>Part 2 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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Part 2 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 bfparker@frontiernet.net

Without precedent, the PEF was the first multimillion dollar U.S. educational foundation. Historians have cited its example and policies as the model forerunner of all subsequent significant United States educational funds and foundations.

Famous in his time, largely forgotten since, even underrated by most historians, George Peabody was in fact the founder of modern American philanthropy.

Many of the over 50 distinguished PEF trustees (during 1867-1914) who held high offices in the U. S. were also trustees of other later, larger, and richer funds and foundations. They thus helped spread the PEF’s influence far and wide.

The common goal of these late nineteenth century, early twentieth century funds and foundations was to use private foundation wealth as levers to help solve education, health, and economic welfare problems in the U. S. South, elsewhere in the U. S., and worldwide.

High Offices Held by PEF Trustees
Twelve of the over 50 PEF trustees were state legislators, two were U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justices, six were U.S. ambassadors, seven U.S. House of Representatives members, two U. S. generals, one U. S. Navy admiral, one U. S. Surgeon-General, three Confederate generals, seven U.S. Senators, three Confederate Congressmen, two church bishops, six U. S. cabinet officers, three U.S. presidents (U.S. Grant, Rutherford B. Hayes, and Grover Cleveland), or eight U.S. presidents if Peabody Normal College and its predecessor institutions are included, and three financiers.

The three financiers who were PEF trustees included J. P. Morgan, himself an art collector and philanthropist of note; Anthony Joseph Drexel (1826-93), inspired as PEF trustee to found Drexel University, Philadelphia; and Paul Tulane (1801-87), inspired as PEF trustee to found Tulane University, New Orleans, Louisiana.

Permitted to disband when their mission was accomplished, the PEF trustees gave (1914): $474,000 to fourteen state university colleges of education in the South; $90,000 to Winthrop Normal College, South Carolina; and funds to the Southern Education Fund, Atlanta, still aiding African-American education. The bulk of the PEF, $1.5 million (required matching funds made it $3 million), went to George Peabody College for Teachers (1914-79), Nashville, sited next to Vanderbilt University, which still thrives as Peabody College of Vanderbilt University (hereafter PCofVU, since 1979).

Peabody College of Vanderbilt University

Traced genealogically in Nashville for some 220 years, Davidson Academy (1785-1806) was chartered by North Carolina eleven years before Tennessee’s statehood; rechartered as Cumberland College (1806-26); rechartered as the University of Nashville (1826-75); rechartered as Peabody Normal College (1875-1909, created and supported by the PEF); rechartered as George Peabody College for Teachers (1914-79), which continues as PCofVU (from 1979).

Faced with greater class and race divisions and with greater financial difficulties than counterpart colleges in other U.S. sections, what is now Peabody College of Vanderbilt University rose phoenix-like again and again to produce educational leaders for the South, the nation, and the world.

Peabody Homes of London

Wanting to do something for the working poor of London, Peabody followed social reformer Lord Shaftesbury’s (1801-85) suggestion–that low-cost housing was the London poor’s greatest need. Peabody gave a total of $2.5 million (from 1862) to subsidize low rent model housing in London.

Some 34,500 low income Londoners (March 31, 1999) lived in 14,000 Peabody apartments on 83 estates in 26 of London’s boroughs. The Peabody Trust, which built and administers the Peabody Homes of London, valued at some $1.53 billion, is Peabody’s most successful philanthropy (and least known by Americans).

Last U.S. Visit

Long ill, sensing his end was near, George Peabody made his last four-month U. S. visit, June 8 to September 29, 1869, to see family and friends and to add gifts to his U. S. institutes. Greatly weakened, he was met in New York City by intimates who also sensed this as his last U.S. visit.

The New York Times, June 9, 1869, reported his arrival “in advanced age and declining health….” “Wherever he goes,” the article read, “he is worried by begging letters from individuals expecting him to get them out of some scrape… Now that he is in America he should be left to the quiet and repose he so greatly needs.”

He went to Boston (June 10, 1869), then rested in Salem, Massachusetts, at nephew George Peabody Russell’s (1835-1909) home.

On July 6, 1869, his nephew wrote to his uncle’s intimate business friend William Wilson Corcoran (1798-1888), who was at White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia: “…Mr. Peabody…is weaker than when he arrived…. He has…decided to go to the White Sulphur Springs…[and asks you to] arrange accommodations for himself, and servant, for Mrs. Russell and myself.”

In mid-June 1869 Peabody quietly visited the Boston Peace Jubilee and Music Festival and listened to the chorus. At intermission, Boston Mayor Nathaniel Bradstreet Shurtleff (1810-74) announced Peabody’s presence, which brought “a perfect storm of applause.”

