“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 email@example.com
The hot spring health spas of Virginia were the first gathering places of southern and northern elites after the Civil War. It was at the Greenbrier Hotel, White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, the most popular of the hot spring spas, that Robert E. Lee and George Peabody met by chance for a few weeks during July 23-August 30, 1869. For each this meeting was a symbolic turn from Civil War bitterness toward reconciliation and the lifting power of public education.
Lee was then president of Washington College, Lexington, Virginia (1865-70, renamed Washington and Lee University from 1871). Peabody had just (June 29, 1869) doubled to $2 million his Peabody Education Fund, begun February 7, 1867, to advance public education in the South.
Historical circumstances had made both Lee and Peabody famous in their time, Lee’s fame more lasting; Peabody’s, strangely, soon forgotten. Yet when they met in 1869 Peabody was arguably better known in the English speaking world and more widely appreciated.
For Lee, age 62, hero of the lost Confederate cause, it was next to the last summer of life. For Peabody, age 74, best known philanthropist of his time, it was the very last summer of life. They were the center of attention that summer of 1869 at “The Old White.” They ate together in the public dining room, walked arm in arm to their nearby bungalows, were applauded by visitors, and were photographed together and with others of prominence.
Robert E. Lee’s Father
Born in Stratford, Westmoreland County, Virginia, Robert Edward Lee was the son of Revolutionary War hero Henry Lee (1756-1818), popularly known as “Light Horse Harry.” Henry Lee was a Virginia delegate to the Continental Congress (1785-88), member of the Virginia Convention for the Continental Congress (1788), served in Virginia’s General Assembly (1789-91), was Virginia Governor (1792-95), was appointed by George Washington to command troops to suppress the “Whiskey Insurrection” in Western Pennsylvania (1794), served in the U. S. Sixth Congress (1799-1801), and last served in the War of 1812.
Despite this impressive record (Congress voted him a gold medal for his American Revolutionary War exploits) Henry Lee was a less than satisfactory husband, a poor family breadwinner, an absentee father to his five children, was often hounded by creditors, and was several times imprisoned for debt. Robert E. Lee was age six when he last saw his father, who left to regain his health in the West Indies. Young Lee was age eleven when his father died. Robert E. Lee’s biographer, Emory M. Thomas wrote: “All his life, Robert Lee knew his father only at a great distance.”
Robert E. Lee’s Career
Robert E. Lee attended private schools in Alexandria, Virginia. At age 18, with family finances prohibiting attending a private college, Robert E. Lee, bent on a military career, applied for admission to the tuition free U. S. Military Academy, West Point, New York. His family and friends sent petitions and letters of recommendation to Secretary of War John C. Calhoun (1782-1850). In the summer of 1825 R. E. Lee entered West Point as one of 107 new cadets.
Forty-seven of that entering class graduated, Lee among them. He was an exemplary cadet, without a single demerit, held every cadet post of honor, and graduated second in his class of 1829. He was assigned to the engineer corps where he soon won a high reputation. On June 30, 1831, two years after graduating, he married Mary Randolph Custis, daughter of a grandson of Mrs. George Washington (Martha Washington, 1731-1802).
Distinguishing himself as chief engineer in river drainage and fort-building projects, he served in the Mexican War, where General Winfield Scott (1786-1866), valuing his military and engineering skills, constantly consulted him.
Lee was superintendent of West Point (1852-55). He was the United States military officer ordered to put down the John Brown (1800-59) insurrection at Harper’s Ferry federal arsenal, Virginia, October 16, 1859. Abolitionist Brown’s fanatical attempt to steal federal weapons in order to arm slaves for an insurrection against the South helped precipitate the bitter four-year Civil War.
Faced with the “irrepressible conflict,” General Winfield Scott reportedly told President Abraham Lincoln that Lee was worth 50,000 men. Lee was offered command of Federal forces, April 18, 1861, but declined. He told Francis Preston Blair (1791-1876), who approached him on behalf of President Lincoln: “…though opposed to secession and deprecating war, I could take no part in an invasion of the Southern States.” Loyal to Virginia, Lee resigned from the United States Army, April 20, 1861.
In Richmond Virginia, at the request of the Virginia Convention, he was placed in command of the Virginia forces, April 23, 1861. Lee’s organizing ability, grasp of military strategy, and his integrity held out for four bitter Civil War years against overwhelming Union strength in numbers, manpower, and economic resources. Faced by inevitable crushing defeat Lee surrendered to General U. S. Grant, Appomattox Courthouse, Virginia, April 9, 1865.
