PEABODY, GEORGE (1795-1869), philanthropist, was descended form an old yeoman family of Hertfordshire, England, named Pabody or Pebody, who six generations before his birth, had emigrated to New England.
He was born at Danvers (now Peabody), Massachusetts, 18th February 1795. The only regular education he received was at the district school, and when only eleven years of age he became apprentice at a grocery store. At the end of four years he became assistant to his brother, who kept a dry goods shop, and a year afterwards, on the shop being burned, to his uncle, who had a business in George Town, District of Columbia. After serving as a volunteer at Fort Warburton in the short war between Great Britain and the United States in 1812, he became partner with Elisha Riggs in a dry goods store, Riggs furnishing the capital, while Peabody had the practical management. As bagman he travelled through the western wilds of New York and Pennsylvania and the plantations of Maryland and Virginia. Through his energy and skill the business increased with astounding rapidity, and on the retirements of Riggs about 1830 Peabody found himself at the head of one of the largest mercantile concerns in the world.
About 1837 he established himself in London as merchant and money-broker at Wanford Court, City, and in 1843 he withdrew from the concern in America. It is, however, as a sagacious and generous philanthropist that Peabody has made his name a household word. While holding aloof from the strife of politics in the United States, he was ready to give his native country the benefit of his business skill and the aid of his wealth in its financial difficulties.
The number of his great benefactions to public objects is too great for bare mention here. It must suffice to name among the more important a gift of £25,000 for educational purposes at Danvers; of £100,000 to found and endow an institution for science in Baltimore, a sum afterwards increased by a second donation of £100,000; of various sums to Harvard University; and of £350,000 for the erection of dwelling-houses for the working-classes in London, which sum was increased by his will to half a million. If this last benefaction has failed to produce the good result anticipated, this has been due to causes for which Peabody was not responsible, and which do not at all detract from the wise beneficence of the gift.
He received from the Queen the offer of baronetcy, but declined it. In 1867 the United States Congress awarded him a special vote of thanks for his many large gifts to public institutions in America. He died at Eaton Square, London, 14th November 1869.