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Johns Hopkins
Portrait of Johns Hopkins
Hopkins, c. 1871
Born(1795-05-19)May 19, 1795
DiedDecember 24, 1873(1873-12-24) (aged 78)
Burial placeGreen Mount Cemetery
MonumentsJohns Hopkins Monument at Johns Hopkins University
EducationFree School of Anne Arundel County
Occupation(s)Entrepreneur, investor, philanthropist
RelativesGerard T. Hopkins (uncle)

Johns Hopkins (May 19, 1795 – December 24, 1873) was an American merchant, investor, and philanthropist. Born on a plantation, he left his home to start a career at the age of 17, and settled in Baltimore, Maryland, where he remained for most of his life.

Hopkins invested heavily in the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad (B&O), which eventually led to his appointment as finance director of the company. He was also president of Baltimore-based Merchants' National Bank.[a] Hopkins was a staunch supporter of Abraham Lincoln and the Union, often using his Maryland residence as a gathering place for Union strategists. He was a Quaker and supporter of the abolitionist cause.

Hopkins was a philanthropist his whole life. His philanthropic giving increased significantly after the Civil War. His concern for the poor and newly-freed slave populations drove him to create free medical facilities, orphanages, asylums, and schools to help alleviate the impoverished conditions for all, regardless of race, sex, age, or religion, but especially focused on the young. Following his death, his bequests founded numerous institutions bearing his name, most notably Johns Hopkins Hospital and the Johns Hopkins University system, including its academic divisions: Johns Hopkins School of Nursing, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Johns Hopkins Carey Business School, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. At the time, it was the largest philanthropic bequest ever made to an American educational institution.

Early life and education

Johns Hopkins was born on May 19, 1795, at his family's home of White's Hall, a 500-acre (200 ha) tobacco plantation in Anne Arundel County, Maryland.[1] His first name was inherited from his grandfather Johns Hopkins, who received his first name from his mother Margaret Johns.[2][3][4][5] He was one of eleven children born to Samuel Hopkins of Crofton, Maryland, and Hannah Janney, of Loudoun County, Virginia.[2]

The Hopkins family were of English descent and Quakers. They emancipated their enslaved laborers in 1778 in accordance with their Quaker meeting's decree, which called for freeing the able-bodied and caring for the others, who would remain at the plantation and provide labor as they could.[6] The second eldest of eleven children, Hopkins was required to work on the farm alongside his siblings and indentured and free Black laborers. From 1806 to 1809, he likely attended The Free School of Anne Arundel County, which was located in modern-day Davidsonville, Maryland.[citation needed]

In 1812, at the age of 17, Hopkins left the plantation to work in his uncle Gerard T. Hopkins's Baltimore wholesale grocery business. Gerard T. Hopkins was an established merchant and clerk of the Baltimore Yearly Meeting of Friends. While living with his uncle's family, Johns and his cousin, Elizabeth, fell in love; however, the Quaker taboo against the marriage of first cousins was especially strong, and neither Johns nor Elizabeth ever married.[1]

As he became able, Hopkins provided for his extended family, both during his life and posthumously through his will. He bequeathed a home for Elizabeth, where she lived until her death in 1889. He also gave $5,000 and a house to his longest-serving servant, James Jones, and $3,000 to two other servants.

Whiteshall Plantation is located in today's Crofton, Maryland. Its home, since modified, is on Johns Hopkins Road, adjacent to Riedel Road. The property is surrounded by Walden Golf Course and bears a historic marker.


Share of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, issued July 26, 1856 and signed by Johns Hopkins as the company's pro tem president

Hopkins' early experiences and successes in business came when he was put in charge of the store while his uncle was away during the War of 1812. After seven years with his uncle, Hopkins went into business together with Benjamin Moore, a fellow Quaker. The business partnership was later dissolved with Moore alleging Hopkins' penchant for capital accumulation as the cause for the divide.[1]