He told his defeated troops: “…You will take with you the satisfaction that proceeds from the consciousness of duty faithfully performed, and I earnestly pray that our merciful God extend to you his blessing and protection.”
With the Confederate cause lost, Lee sought obscurity and declined to lend his name to commercial ventures. When first invited to the presidency of small, obscure and struggling Washington College, Lexington, Virginia (August 1865), Lee hesitated. He wrote the trustees that he was “an object of censure” to the North, that his presence might “cause injury” to the college.
Knowing that Lee’s name and fame would attract students, the trustees persisted. Lee accepted. His biographer Emory M. Thomas wrote that Lee quickly “established himself as a presence in Lexington,” and that in the five years of life left to him (1865-1870) became “the savior of Washington College.”
Greenbrier Hotel, White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia
The first inn at what is now the Greenbrier Hotel, White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, was built in 1780, long before West Virginia became a state in 1863. It was a favorite resort for southern elites who gathered there to meet relatives and friends, to rest and recuperate, and to drink and bathe in its healthful mineral springs. Lee, with heart trouble, needing rest, was an occasional health spa visitor, particularly at the Greenbrier.
At the Greenbrier the summer of 1868, Lee heard that some young northern visitors were receiving a frosty reception. He asked the young southern women who surrounded him if one of them would go with him to greet and welcome the young northern guests.
The young lady accompanying him, Christina Bond, asked, “General Lee, did you never feel resentment towards the North?” She recorded his quiet reply, “I believe I may say, looking into my own heart, and speaking as in the presence of my God, that I have never known one moment of bitterness or resentment.” The next summer of 1869 at the Greenbrier he met George Peabody for the first and only time.
George Peabody’s Career
George Peabody was third of eight children born to a poor family in Danvers (renamed Peabody, April 13, 1868), 19 miles from Boston, Massachusetts. After four years in a district school (1803-07) and four years apprenticed in a general store (1807-10), the 16-year-old in 1811 worked in his oldest brother’s clothing store in Newburyport, Massachusetts.
His father’s death that year (May 13, 1811) left the family in debt, their Danvers home mortgaged, with the mother and five younger siblings forced to live with relatives. The Great Fire in Newburyport (May 31, 1811) occurred eleven days after his father’s death. The fire, coming as it did during an economic depression in New England, led many to leave that town and migrate to the South.
An improvident paternal uncle whose Newburyport store had burned in the fire encouraged his 16-year-old nephew, George Peabody, to open with him a drygoods store in Georgetown, District of Columbia. Needing credit, backed by Newburyport merchant Prescott Spaulding’s (1781-1864) recommendation, Peabody secured a $2,000 consignment of goods, basis of his first commercial venture in the Georgetown drygoods store (1812).
His uncle soon left for other enterprises. Young Peabody operated the store and was also a pack peddler selling goods to homes and stores in the D. C. area. With Washington, D. C., under siege by the British he volunteered and served briefly in the War of 1812.
Fellow soldier and older experienced merchant Elisha Riggs, Sr. (1779-1853), took the 19-year-old Peabody as traveling junior partner in Riggs, Peabody & Co. (1814-29), Georgetown, D.C. The firm, which imported clothing and other merchandise for sale to U. S. wholesalers, moved in 1815 to Baltimore and by 1822 had Philadelphia and New York City warehouses.
Peabody early took on the support of his family. He sent clothes and money to his mother and siblings, and by 1816, at age 21, he paid off the family debts and restored his mother and siblings to their Danvers home. Handling the Peabody home deed, Newburyport, Massachusetts, lawyer Ebon Mosely wrote George Peabody (December 16, 1816): “I cannot but be pleased with the filial affection which seems to evince you to preserve the estate for a Parent.”
Peabody paid for the education at Bradford Academy (now Bradford College), Bradford, Massachusetts, of five younger relatives. He bought a house in West Bradford for his relatives studying at the academy, where his mother also lived for several years.
He later paid for the complete education of nephew Othniel Charles Marsh (1831-99), first U. S. paleontologist at Yale University; nephew George Peabody Russell (1835-1909), Harvard-trained lawyer, niece Julia Adelaide (née Peabody) Chandler (b. 1835), and others.
George Peabody’s Philanthropic Motive: ”Deprived, as I was…”
Peabody’s May 18, 1831, letter to a nephew named after him, George Peabody (1815-32), son of his oldest brother David Peabody (1790-1841), hinted at his motive for educating his relatives and for his later philanthropies. Particularly fond of this nephew, Peabody paid for his schooling at Bradford Academy and received regular reports of his nephew’s progress. When this nephew asked his uncle for financial help to attend Yale College, Peabody replied in a poignant letter.
