Let’s dig into a historical Christmas rumor.
Was George Peabody was the inspiration for the character of Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol?
The first chapter of historian Ron Chernow’s book The House of Morgan is named “Scrooge”. Chernow describes the complicated and sometimes difficult relationship between George Peabody and his former business partners, the Morgan family – later of JP Morgan fame. The most damning anecdotes come from Morgan family oral history and unpublished family papers. As such, they are not the most reliable source on George Peabody’s character.
Chernow states “Beneath a genial air, Peabody was a solitary miser.” Let’s unpack this statement.
George Peabody was a bachelor, after a failed engagement, but he was by no means solitary. He provided for the livelihoods and education of his siblings, along with their children. He had an extensive network of friends and business associates. One of the most coveted invitations in London was to Peabody’s annual Fourth of July party.
In 1827, when Peabody traveled to England for the first time, he wrote a will, in case anything should happen during his journey. His money would distributed to his family members, as well as two charitable organizations (Orphaline Female School and the Baltimore General Dispensary).
Was George Peabody miserly (or in other words, cheap)? Yes and no. George Peabody was a workaholic who spent little of his fortune on himself. His annual income was $300,000 and he spent about $3,000. A famous Peabody anecdote has him waiting in the rain, waiting for a one-penny bus rather than get home quicker on the two-penny bus.
By 1843, when A Christmas Carol was published, George Peabody had given donations to schools in Baltimore and what was then Danvers (now Peabody). It was then that Peabody began, in earnest, his life’s work as a philanthropist. George Peabody was likely inspired by the message of A Christmas Carol – to be kinder and more generous.