, Salem, MA


March 11, 2013

McAllister: The richest man in Salem


The Peabodys lived in splendor in a mansion at 136 Essex St., originally built in 1795 by Samuel McIntire for Nathan Read and acquired by Joseph from a later owner, and on a farm (now called Glen Magna) in Danvers. The latter he rented during the War of 1812 as a retreat for his family in the event that the British might attack Salem. Peabody later purchased the farm, in 1814, and summered there for the last three decades of his life.

The Essex Street mansion, incidentally, was razed in 1855 to make way for the Salem Athenaeum’s Plummer Hall. Today, that building houses the Peabody Essex Museum’s Phillips Library.

Joseph Peabody also owned a wharf and counting house on the South River near the intersection of present-day Derby Street and Hawthorne Boulevard. The wharf must have been a busy place. During his lifetime, Peabody is supposed to have sent out hundreds of vessels and employed 7,000 seamen. Some he sent out just to keep men employed in times of economic hardship.

While Joseph Peabody was appreciated for his contributions to the local economy and respected for his success, the hard-driving merchant was not necessarily beloved by all of Salem’s citizens. When his great-grandson Augustus Peabody Gardner was running for Congress in the early 1900s, an ancient ex-mariner asked if he, Gardner, was a descendant of Joseph Peabody.

When the candidate acknowledged that he was indeed, the prospective voter queried, “Be you as mean as he was?”


Salem historian Jim McAllister writes a regular column for The Salem News.




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