Peabody wrote his nephew: (his underlining): “Deprived, as I was, of the opportunity of obtaining anything more than the most common education, I am well qualified to estimate its value by the disadvantages I labour under in the society [in] which my business and situation in life frequently throws me, and willingly would I now give twenty times the expense attending a good education could I now possess it, but it is now too late for me to learn and I can only do to those who come under my care, as I could have wished circumstances had permitted others to have done by me.” Sadly, this favorite nephew died at age 17 on September 24, 1832, in Boston of scarlet fever, his potential unfulfilled.
Selling Maryland’s Bonds Abroad
As purchasing partner in the United States and abroad for Riggs, Peabody & Co. (renamed Peabody, Riggs & Co., 1829-48), Peabody made four buying trips to Europe during 1827-37.
In the mid-1830s several states began internal improvement of roads, canals, and railroads requiring European investment capital through state bonds sold abroad. The U.S. was then developing, expanding, and hence a borrowing nation through U.S. state bonds sold abroad. In 1836 the Maryland legislature voted to finance the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal and the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. On his fifth trip abroad, February 1837, Peabody represented both his firm and was also appointed one of three agents to sell abroad Maryland’s $8 million bond issue.
In the financial Panic of 1837 the two other agents returned home without success. Peabody remained in London the rest of his life (1837-69), 32 years, except for three visits to the United States. Nine U. S. states in financial difficulty, including Maryland, stopped interest payments on their bonds sold abroad. Peabody faced a depressed market, with British and European investors angry at nonpayment of interest on their U. S. state bonds.
Peabody bombarded Maryland officials with letters urging that interest payments on Maryland bonds be resumed, and retroactively. His letters were published in U. S. newspapers. Abroad, he also publicly assured foreign investors that interest nonpayment was temporary and that repayment would be retroactive. He finally sold his part of the Maryland bonds to London’s Baring Brothers. The Panic of 1837 eased. The nine defaulting states resumed their bond interest payments. Peabody’s faith that they would do so was justified and appreciated. His financial integrity became known to an ever-wider circle in the U.S. and abroad.
Some minor fame came to Peabody when the Maryland Legislature (1847-48), realizing what he had done, voted him unanimous thanks for upholding its credit abroad and for declining the $60,000 commission due him.
He had not wanted to burden the Maryland state treasury during its financial difficulty. In transmitting these resolutions of thanks, Maryland Governor Philip Francis Thomas (1810-90) wrote Peabody, “To you, sir…the thanks of the State were eminently due.”
George Peabody as London-Based U.S. State Bonds Broker-Banker
In London, Peabody gradually reduced his trade in drygoods and commodities. Under the firm name of George Peabody & Co. (1838-64) he made the transition from merchant to international banker. He sold U. S. state bonds to finance roads, canals, and railroads; helped sell abroad the second Mexican War bonds; bought, sold, and shipped European iron and later steel rails for U. S. western railroads; and helped finance the Atlantic Cable Co.
Asked in an interview, August 22, 1869, how and when he made most of his money, the London-based securities broker and international banker said, “I made pretty much of it in 20 years from 1844 to 1864. Everything I touched within that time seemed to turn to gold. I bought largely of United States securities when their value was low and they advanced greatly.”
J.S. Morgan, Later, J.P. Morgan Partnership
Often ill and urged by business friends to take a partner, Peabody on October 1, 1854, at age 59, took as partner Boston merchant Junius Spencer Morgan (1813-90), whose 19-year-old son John Pierpont Morgan (1837-1913) began his banking career as New York City agent for George Peabody & Co., London. On retirement, October 1, 1864, unmarried, without a son, and knowing on retirement and death he would no longer control his firm, Peabody asked that his name be withdrawn.
George Peabody & Co. (1838-64) continued in London as J. S. Morgan & Co. (1864-1909), Morgan Grenfell & Co. (1910-18), Morgan Grenfell & Co., Ltd. (1918-89), and Deutsche Morgan Grenfell (since 1989), a German-owned international banking firm.
Peabody was thus the root of the J. P. Morgan international banking firm. He spent the last five years of his life (1864-69) looking after his philanthropic institutions, begun in 1852 with the motto: “Education: a debt due from present to future generations.”
