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Tue, 05.19.1795

Johns Hopkins, Abolitionist, and Philanthropist born

Johns Hopkins

*Johns Hopkins was born on this date in 1795.  He was a white-American 19th-century entrepreneur, investor, abolitionist and philanthropist. 

Johns Hopkins was one of eleven children born to Samuel Hopkins (1759–1814) of Crofton, Maryland, and Hannah Janney (1774–1864), of Loudoun County, Virginia. His home was Whitehall, a 500-acre (200-ha) tobacco plantation in Anne Arundel County. His first name was inherited from his grandfather Johns Hopkins, who received his first name when his mother, Margaret Johns, married Gerard Hopkins.  The Hopkins family were Quakers.

In 1807, they emancipated their slaves in accordance with their local Society 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.  The second eldest of eleven children, 12-year-old Johns was required to work on the farm, interrupting his formal education. From 1806 to 1809, he likely attended The Free School of Anne Arundel County, located in modern-day Davidsonville, Maryland. In 1812, at 17, He left the plantation to work in his uncle Gerard Hopkins' Baltimore wholesale grocery business. While living with his uncle's family, Hopkins 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. 

As he became able, Hopkins provided for his extended family during his life and posthumously through his will. He bequeathed a home for Elizabeth, where she lived until she died in 1889.  Whitehall Plantation is located in today's Crofton, Maryland. Since restored and modified, its home is on Johns Hopkins Road, adjacent to Riedel Road. The heavily landscaped property is surrounded by Walden Golf Course and bears a historical marker.  Hopkins is described as being an "abolitionist before the word was even invented", having been represented as such both before the American Civil War and during the war and Reconstruction Era.  Several accounts describe the abolitionist influence Hopkins was privy to as a 12-year-old participant in his parents' emancipation of their family's slaves in 1807.  Before that, Johns Hopkins worked closely with two abolitionists, Myrtilla Miner and Henry Ward Beecher

Before the war, there was significant written opposition to his support for Miner's founding of a school for Black females (now the University of the District of Columbia).  During the war, Hopkins, being a staunch supporter of Lincoln and the Union, was instrumental in bringing fruition to Lincoln's emancipation vision.  After the war, Hopkins' abolitionist stance infuriated many prominent people in Baltimore.  In 1867, 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 Radical Republicans previously in power.

However, the civil war had taken its toll on Baltimore, as did yellow fever and cholera epidemics that repeatedly ravaged the nation's cities, killing 853 in the city in the summer of 1832 alone. Hopkins was keenly aware of the city's need for medical facilities, particularly in light of the medical advances made during the war, and in 1870 he made a will setting aside seven million dollars, mostly in B&O stock, for the incorporation of a free hospital and affiliated medical and nurse's training colleges, as well as an orphanage for colored children and a university. The hospital and orphan asylum would each be overseen by the 12-member hospital board of trustees and the university by the 12-member board of trustees. Many board members were on both boards.  

His views on his bequests and 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 from extensively in his Baltimore Sun obituary and his will's two codicils, one dated 1870 and the other dated 1873.  

Johns Hopkins, whose bequests founded numerous institutions bearing his name, most notably Johns Hopkins Hospital and Johns Hopkins University (including its academic divisions such as 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 died on December 24, 1873. Following Hopkins' death, The Baltimore Sun wrote a lengthy obituary that closed thus: "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." His contribution to the university that has become his greatest legacy was, by all accounts, the largest philanthropic bequest ever made to an American educational institution. 

Hopkins' Quaker faith and his early life experiences, in particular the 1807 emancipation, had a lasting influence throughout his life and his posthumous legacy as a businessman, railroad man, banker, investor, ship owner, philanthropist, and founder of several Institutions. From very early on, Johns Hopkins considered his wealth a trust to benefit future generations. He is said to have told his gardener, "like the man in the parable, I have had many talents given to me, and I feel they are in the 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.  A biography entitled Johns Hopkins: A Silhouette, written by his cousin, Helen Hopkins Thom, was published in 1929 by the Johns Hopkins University Press.  In 1973, Johns Hopkins was cited in the book The Americans: The Democratic Experience by Daniel Boorstin, former head of the Library of Congress. 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 Johns Hopkins' honor as part of the Great Americans series.  

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