After Moore's withdrawal, Hopkins partnered with three of his brothers and established Hopkins & Brothers Wholesalers in 1819.[7] The company prospered by selling various wares in the Shenandoah Valley from Conestoga wagons, sometimes in exchange for corn whiskey, which was then sold in Baltimore as "Hopkins' Best". The bulk of Hopkins's fortune, however, was made by his judicious investments in myriad ventures, most notably the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad (B&O), of which he became a director in 1847 and chairman of the Finance Committee in 1855. He was also President of Merchants' Bank as well as director of a number of other organizations.[8] After a successful career, Hopkins was able to retire at the age of 52 in 1847.[7]

A charitable individual, Hopkins put up his own money more than once to not only aid Baltimore City during times of financial crises but also to twice bail the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad company out of debt, in 1857 and 1873.[9]

In 1996, Johns Hopkins ranked 69th in "The Wealthy 100: From Benjamin Franklin to Bill Gates: A Ranking of the Richest Americans, Past and Present".[10][11]

Civil War

One of the first campaigns of the American Civil War was planned at Hopkins' summer estate, Clifton, where he had also entertained a number of foreign dignitaries, including the future King Edward VII.[1] Hopkins was a strong supporter of the Union, unlike some Marylanders, who sympathized with and often supported the South and the Confederacy.[12] During the Civil War, Clifton became a frequent meeting place for local Union sympathizers, and federal officials.

Hopkins' support of Abraham Lincoln also often put him at odds with some of Maryland's most prominent people, including Supreme Court Justice Roger B. Taney who continually opposed Lincoln's presidential decisions such as limiting habeas corpus and stationing Union Army troops in Maryland. In 1862, Hopkins wrote a letter to Lincoln requesting that he not heed the detractors' calls and continue to keep soldiers stationed in Maryland. Hopkins also pledged financial and logistic support to Lincoln, in particular the free use of the B&O railway system.[13][14]


Johns Hopkins Monument at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore

In 2020, Johns Hopkins University researchers discovered that Johns Hopkins may have owned or employed enslaved people who worked in his home and on his country estate, citing census records from 1840 and 1850.[15][16]

Hopkins' reputation as an abolitionist is currently disputed. In an email sent from Johns Hopkins University to all employees on December 9, 2020, the university wrote that, "The current research done by Martha S. Jones and Allison Seyler finds no evidence to substantiate the description of Johns Hopkins as an abolitionist, and they have explored and brought to light a number of other relevant materials. They have been unable to document the story of Johns Hopkins' parents freeing enslaved people in 1807, but they have found a partial freeing of enslaved people in 1778 by Johns Hopkins' grandfather, and also continued slaveholding and transactions involving enslaved persons for decades thereafter. They have looked more closely at an 1838 letter from the Hopkins Brothers (a firm in which Johns Hopkins was a principal) in which an enslaved person is accepted as collateral for a debt owed, and recently located an additional obituary in which Johns Hopkins is described as holding antislavery political views (consistent with the letter conveying his established support for President Lincoln and the Union) and as purchasing an enslaved person for the purpose of securing his eventual freedom. Still other documents contain laudatory comments by Johns Hopkins' contemporaries, including prominent Black leaders, praising his visionary philanthropic support for the establishment of an orphanage for Black children."[17]

A second group of scholars disputes the university's December 2020 declarations. In a pre-print paper published by the Open Science Framework, these scholars argue that Johns Hopkins's parents and grandparents were devout Quakers who liberated the family's enslaved laborers prior to 1800, that Johns Hopkins was an emancipationist who supported the movement to end slavery within the limits of the laws governing Maryland, and that the available documentation, including relevant tax records these researchers have uncovered, does not support the university's claim that Johns Hopkins was a slaveholder.[18]

Before the discovery of possible slaveholding or employment, Johns Hopkins had been described as being an "abolitionist before the word was even invented", having been represented as such both prior to the Civil War period, as well as during the Civil War and Reconstruction Era.[8][19][20] Prior to the Civil War, Johns Hopkins worked closely with two of America's most famous abolitionists, Myrtilla Miner[21] and Henry Ward Beecher.[21] During the Civil War, Johns Hopkins, being a staunch supporter of Lincoln and the Union, was instrumental in bringing fruition to Lincoln's emancipatory vision.[22]