George Peabody, Philanthropist
Peabody early told intimates and said publicly in 1850 that he would found a useful educational institution in every town and city where he had lived and worked. His 1827 will left $4,000 for charity. His 1832 will left $27,000 for educational philanthropy out of a $135,000 estate.
George Peabody Founded Seven Peabody Libraries
Ultimately his philanthropic gifts of some $10 million included seven Peabody institute libraries, with lecture halls and lecture funds. These were, like the lyceums and the later chautauquas, the adult education centers of their time.
Later, Andrew Carnegie’s (1835-1919) libraries and other funds, John D. Rockefeller’s (1839-1937) funds and foundations, Henry Ford’s (1863-1947) funds, and those of others far surpassed Peabody’s philanthropy. But it was Peabody’s gifts which first initiated, first set policies, patterns, and inspired the later vast educational foundation movement.
The seven Peabody Institute Libraries are in: Peabody, Danvers, Newburyport, and Georgetown (all in Massachusetts); and in Baltimore, where the Peabody Institute of Baltimore (from 1857, total gift $1.4 million) consisted of a unique reference library whose books from European estates Peabody, through agents, bought and shipped to Baltimore. The Library of Congress early borrowed from the Peabody Institute Library of Baltimore’s rare book collection.
The Peabody Institute of Baltimore also had an art gallery, lecture hall and lecture fund, a Conservatory of Music, and gave annual prizes to Baltimore’s best public school students. In 1982 the Baltimore Reference Library and the Peabody Conservatory of Music became part of the Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore. Other Peabody libraries are in 6-Thetford, Vermont, where he visited his maternal grandparents at age 15, and in 7-Georgetown, D.C.
George Peabody’s Three Museums of Science
He endowed the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University (anthropology); the Peabody Museum of Natural History, Yale University (paleontology), both 1866; and what is now the Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Massachusetts (1867), containing maritime history and Essex County historical documents, including most of George Peabody’s letters and papers.
George Peabody’s Other Gifts
He gave the Maryland Institute for the Promotion of Mechanic Arts (Baltimore) $1,000 for a chemistry laboratory and school (1851); Phillips Academy, Andover, Massachusetts, $25,000 for a mathematics professorship (1866); Kenyon College, Gambier, Ohio, $25,000, for a mathematics and civil engineering professorship (November 1866); and former general, then President Robert E. Lee’s Washington College (renamed Washington and Lee University, 1871), Lexington, Virginia, $60,000 for a mathematics professorship (September 1869).
He gave $20,000 publication funds each to the Maryland Historical Society, Baltimore (November 5, 1866), and the Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston (January 1, 1867). He gave to the United States Sanitary Commission to aid Civil War orphans, widows, and disabled veterans $10,000 (1864). To the Vatican charitable San Spirito Hospital, Rome, Italy, he gave $19,300 (April 5, 1867). He built a Memorial Congregational Church in his mother’s memory in her hometown, Georgetown, Massachusetts, $70,000 (1866).
For patriotic causes he gave to the Lexington Monument in what is now Peabody, Massachusetts, $300 (1835); the Bunker Hill Memorial, Boston, Massachusetts, $500 (June 3, 1845); and the Washington Monument, Washington, D. C., $1,000 (July 4, 1854).
The Peabody Education Fund for the South
His most influential U. S. gift was the $2 million Peabody Education Fund (PEF, 1867-1914) to promote public schools in the eleven former Confederate states plus West Virginia, added because of its poverty. For 47 years the PEF helped promote public schools in the devastated post-Civil War South, focusing on public elementary and secondary schools, then on teacher training institutes and normal colleges, and finally on rural public schools.
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 (in 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 227 years (1785-2012), 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 (voted in recent years top U.S. Teacher Education Institution) 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 March 1862) to subsidize low rent model housing for London’s working poor.
Some 50,000 low income Londoners (March 2012) lived in some 20,00 Peabody apartments on some 90 estates in most of London’s boroughs. The Peabody Trust, which built and administers the Peabody Homes of London, valued at some $2 billion, is Peabody’s most successful philanthropy (and least known by Americans).
George Peabody’s 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.”
The George 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, George 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.
George Peabody’s Gifts to Robert E. 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.
R.E. 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.”
R. E. Lee on George 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.
George Peabody’s 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.
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.”
U.S.-British Angers Over: 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.
U.S.-British Angers Over The Trent Affair
There was also lingering resentment over the still rankling November 8, 1861Trent 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.
The 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 possible war with the U. S. over the Trent Affair, 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 British resentment 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 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’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.
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