In a Sunday, June 20, sermon closing the Boston Peace Jubilee, the Reverend William Rounseville Alger (1822-1905) mentioned that George Peabody had done more to keep the peace between Britain and America than a hundred demagogues to destroy it.

On June 29, 1869, in more than doubling his fund for southern education, he wrote his trustees: “I now give you additional bonds [worth] $1,384,000….. I do this [hoping] that with God’s blessing…it may…prove a permanent and lasting boon, not only to the Southern States, but to the whole of our dear country….” He added $50,000 to his first Peabody Institute Library (Peabody, Massachusetts, total gift $217,600). At the July 14, 1869, dedication of the Peabody Institute Library, Danvers, Massachusetts (to which he gave a total of $100,000), he said: “I can never expect to address you again collectively…. I hope that this institution will be…a source of pleasure and profit.”

At a July 16, 1869, reception, Peabody Institute Library, Peabody, Massachusetts, his 30 guests who arrived by special train from Boston included former Massachusetts Governor Clifford Claflin (1818-1905), Boston Mayor Nathaniel Bradstreet Shurtleff, U.S. Senator Charles Sumner (1811-74), and poet Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809-94). Poet Holmes read aloud a poem titled “George Peabody” written specially for the occasion.

Two days later (July 18, 1869) Holmes described Peabody in a letter to U.S. Minister to Britain John Lothrop Motley (1814-77) as “the Dives who is going to Abraham’s bosom and I fear before a great while….” On July 22, 1869, longtime friend Ohio Episcopal Bishop Charles Pettit McIlvaine (1799-1873) wrote to Peabody’s philanthropic advisor Robert Charles Winthrop (1809-94): “The White Sulphur Springs will, I hope, be beneficial to our excellent friend; but it can be only a very superficial good. [His] cough is terrible, and I have no expectation of his living a year….”

White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, July 23-Aug. 30, 1869

This was the background when Peabody arrived by special train at White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, July 23, 1869. Present was Tennessee Superintendent of Public Instruction and later U.S. Commissioner of Education John Eaton, Jr. (1829-1906).

John Easton wrote in his annual report: “Mr. Peabody shares with ex-Governor Wise the uppermost cottage in Baltimore Row, and sits at the same table with General Lee, Mr. Corcoran, Mr. Taggart, and others…. Being quite infirm, he has been seldom able to come to parlor or dining room, though he has received many ladies and gentlemen at the cottage…. His manners are singularly affable and pleasing, and his countenance one of the most benevolent we have ever seen.”

Peabody’s confinement to his cottage prompted a meeting on July 27, 1869, at which former Virginia Governor Henry Alexander Wise (1806-76) drew up resolutions of praise read in Peabody’s presence the next day (July 28, 1869) in the “Old White” hotel parlor. The resolutions read in part: “On behalf of the southern people we tender thanks to Mr. Peabody for his aid to the cause of education…and hail him ‘benefactor.'”

Peabody, seated, replied, “If I had strength, I would speak more on the heroism of the Southern people. Your kind remarks about the Education Fund sound sweet to my ears. My heart is interwoven with its success.”

Peabody Ball

Merrymakers at the “Old White” held a Peabody Ball on August 11, 1869. Too ill to attend, Peabody heard the gaiety from his cottage.

Historian Perceval Reniers wrote of this Peabody Ball: “The affair that did most to revive [the Southerners’] esteem was the Peabody Ball…given to honor…Mr. George Peabody…. Everything was right for the Peabody Ball. Everybody was ready for just such a climax, the background was a perfect build-up. Mr. Peabody appeared at just the right time and lived just long enough. A few months later it would not have been possible, for Mr. Peabody would be dead.”

The PEF’s first administrator Barnas Sears (1802-80), present at White Sulphur Springs that July 23-Aug. 30, 1869, recorded why Peabody’s presence there was important to the PEF’s work in promoting public education in the South. Sears wrote: “…both on account of his unparalleled goodness and of his illness among a loving and hospitable people [he received] tokens of love and respect from all, such as I have never before seen shown to any one. This visit…will, in my judgment, do more for us than a long tour in a state of good health….”

Famous Photos of George Peabody and Robert E. Lee

Peabody, Lee, and others were central figures in several remarkable photos taken at White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, on August 12, 1869. In the main photograph the five individuals seated on cane-bottomed chairs were, left to right: Turkey’s Minister to the U.S. Edouard Blacque Bey (1824-95); General Robert E. Lee, Peabody, William Wilson Corcoran, and Richmond, Virginia, judge and public education advocate James Lyons (1801-82).

