop began: “What a career this has been whose final scene lies before us! Who can contemplate his rise from lowly beginnings to these final royal honors without admiration? His death, painless and peaceful, came after he completed his great dream and saw his old friends and loved ones.”

Winthrop continued: “He had ambition and wanted to do grand things in a grand way. His public charity is too well known to bear repetition and I believe he also did much private good which remains unknown. The trusts he established, the institutes he founded, the buildings he raised stand before all eyes.”

“I have authority for saying,” Winthrop continued, “that he planned these for many years, for in private talks he told me all he planned and when I expressed my amazement at the magnitude of his purpose, he said to me with guileless simplicity: ‘Why Mr. Winthrop, this is no new idea to me. From the earliest of my manhood, I have contemplated some such disposition of my property; and I have prayed my heavenly Father, day by day, that I might be enabled, before I died, to show my gratitude for the blessings which He has bestowed upon me by doing some great good to my fellow-men.'”

The words underlined above are engraved on Peabody’s marker in Westminster Abbey, London, where his remains rested for 30 days, November 12-December 11, 1869. That marker and the above words on it were refurbished for the February 12, 1995, bicentennial ceremony of Peabody’s birth held in London’s Westminster Abbey.

Winthrop further said: “To measure his gifts in dollars and pounds or in the number of people served is inadequate. He did something more. The successful way he arranged the machinery of world-wide philanthropy compels attention. It is a lesson that cannot be lost to history. It has inspired and will continue to inspire others to do likewise. This was the greatness of his life.”

“Now, all that is mortal of him,” Winthrop said, “comes back, borne with honors that mark a conquering hero. The battle he fought was the greed within him. His conquest was the victory he achieved over the gaining, hoarding, saving instinct. Such is the conqueror we make ready to bury in the earth this day.

Winthrop continued: “And so was fulfilled for him a prophecy he heard once as the subject of a sermon, on which by some force of reflection lingered in his mind and which he more than once mentioned to me: ‘And it shall come to pass in that day, that the light shall not be clear nor dark; but it shall be one day which shall be known to the Lord, not day, or night: but it shall come to pass that at evening time it shall be light.'” Winthrop said that Peabody first heard this text, Zechariah 14: 6-7, in a sermon by the Reverend Dr. John Lothrop (1772-1820) of Brattle Street, Boston, date not known.

Winthrop concluded: “And so we bid thee farewell, noble friend. The village of thy birth weeps. The flower of Essex County stands at thy grave. Massachusetts mourns her son. Maine does honor to thee. New England and Old England join hands because of thee. The children of the South praise thy works. Chiefs of the Republic stand with royalty at thy bier. And so we bid thee farewell, friend of mankind.”

Harmony Grove Cemetery, Salem, Mass.

The New York Times described the final burial scene at Harmony Grove Cemetery, Salem, Massachusetts, on February 8, 1870: “There were about two hundred sleigh coaches in the procession. The route was shortened somewhat in consequence of the prevalence of the storm. On arriving at the Peabody tomb, there was no special service, the coffin being placed reverently therein, after which the procession returned to the Institute, and the great pageantry attending the obsequies of the great philanthropist was ended.”

Harmony Grove Cemetery’s 65 acres of avenues and walks, first laid out in 1840, had been a thick walnut grove when Peabody was a boy. He could see it from the attic of the house where he was born. On a knoll where he had once played he had chosen the family burial plot on Anemone Ave., lot number 51. There, where he had brought together the remains of his mother, father, sisters, and brothers, he was laid to rest. Ninety-six days of unprecedented funeral honors had ended. His works remain. Public memory of him has since grown dim, except at his institutes and among those who care to search the records.

Memory has also dimmed of those few days that summer of 1869 at White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, when two old men, one from Massachusetts, the other from Virginia, turned from Civil War strife to the healing power of education. One, a lifelong soldier, had become president of a struggling college; the other, a volunteer for 14 days in the War of 1812, merchant, London-based banker, and creator of philanthropic institutions.

The two old men walked arm in arm, enjoyed each other, spoke of educating new generations, of reconciliation, of healing, and of better days to ahead.

END OF MANUSCRIPT. Corrections, errors, suggestions appreciated:

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