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George Peabody Papers, 1815-1927, undated

Identifier: MSS 181

Scope and Content Note

The George Peabody Papers contain the business and personal papers of George Peabody, one of the 19th century's most prosperous merchant bankers and notable social philanthropists. The collection documents the business acumen of this Danvers-born merchant which propelled him into international trade and banking. Reflected in the papers is Peabody's involvement in Peabody Riggs & Co. and George Peabody & Co., as well as his interests in such ventures as United States securities, railroads and transatlantic telegraph companies. Peabody's business papers are arranged by form, rather than by type of business. The papers also illuminate Peabody's social and philanthropic interests in education, public health, and improved Anglo-American relations. The collection is divided into nine series.

Series I. Business Correspondence, Outgoing contains letterbooks and pressbook correspondence from Peabody and his company clerks to partners and business associates. Subseries A. To Peabody Riggs & Co. includes Peabody's pressbook correspondence written while he was in London, coordinating the firm's mercantile activities. These letters cover the eight-year period (1837 to 1845) before he terminated his association with the company. Subseries B. General includes pressbook correspondence from 1834 to 1868 with many private letters to business associates with mirror the inner workings of Peabody's mercantile and banking ventures. Letterbook volume 42 also contains private business letters.

Subseries C. Letterbooks document the activities of George Peabody & Co. from 1845 to 1854, when J.S. Morgan became a partner in the firm. Letterbook volumes 1-21 contain correspondence to international merchants and bankers from 1845 to 1851. Letterbooks covering the years 1851 to 1854 are divided into two sections: volumes 21-25 with letters to the United States, Canada, South America, and the Far East; and volumes 26-41 (originally labeled volumes A-P) to Great Britain, Europe, the Near East, and India.

Series II. Business Correspondence, Incoming is comprised of 79 linear feet of correspondence from 1815 to 1869 from merchants, bankers, and business associates. The correspondence is divided into three subseries: letters from United States businesses, European businesses, and chronologically arranged pressbooks and duplicate correspondence. The regional divisions of the business correspondence follow the 1851-1854 letterbook groupings, with United States business letters including South American and Far Eastern correspondence, and European business letters including the Near East, Russia, and India. Both of these sections are arranged alphabetically by business (see Appendices I and II for lists of major American and European businesses).

Company correspondence is sometimes filed with the company's president or treasurer. All attempts have been made to cross reference individuals with their employing companies. Companies and individuals may be represented in multiple subseries due to change in name, location, or position. Business correspondence may also include personal and political news, especially in letters from close associates as Richard Bell, William Bend, Charles Humberston, and M. Humphries (see also the Personal Papers for further correspondence from these individuals). Of interest is correspondence which Peabody received from his partners over the years: correspondence received from Peabody Riggs & Co. while Peabody was a member of the firm working in London; letters from A. W. Peabody and H. T. Jenkins, junior partners in Peabody Riggs & Co. ; correspondence from Wetmore & Cryder, partners of George Peabody & Co. from 1844 to 1847; and letters from C. C. Gooch, a clerk and later a partner in George Peabody & Co. Also of note is correspondence from companies which cooperated with Peabody on special ventures: Corcoran & Riggs and Baring Brothers, which worked with Peabody on the Mexican War bonds of 1848; C. M. Lampson and P. Chouteau, who helped coordinate the sale of British-manufactured rails to United States railroads; Francis Thomas, George C. Washington, and John P. Ingle of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Co. , who oversaw much of the marketing of the Maryland bonds; and Cyrus Fields of the Atlantic Telegraph Company, who organized international efforts to establish a transatlantic telegraph line.

Series III. Account Books contains 166 volumes generated by Peabody Riggs & Co. and George Peabody & Co. Included are ledgers, journals, account currents, and invoice books. Volumes which deal specifically with stocks and securities include draft diaries and registers. Additional account books documenting the continuation and settlement of Peabody's business by his executors may be found in the Estate Papers.

Series IV. Financial and Legal Records represents the activities of both Peabody Riggs & Co. and George Peabody & Co. The papers include general accounts, filed chronologically by year, cargo warrants, and legal and insurance records. Subseries A. General Accounts includes financial records of each year which may contain bills of lading, invoices, inventories, statements, stocks, contracts, brokers' guarantees, and accounts. Periodic specialized folders also occur, including ships' papers, accounts of particular companies, commodity accounts (such as iron, flour, or timber accounts), and accounts and reports of mercantile credit associations. The folders of papers relating to bills in connection with James Robb and Co. contains correspondence, bills of lading, insurance policies, and miscellaneous notes. Subseries B. Cargo Warrants is arranged chronologically by vessel and consist of primarily tea warrants, although silk and rhubarb warrants are also included. Subseries C. Legal and Insurance Records includes Peabody's co-partnership articles with Samuel Riggs (1834), H.T. Jenkins and A.W. Peabody (1837), Wetmore & Cryder (1844), and Charles C. Gooch (1852). Also included are legal papers regarding United States securities, railroads, patents, canal companies, and the settlement of Benjamin Gibbs Mitchell's business.

