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The Ties That Bind: George Peabody's U.S. VIsit

After two decades of living in London, George Peabody kept a tight travel schedule when he visited the U.S. in October 1856.

George Peabody landed in New York City and first stopped in Newport, Rhode Island to visit an old friend, William Shephard Wetmore. After a brief stop in Providence, R.I., he made his way to his sister Judith Dodge’s home in Georgetown, Mass. to greet family members. He casually visited nearby Newburyport to see the Essex County Fair.

The great civic welcome planned by his hometown occurred on October 9. “It is one of those bland Indian Summer days peculiar to New England in the Autumn months, the serene atmosphere and clear skies contributing in no slight degree to the pleasure of the occasion,” wrote Fitch Poole in an account published by the town.

A cone of streamers of various colors, suspended from the peak of the roof, are festooned below, and in the center is a tablet with the historic inscription FOUNDED JUNE 16, 1852, DEDICATED TO KNOWLEDGE AND MORALITY, SEPTEMBER 29, 1854. Over the tablet appeared the Peabody Arms, surmounted by an eagle and canopied by American and British flags, the whole making a neat and beautiful appearance. A multitude of flags of different nations, the stars and stripes and the British ensign waving in close proximity, float high above the street; and just beneath, over the center, streamers radiated in every direction from a scroll emblazoned with the name of Peabody making a complete and brilliant canopy.

Twenty to thirty thousand people lined the route to watch the parade of uniformed fireman, cadets and school children. Speeches took place on a raised platform outside the Peabody Institute on Main Street. A large banquet was held that evening; 1500 citizens paid $1.50 each for admittance to the dinner.

On October 10, George Peabody appeared on our streets and “appeared apparently as fresh and vigorous as usual.” He inquired about the Institute and while at the Library entered his name as an applicant for books.

In mid-October, Peabody went to Buffalo, N.Y. to visit with another old acquaintance, Millard Fillmore, who had been defeated in his bid for the Presidency. He then traveled north to Toronto and Montreal before returning to New York in November. He visited with family in Zanesville, Ohio and then to Cleveland to visit Charles McIlivaine, the President of Kenyon College and a future trustee of the Peabody Trust set up to provide housing for the poor of London.

His busy itinerary took him back to New York City and then to Portland, Maine. He returned to Georgetown to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday and then embarked on a long tour of the South and West. Eager to know America, he traveled by rail to Philadelphia, Pittsburg and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; Baltimore, Maryland and Washington, D.C. before heading south to Charleston, South Carolina; Mobile, Alabama; and hopping a paddle steamer to Natchez, Mississippi. He the returned no by way of Cairo, Illinois; St. Louis, Missouri; and Terre Haute and Indianapolis, Indiana.

Peabody returned to England in August, 1857. It was ten years before George Peabody again visited Essex County.

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