After the Civil War and during Reconstruction, Johns Hopkins's stance on abolitionism infuriated many prominent people in Baltimore.[23][24] During Reconstruction and up to his death[25] his abolitionism was expressed in the documents founding the Johns Hopkins Institutions and reported in newspaper articles before, during, and after the founding of these institutions. Before the war, there was significant written opposition to his support for Myrtilla Miner's founding of a school for African American females (now the University of the District of Columbia).[26] In a letter to the editor, one subscriber to the widely circulated De Bow's Review wrote:

"It now seems that the Abolitionists not only propose to colonize Virginia from their own numbers, but that they are about to make the District of Columbia, in the midst of the slave region, and once under the jurisdiction of a slave State, the centre of an education movement, which shall embrace the free negroes of the whole North. A vast negro boarding school or college is proposed to be established in the City of Washington, the site for which has been purchased. The proposed edifice is designed to accommodate 150 scholars, and to furnish homes for the teachers and pupils from a distance ... The names of the Trustees ought to be mentioned particularly, as some of them are Southern men, and it might interest the South to know who they are..."[26]

Similarly, opposition (and some support) was expressed during Reconstruction, such as in 1867, the same year he filed papers incorporating the Johns Hopkins Institutions, when he attempted unsuccessfully to stop the convening of the Maryland Constitutional Convention where the Democratic Party came into power and where a new state Constitution, the Constitution still in effect, was voted to replace the 1864 Constitution of the Republicans previously in power.[24]

Apparent also in the literature of the times was opposition, and support for, the various other ways he expressed opposition to the racial practices that were beginning to emerge, and re-emerge as well, in the city of Baltimore, the state of Maryland, the nation, and in the posthumously constructed and founded institutions that would carry his name.[27] A Baltimore American journalist praised Hopkins for founding three institutions, a university, a hospital, and an orphan asylum, specifically for colored children, adding that Hopkins was a "man (beyond his times) who knew no race" citing his provisions for both blacks and whites in the plans for his hospital. The reporter also pointed to similarities between Benjamin Franklin's and Johns Hopkins's views on hospital care and construction, such as their shared interest in free hospitals and the availability of emergency services without prejudice. This article, first published in 1870, also accompanied Hopkins's obituary in the Baltimore American as a tribute in 1873. Cited in many of the newspaper articles on him during his lifetime and immediately after his death were his provisions of scholarships for the poor, and quality health services for the under-served without regard to their age, sex, or color, the colored children asylum and other orphanages, and the mentally ill and convalescents.

A biography, Johns Hopkins: A Silhouette, was written by Hopkins' grandniece, Helen Hopkins Thom, and published in 1929 by Johns Hopkins University Press. This biography was one source for the story that Hopkins was an abolitionist.


See also: History of the Johns Hopkins University

Interior of Johns Hopkins University's library

Hopkins lived his entire adult life in Baltimore and made many friends among the city's social elite, many of them Quakers. One of these friends was George Peabody (b. 1795), who in 1857 founded the Peabody Institute in Baltimore. Examples of Hopkins' public giving were evident in Baltimore with public buildings, housing, free libraries, schools, and foundations constructed from his philanthropic giving. On the advice of Peabody, some believe, Hopkins determined to use his great wealth for the public good.

The Civil War and yellow fever and cholera epidemics took a great toll on Baltimore. In the summer of 1832 alone, the yellow fever and cholera epidemics killed 853 in Baltimore. Hopkins was keenly aware of the city's need for medical facilities in light of the medical advances made during the Civil War. In 1870, he made a will setting aside $7 million, (~$149 million in 2023) mostly in B&O stock, for the incorporation of a free hospital and affiliated medical and nurses' training colleges, an orphanage for Black children, and a university in Baltimore. The hospital and orphan asylum were overseen by a 12-member hospital board of trustees, and the university by a 12-member university board of trustees. Many board members were on both boards. In accordance with Hopkins' will, the Johns Hopkins Colored Children Orphan Asylum[28] was founded in 1875; Johns Hopkins University was founded in 1876; the Johns Hopkins Press, the longest continuously operating academic press in the U.S., was founded in 1878; Johns Hopkins Hospital and Johns Hopkins School of Nursing were founded in 1889; the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine was founded in 1893; and the Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health was founded in 1916.[citation needed]