Series V. Personal Papers contains Peabody's family and personal correspondence, speeches, social, and philanthropic letters, financial, legal, and miscellaneous papers. Family correspondence includes letters from Peabody's siblings, Achsah, Thomas, and Jeremiah Peabody, Judith (Peabody) and J. Russell, Sophronia (Peabody) and Elbridge Little, and Mary (Peabody) and Caleb Marsh. Also included is correspondence with Peabody's nephews, O.C. Marsh and George Peabody Russell, who received financial assistance from their uncle for their education. Personal correspondence covers a wide variety of Peabody's personal, civic, and social activities. Among the more personal letters are those from the Tiffany family, including correspondence from Elise Tiffany, and correspondence from William Bend regarding Peabody's engagement to Esther Hoppin in 1838-1839. Letters from business associates and friends often describe political events as well as personal news (also see the business correspondence for occasional references to personal matters). Due to his prominent position in international trade, Peabody was also acquainted with many consuls, ministers, and political figures, such as James Buchanan, George Mifflin Dallas, Edward Everett, Milliard Fillmore, Horace Greeley, Joseph Reed Ingersoll, Abbott Lawrence, Martin Van Buren, and Daniel Webster (see the Appendix III for dates of correspondence from these individuals).

Personal correspondence also reflects Peabody's interest in and financial support of various individuals and causes, including sculptor Hiram Powers, portraitist George Healy (who painted Peabody's portrait for the opening of the Peabody Institute in Danvers), the Crystal Palace Exhibition in 1851, planned construction of the Panama Canal in 1852, Grinnell's search for explorer Sir John Franklin, educational and historical societies such as the Peabody Institutes in Baltimore and Danvers, and the Peabody Donation Fund established in 1862 (see Peabody's instructions to the fund trustees in box 197, folder 2, and a facsimile letter of appreciation from Queen Victoria March 28, 1866). Of special interest are letters from Delia S. Bacon, who sought Peabody's financial aid during her research on the "true" authorship of Shakespeare's works (see also a letter of introduction for Bacon from Ralph Waldo Emerson March 26, 1853). Also of note is correspondence regarding Peabody's 4th of July Anglo-American dinners, and the political furor which Daniel E. Sickles caused following the toasts made at the 1854 dinner.

Social correspondence includes such general correspondence as letters of introduction, thank you notes, invitations, acceptances and regrets, and requests for aid to individuals and institutions.

Financial and legal papers include household and land investment accounts, philanthropic subscriptions, notes of cash paid to Peabody's nephews and other relatives, and a copy of Stephen Peabody's 1849 will. Of interest is an 1866 account book, possibly for the erection of the Memorial Church in Georgetown, Massachusetts.

Series VI. Estate Papers contains correspondence, legal, and financial records from 1869 to 1927. These reflect the activities of executors Charles W. Chandler, Robert S. Peabody, and George Peabody Russell, who settled and divided Peabody's estate. Included are Peabody's memorandums for wills in 1827 and 1832, a codicil made for his will in 1869, and a description of the Peabody family trust. Also of interest are reports of the Peabody Donation Fund trustees and photographs of the Hammersmith Estate.

Series VII. Miscellaneous and Collected Papers contains a variety of written, printed, and graphic materials collected by or about Peabody. These papers include memorandums (including Peabody's guest lists about seating arrangements), circulars, printed programs and invitations from events sponsored by Peabody, graphics (including engravings of Peabody and O.C. Marsh), scrapbooks of Civil War telegrams and memorandums, and clippings collected by or about Peabody.

Series VIII. Pamphlets reflects Peabody's business and civic interests. Pamphlets concerning Peabody foundations include items on the Peabody Institutes in Baltimore and Danvers, and the Peabody Education and Donation Funds. The business pamphlets cover banks, railroads, the Atlantic Telegraph Co., and political reports on United States securities. Peabody's civic interests are mirrored in the pamphlets on public health, hospitals, charities, education (including women's education), the sciences, historical societies, and international law.

Series IX. Newspapers consists of newspapers from 1837-1897 included in Peabody's library. Often articles about Peabody are marked in pen. Newspapers are arranged geographically, then alphabetically. See Appendix IV for a geographical list.


  • Creation: 1815-1927, undated


Restrictions on Access

This collection is open for research use.

Biographical Sketch

George Peabody was born February 18, 1795, in Danvers, Massachusetts, to Thomas and Judith (Dodge) Peabody. He was apprenticed at the age of 12 to Captain Sylvester Proctor and worked in his general store in Danvers. He continued his practical business education in 1811 when he worked for his elder brother, David, in a Newburyport drapery shop. In 1812, at the age of seventeen, George Peabody set up a store in the Washington, D.C. neighborhood of Georgetown with his uncle, John Peabody.

In 1815, Peabody joined Elisha Riggs to create a wholesale dry good firm entitled Riggs Peabody & Co., which they shortly thereafter moved to Baltimore. Peabody would live and work in Baltimore for the next twenty years. In addition to his domestic business, Peabody was a notable name and personage on the international market. Peabody spent a considerable amount of time over the next several decades in London. In 1829, the company restructured. Peabody became a senior partner with Elisha and Samuel Riggs as junior partners. At this time the company was renamed Peabody Riggs & Co.