Standing behind the five seated figures were seven former Civil War generals, their names in dispute until correctly identified in 1935 by Leonard T. Mackall of Savannah, Georgia (from left to right): James Conner (1829-83) of South Carolina, Martin W. Gary (1831-81) of South Carolina, Robert Doak Lilley (1836-86) of Virginia, P.G.T. Beauregard (1818-93) of Louisiana, Alexander Robert Lawton (1818-96) of Georgia, Henry Alexander Wise (1806-76) of Virginia, and Joseph L. Brent (b.1826) of Maryland.

There is also a photo of Peabody sitting alone and a photo of Lee, Peabody, and William Wilson Corcoran sitting together.

Peabody’s Gifts to Lee

That August 1869 Peabody gave Lee a small private gift of $100 for Lee’s Episcopal church in Lexington, Virginia, in need of repairs (William Wilson Corcoran also gave $100). Peabody also gave to Lee’s Washington College Virginia state bonds he owned worth $35,000 when they were lost on the ship Arctic, a Collins Line steamer, sunk with the loss of 322 passengers on September 27, 1854, 20 miles off Cape Race, Newfoundland.

Peabody ‘s petition to the Virginia legislature to reimburse him for the lost bonds had been unsuccessful when he gave Lee’s college the value of the bonds for a mathematics professorship. Eventually the value of the lost bonds and the accrued interest, $60,000 total, were paid by the State of Virginia to Washington and Lee University With wry humor Lee’s biographer C.B. Flood described George Peabody’s gift: “It was generosity with a touch of Yankee shrewdness: you Southerners go fight it out among yourselves. If General Lee can’t get [this lost bond money] out of the Virginia legislature, nobody can.”

Peabody left White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, August 30, 1869, in a special railroad car provided by longtime friend, Baltimore and Ohio Railroad President John Work Garrett (1820-84). Lee rode a short distance in the same car with Peabody. They parted, never to meet again.

Peabody recorded his last will (September 9, 1869) in New York City, had his tomb built at Harmony Grove Cemetery, Salem, Massachusetts (September 10, 1869), ordered a granite sarcophagus to mark his grave, and boarded the Scotia in New York City September 29, 1869. He landed at Queenstown, Ireland, October 8, 1869, and was rushed to rest at the London home of longtime business friend Sir Curtis Miranda Lampson (1806-85), where he died November 4, 1869.

Lee Sent His Photograph
On Sept. 25, 1869, at the request of Peabody Institute Librarian Fitch Poole (1803-73, Peabody, Massachusetts), Lee sent Poole a photograph of himself, adding that he would “feel honoured in its being placed among the ‘friends’ of Mr. Peabody, who can be numbered by the millions, yet all can appreciate the man who has [illumined] his age by his munificent charities during his life, and by his wise provisions for promoting the happiness of his fellow creatures.”

Lee on Peabody’s Death

Reading of Peabody’s death in London (November 4, 1869), Robert E. Lee wrote (November 10, 1869) to Peabody’s nephew George Peabody Russell, who had been with his uncle in White Sulphur Springs and there had met Lee: “The announcement of the death of your uncle, Mr. George Peabody, has been received with the deepest regret wherever his name and benevolence are known; and nowhere have his generous deeds–restricted to no country, section or sect–elicited more heartfelt admiration than at the South. He stands alone in history for the benevolent and judicious distribution of his great wealth, and his memory has become entwined in the affections of millions of his fellow-citizens in both hemispheres.”

“I beg, in my own behalf,” Lee continued, “and in behalf of the Trustees and Faculty of Washington College, Virginia, which was not forgotten by him in his act of generosity, to tender the tribute of our unfeigned sorrow at his death. ¶With great respect, Your obedient servant R.E. Lee.”

Concern Over Lee’s Attending Peabody’s Funeral

Lee had been invited to attend Peabody’s final funeral service and eulogy, South Congregational Church, Peabody, Massachusetts, followed by burial in Harmony Grove Cemetery, Salem, Massachusetts, February 8, 1870.
But Peabody’s intimates feared that Lee’s attendance might evoke an ugly incident. After President Lincoln’s assassination, Congressional radical Republicans, bent on revenge, crushed the defeated South with military rule. This anger was also strong among New England abolitionists.

Robert Charles Winthrop, Peabody’s philanthropic advisor and president of the PEF trustees, who was to deliver Peabody’s funeral eulogy February 8, 1870, feared that Lee’s attendance might bring on a demonstration. On February 2, 1870, Winthrop wrote two private and confidential letters, the first to Baltimorean John Pendleton Kennedy (1795-1870): “There is apprehension here, that if Lee should come to the funeral, something unpleasant might occur, which would be as painful to us as to him. Would you contact friends to impart this to the General? Please do not mention that the suggestion came from me.”