Hopkins' views on his bequests, and on the duties and responsibilities of the two boards of trustees, especially the hospital board of trustees led by his friend and fellow Quaker Francis King, were formally stated primarily in four documents, the incorporation papers filed in 1867, his instruction letter to the hospital trustees dated March 12, 1873, his will, which was quoted extensively in his Baltimore Sun obituary,[29] and in his will's two codicils, one dated 1870 and a second dated 1873.[30]

In these documents, Hopkins made provisions for scholarships to be provided for poor youths in the states where he had made his wealth and assistance to orphanages other than the one established for African American children, to members of his family, to those he employed, his cousin Elizabeth, to other institutions for the care and education of youths regardless of color, and the care of the elderly and the ill, including the mentally ill and convalescents.

John Rudolph Niernsee, one of the most notable architects of the time, designed the orphan asylum and helped to design the Johns Hopkins Hospital. The original site for Johns Hopkins University had been personally selected by Hopkins. According to his will, it was to be located at his summer estate, Clifton. However, a decision was made not to found the university there. The property, now owned by the city of Baltimore, is the site of a golf course and a park named Clifton Park. While Johns Hopkins Colored Children Orphan Asylum was founded by the hospital trustees, the other institutions that carry the name of Johns Hopkins were founded under the administration of Daniel Coit Gilman, the first president of Johns Hopkins University and Johns Hopkins Hospital, and Gilman's successors.

Colored Children Orphan Asylum

As stipulated in Hopkins's instruction letter, the Johns Hopkins Colored Children Orphan Asylum (JHCCOA)[31] was founded first, in 1875, a year before Gilman's inauguration. The construction of the asylum, including its educational and living facilities, was praised by The Nation and the Baltimore American. The Baltimore American reported wrote that the orphan asylum was a place where "nothing was wanting that could benefit science and humanity". As was done for other Johns Hopkins institutions, it was planned after visits and correspondence with similar institutions in Europe and the U.S.

The Johns Hopkins Orphan Asylum opened with 24 boys and girls. Under Gilman and his successors, the orphanage was later changed to serve as an orphanage and training school for Black female orphans principally as domestic workers and as an orthopiedic convalescent home and school for "colored crippled" children and orphans. The asylum was eventually closed in 1924 nearly 50 years after it opened.

Hospital, university, press, and schools of nursing and medicine

In accordance with Hopkins' March 1873 instruction letter, the school of nursing was founded alongside the hospital in 1889 by the hospital board of trustees in consultation with Florence Nightingale. Both the nursing school and the hospital were founded over a decade after the founding of the orphan asylum in 1875 and the university in 1876. Hopkins's instruction letter explicitly stated his vision for the hospital; first, to provide assistance to the poor of "all races", no matter the indigent patient's "age, sex or color"; second, that wealthier patients would pay for services and thereby subsidize the care provided to the indigent; third, that the hospital would be the administrative unit for the orphan asylum for African American children, which was to receive $25,000 in annual support out of the hospital's half of the endowment; and fourth, that the hospital and orphan asylum should serve 400 patients and 400 children respectively; fifth, that the hospital should be part of the university, and, sixth, that religion but not sectarianism should be an influence in the hospital.

By the end of Gilman's presidency, Johns Hopkins University, Johns Hopkins Press, Johns Hopkins Hospital and Johns Hopkins School of Nursing, and Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, and Johns Hopkins Colored Children Orphan Asylum had been founded; the latter by the trustees, and the others in the order listed under the Gilman administration. "Sex" and "color" were major issues in the early history of the Johns Hopkins Institutions. The founding of the school of nursing is usually linked to Johns Hopkins's statements in his March 1873 instruction letter to the trustees that: "I desire you to establish, in connection with the hospital, a training school for female nurses. This provision will secure the services of women competent to care for those sick in the hospital wards, and will enable you to benefit the whole community by supplying it with a class of trained and experienced nurses".