The 1837 economic panic led to financial failures both domestically and abroad. Two years later, Peabody notified Peabody Riggs & Co. of his retirement from the firm, though he remained a financial advisor.

In 1844, Peabody founded a banking firm, George Peabody & Co. out of London, which dealt with American railroads in addition to dry goods. Peabody worked in partnership with the firm Wetmore & Cryder. This relationship was suspended in 1847 due to the British financial crisis. In 1854, Peabody took on Junius Spencer Morgan (father of J.P. Morgan) as a partner in George Peabody & Co. Ten years later, Peabody retired from the firm which was then renamed J.S. Morgan & Co.

In addition to his vast business acumen, George Peabody was a world-renowned philanthropist. Peabody founded the multi-disciplinary Peabody Institute at Johns Hopkins University in 1857, followed by the Peabody Donation Fund (now the Peabody Trust) of London which, in addition to other works, continues to provide low-income housing. In 1866 he founded Harvard University's Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology and Yale University's Peabody Museum of Natural History. The Peabody Education Fund (founded to develop education in the American South in 1867) created the George Peabody College for Teachers which is now a part of Vanderbilt University. Peabody also founded several public libraries and other schools of education.

Peabody died on November 4, 1869 in England where his body was laid in state in Westminster Abbey before being returned to the United States and buried in Harmony Grove Cemetery in Salem, Massachusetts, on February 8, 1870.


179.68 linear feet (296 boxes, 175 volumes, 21 flat files )

Language of Materials



The George Peabody Papers contain the business and personal papers of George Peabody, one of the 19th century's most prosperous merchant bankers and notable social philanthropists.

Series List

SERIES I. Business Correspondence, Outgoing

  • A. To Peabody Riggs & Co.
  • B. General
  • C. Letterbooks
SERIES II. Business Correspondence, Incoming
  • A. North American, South American, and Far East Asian Businesses
  • B. European and Near East Asian Businesses
  • C. Pressbook and Duplicate Correspondence
SERIES III. Account Books

SERIES IV. Financial and Legal Records
  • A. General Accounts
  • B. Cargo Warrants
  • C. Legal and Insurance Records
SERIES V. Personal Papers

SERIES VI. Estate Papers

SERIES VII. Miscellaneous and Collected Papers

SERIES VIII. Pamphlets

SERIES IX. Newspapers

Physical Location

Phillips Library Stacks


The George Peabody Papers are a reorganization of 140 boxes of manuscript material, 42 letterbooks, 180 account books, 16 boxes of newspapers, and several miscellaneous scrapbooks and manuscripts. Soon after his death in 1869, Peabody's business papers were removed from London and stored at Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, by his nephew, Robert Singleton Peabody. Preliminary organization of the papers was begun in the early 1930s (see the control file for the inventory made at this time). In 1935, Professor Warren K. Moorehead of Phillips Academy transferred the collection to the Essex Institute.

Papers of Julia, David, Robert S. Peabody, and George Peabody Chandler, originally located with the George Peabody Papers, were removed to Family Manuscripts. Print items were moved to the library's print collection.

Additional items were found in MH 178 and added to this collection in 2020. Correspondence dated February 11, 1820; January 27, 1821; January 10, 1839; were purchased from Goodspeed’s on December 10, 1975 (formerly cataloged as E P352). Letters to Elisha Riggs, dated August 18, 1841, April 14, 1840, and a carte de visite were purchased May 2002 (Acc 2002.048).

Bibliography and Related Collections

Hidy, Muriel Emmie. George Peabody, Merchant and Financier. New York: Arno Press, 1978.

Parker, Franklin. George Peabody: A Biography. Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press, 1971.

George Peabody Correspondence, 1854-1868, MSS 333.

Eastern Railroad Company Records, 1839, 1847, Fam. Mss. 275

Salem Light Infantry Records, 1805-1894, MM 12.

Processing Information

Collection processed by Sylvia B. Kennick, May 1985. Conserved by Elizabeth Balcom, Sylvia B. Kennick and Caroline Preston, April 1985. Updated by Catherine Robertson, Tamara Gaydos, Hilary Streifer, October 2015. Additional materials added 2020 and 2022.


George Peabody Papers, 1815-1927, undated
Processed by: Sylvia B. Kennick; Conserved by: Elizabeth Balcom, Sylvia B. Kennick and Caroline Preston, May 1985; Updated by: Catherine Robertson, Tamara Gaydos, Hilary Streifer, July 2017; machine-readable finding aid created by: Rajkumar Natarajan, updated by Hilary Streifer. Finding aid updated by Hilary Streifer August 2020 and November 2022.
November 2022
Description rules
Language of description
Script of description
Conservation for this collection was funded by a grant from the Salem Marine Society. Processing of the papers was made possible by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Repository Details

Part of the Phillips Library Repository

Peabody Essex Museum
306 Newburyport Turnpike
Rowley MA 01969 USA