Winthrop also wrote to Corcoran: “I write to you in absolute confidence. Some friends of ours, whose motives cannot be mistaken, are very anxious that Genl. Lee should not come to the funeral next week. They have also asked me to suggest that. Still there is always apprehension that from an irresponsible crowd there might come some remarks which would be offensive to him and painful to us all. I am sure he would be the last person to involve himself or us, needlessly, in a doubtful position on such an occasion.”

Winthrop continued to Corcoran: “The newspapers at first said that he was not coming. Now, there is an intimation that he is. I know of no one who could [more] effectively give the right direction to his views than yourself. Your relation to Mr. Peabody & to Mr. Lee would enable you to ascertain his purposes & shape his course wisely…. I know of no one else to rely on.”

One of the two Washington College trustees who planned to attend Peabody’s funeral had earlier written to Corcoran (January 26, 1870): “I first thought that General Lee should not go, but have now changed my mind. Some of us believe that if you advise the General to attend he would do so. Use your own discretion in this matter.”

Lee Too Ill to Attend

Lee explained in a January 26, 1870, letter to William Wilson Corcoran: “I am sorry I cannot attend the funeral obsequies of Mr. Peabody. It would be some relief to witness the respect paid to his remains, and to participate in commemorating his virtues; but I am unable to undertake the journey. I have been sick all the winter, and am still under medical treatment. I particularly regret that I shall not have the pleasure of seeing you. Two trustees of Washington College will attend the funeral. I hope you can join them.”

On the same day Winthrop wrote his letters (February 2, 1870), Lee wrote his daughter Mildred Childe Lee (1846-1904) that he was too ill to attend: “I am sorry that I could not attend Mr. Peabody’s funeral, but I did not feel able to undertake the journey, especially at this season.”

Corcoran too replied to Winthrop that Lee had no intention of coming. Corcoran could not imagine, he wrote, that so good and great a man as Lee would receive anything but a kind reception. Himself ill, Corcoran wrote to Lee his regret that he could not attend to pay his respects to “my valued old friend.” Peabody’s intimates were relieved at confirmation that Lee’s illness would definitely keep him from the funeral.

Trans-Atlantic Funeral Overview

Lee, Corcoran, and much of the English-speaking reading public, awed by Peabody’s unusual 96-day transatlantic funeral, awaited its final scene: Robert Charles Winthrop’s eulogy and Peabody’s final burial (both February 8, 1870).
Peabody’s funeral was unprecedented in length, pomp, and ceremony; was marked by cold stormy weather; involved the highest officials of England and the United States; was vastly publicized in the press of both countries; and was observed in person by many thousands of Britons and Americans.

The Peabody funeral included: 1-Westminster Abbey service (November 12, 1869) and temporary burial there for 30 days (November 12-December 11, 1869). When Peabody’s will became known requiring burial in Salem, Massachusetts, 2-the British cabinet decided (November 10, 1869), at Queen Victoria’s suggestion, to return his remains for burial in the U. S. on Her Majesty’s Ship HMS Monarch, Britain’s newest and largest warship, repainted for this grim occasion slate gray above the water line, with a specially built mortuary chapel.

Next came a 3-U. S. government decision (made between November 12-15, 1869) to send the United States corvette USS Plymouth from Marseilles, France, to accompany HMS Monarch to the United States. Then followed 4-transfer (December 11, 1869) of Peabody’s remains from Westminster Abbey, London, on a special funeral train to Portsmouth, England, impressive ceremonies at the transfer of remains from Portsmouth dock to HMS Monarch, specially outfitted as a funeral vessel.

Next came the 5-transatlantic crossing of HMS Monarch and the USS Plymouth (December 21, 1869 to January 25, 1870) from Spithead near Portsmouth, past Ushant, France, to Madeira Island off Portugal, to Bermuda, and north to Portland, Maine, chosen by the British Admiralty because of its deeper harbor.

A covert rivalry had early erupted between 6-Bostonians and New Yorkers about which city could provide the more solemn ceremony as receiving port. Thinking themselves the center of northeast society and fashion, each was disappointed when the British Admiralty chose Portland, Maine, whose deeper harbor more safely accommodated HMS Monarch‘s large size.

End Part 2 of 3 Parts. Concluded in Final Part 3 of 3 Parts. E-mail comments and corrections to bfparker@frontiernet.net

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  1. Lotus Jean Newton

    >Part 2 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.
    Comment: The father of modern philanthropy has more than just educated us with his knowledge in the field but he has also helped a lot of students get better knowledge even now with the libraries that he donated. Some of his libraries are I can say as some of the best libraries in the world. One of which is the George Peabody Library in the Johns Hopkins University.

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