Hopkins' gravestone (center) in Green Mount Cemetery

Hopkins died on December 24, 1873, in Baltimore.[5]

Following Hopkins's death, The Baltimore Sun published a lengthy obituary that reported, "In the death of Johns Hopkins a career has been closed which affords a rare example of successful energy in individual accumulations, and of practical beneficence in devoting the gains thus acquired to the public." Hopkins' contribution to the founding of Johns Hopkins University become his greatest legacy and was the largest philanthropic bequest ever made to a U.S. educational institution.

Hopkins' Quaker faith and early life experiences, including the 1778 emancipation, had a lasting influence on him throughout his life.[32] Beginning early in his life, Hopkins looked upon his wealth as a trust to benefit future generations. He told his gardener that, "Like the man in the parable, I have had many talents given to me and I feel they are in trust. I shall not bury them but give them to the lads who long for a wider education". His philosophy quietly anticipated Andrew Carnegie's much-publicized Gospel of Wealth by more than 25 years.[1]

In 1973, Johns Hopkins was cited prominently in the Pulitzer Prize-winning book The Americans: The Democratic Experience by Daniel Boorstin, the Librarian of Congress from 1975 to 1987. From November 14, 1975 to September 6, 1976, a portrait of Hopkins was displayed at the National Portrait Gallery in an exhibit on the democratization of America based on Boorstin's book. In 1989, the United States Postal Service issued a $1 postage stamp in Hopkins' honor, as part of the Great Americans series.[33]



  1. ^ a b c d e Kathryn A. Jacob (January 1974). "Mr. Johns Hopkins". The Johns Hopkins Magazine. Vol. 25, no. 1. The Johns Hopkins University. pp. 13–17. Archived from the original on August 25, 2004. Retrieved October 4, 2009.
  2. ^ a b Jacob, Kathryn A. "Mr. Johns Hopkins." Mr. Johns Hopkins. Johns Hopkins University, n.d. Web. October 7, 2013. <"Mr. Johns Hopkins". Archived from the original on October 17, 2015. Retrieved October 4, 2009.>.
  3. ^ "Reexamining the history of our founder". December 9, 2020. Archived from the original on March 24, 2021. Retrieved December 9, 2020.
  4. ^ Jones, Martha S. (December 9, 2020). "The founder of Johns Hopkins owned enslaved people. Our university must face a reckoning". The Washington Post. Retrieved December 13, 2020.
  5. ^ a b "Death of Johns Hopkins", The Baltimore Sun, December 25, 1873
  6. ^ Hopkins Thom, Helen (1929), Johns Hopkins: A Silhouette, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, retrieved October 4, 2009 — the first and only book-length biography on Johns Hopkins. Used as source by Jacob cited above, Findalibrary.
  7. ^ a b "Hopkins, Johns." Britannica Concise Encyclopedia. Chicago: Encyclopædia Britannica, 2012. Credo Reference. Web. October 7, 2013.
  8. ^ a b "If He Could See Us Now: Mr. Johns Hopkins' Legacy Strong University, hospital benefactor turned 200 on May 19, 1995, Mike Field, Staff Writer, The Gazette, The Newspaper of the Johns Hopkins University". Retrieved October 4, 2009.
  9. ^ "Johns Hopkins". Baltimore Benevolence: A Record of Nineteenth Century Philanthropy & Humane Giving. Maryland State Archives. 2001. Retrieved July 27, 2023.
  10. ^ "The Wealthy 100: From Benjamin Franklin to Bill Gates – A Ranking of the Richest Americans, Past and Present". Archived from the original on August 12, 2019. Retrieved October 4, 2009.((cite web)): CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  11. ^ Klepper, Michael; Gunther, Michael (1996), The Wealthy 100: From Benjamin Franklin to Bill Gates—A Ranking of the Richest Americans, Past and Present, Secaucus, New Jersey: Carol Publishing Group, p. xiii, ISBN 978-0-8065-1800-8, OCLC 33818143
  12. ^ [1][permanent dead link] Baltimore and the Nineteenth of April 1861: A Study of the War is the memoir of George William Brown an ex-mayor of Baltimore city.
  13. ^ "The Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress". Library of Congress. Retrieved October 4, 2009.
  14. ^ "Border Town, Style Magazine, 2005". Archived from the original on November 3, 2009. Retrieved October 4, 2009.
  15. ^ "Contrary to century-old family lore, Johns Hopkins was an enslaver". The Johns Hopkins News-Letter. Retrieved December 11, 2020.
  16. ^ "Hopkins researchers discover namesake benefactor owned slaves". Retrieved December 9, 2020.
  17. ^ Phil Helsel (December 9, 2020). "Johns Hopkins, long believed by university to be abolitionist, owned slaves, records show". NBC News.
  18. ^ Van Morgan, Sydney; Becker, Stan; Hopkins, Samuel B.; Papenfuse, Edward C. (May 18, 2021). "Johns Hopkins and Slavery". Open Science Framework. Center for Open Science. doi:10.31219/
  19. ^ [2] The Racial Record of Johns Hopkins University in the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, No. 25, Autumn, 1999, pp. 42–43 in JSTOR
  20. ^ [3] See Jacob's 1974 article and Thom's 1929 biography].
  21. ^ a b "Myrtilla Miner, 2007 Encyclopædia Britannica's Guide to Black History". Retrieved October 4, 2009.
  22. ^ "Johns Hopkins' letter to Lincoln". Library of Congress. Retrieved October 4, 2009.
  23. ^ The Baltimore Sun articles, which can be found online in the Maryland Archives, and William Starr Myers' book on "self-reconstruction" in Maryland,
  24. ^ a b William Starr Myers (1857). The Self-Reconstruction of Maryland, 1864–1867. Johns Hopkins University Studies in Historical and Political Science, Under the Direction of the Departments of History, Political Economy, and Political Science.[clarification needed]
  25. ^ "The Johns Hopkins University – Chronology". Archived from the original on April 15, 2013. Retrieved April 17, 2013. Documents cited in "Chronology", Johns Hopkins University's website. See also "The History of African Americans @ Johns Hopkins University", in particular its chronology and the paper by Danton Rodriguez, "The Racial Record of Johns Hopkins University in the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, No. 25, Autumn, 1999, pp. 42–43 in JSTOR
  26. ^ a b DeBow's Review, Volume 22.
  27. ^ [4] Archived December 1, 2016, at the Wayback Machine "The History of African Americans @ Johns Hopkins University"; see in particular its chronology and the paper by Danton Rodriguez and the chronology on Johns Hopkins University's website cited immediately above. Wolff in a recent article on Baltimore and education during Reconstruction stated that what he saw emerging, during Reconstruction was "slavery under a different name", the disenfranchisement and other practices proposed before the war being carried out after the Civil War.
  28. ^ "The Institutional Records of the Johns Hopkins Hospital Colored Orphan Asylum". Archived from the original on September 1, 2006. Retrieved October 28, 2006. Johns Hopkins University's Website, The Institutional Records of The Johns Hopkins Hospital Colored Orphan Asylum
  29. ^ [5] Obituary, The Baltimore Sun, December 25, 1873, in Johns Hopkins Gazette, January 4, 1999, v. 28, no. 16
  30. ^ [6] The Chronicles of Baltimore: Being a Complete History of "Baltimore Town and Baltimore City from the Earliest Period to the Present Time published in 1874, John Thomas Scharf cited the 1873 instruction letter to the hospital trustees and a city council resolution thanking Johns Hopkins for his philanthropy. Thom's biography and New York and Maryland newspapers were sources that published parts or all of this letter.
  31. ^ [7] Archived July 21, 2006, at the Wayback Machine Johns Hopkins Dream for a Model of its Kind: The JHH Colored Orphans Asylum, abstract, 2000 Conference International Society for the History of Medicine By Dr. P. Reynolds
  32. ^ "Merchants & Miners Transportation Co". Archived from the original on April 20, 2008. Retrieved May 20, 2008. "Merchants & Miners Transportation Co.", [8] "Troopships of World War II"
  33. ^ Scott catalog # 2194A.