Johns Hopkins (Baltimore, May 19, 1795 – ibid, December 24, 1873) was an American businessman investor, abolitionist and philanthropist, a member of a Quaker family.
He created numerous institutions that bear his name, such as Johns Hopkins Hospital, repeatedly named the number one hospital in the United States by U.S. News & World Report”s annual “Best Hospitals in the Nation” survey; Johns Hopkins University, including such distinct sections as the Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing; the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine; the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health; and the Carey School of Business.
The biography entitled “Johns Hopkins: A Silhouette” written by his cousin Helen Hopkins Thom, was published in 1929 by Johns Hopkins University Press.
Johns Hopkins was one of eleven children of Samuel Hopkins (1759-1814) of Crofton (Maryland) and Hannah Janney (1774-1864) of Loudoun County (Virginia). He lived at Whitehall, a 500-acre (200 ha) tobacco plantation in Anne Arundel County (Maryland). He was named after his grandfather “Johns Hopkins”, who in turn received it when that ancestor”s mother, his great-grandmother Margaret Johns, married Gerard Hopkins.
The Hopkins family belonged to the Religious Society of Friends, also known as “Quakers”. In 1807, they freed their slaves, in accordance with the dictates of their community, which called for the freeing of able-bodied people and the care of others, who would remain on the plantation and provide labor according to their means. The two oldest of the eleven siblings, 12-year-old Johns and his older brother, had to work in the fields, interrupting their formal education. From 1806 to 1809, he probably attended the local school, “The Free School of Anne Arundel County,” in what is now Davidsonville, Maryland.
In 1812, at the age of 17, Hopkins leaves the plantation to work in his uncle Gerard Hopkins” general store in Baltimore. While living with his uncle”s family, John and his cousin Elizabeth, they fall in love; however, they never marry due to the strong Quaker taboo regarding marriage between first cousins.
As he was able, Hopkins supported his foster family, both during his lifetime and posthumously in his will. He bequeathed a house for the residence of his cousin Elizabeth, where he lived until his death in 1889.
The Whitehall Plantation estate is located in Crofton, Maryland. The restored and modified home is on Johns Hopkins Road, just off Reidel Road. The well-kept property is surrounded by the Walden Golf Club and has a memorial plaque.
Hopkins” first experiences in business came when he was put in charge of the wholesale candy store while his uncle was away during the War of 1812. After seven years with his uncle, Hopkins went into business with Benjamin Moore, a fellow Quaker. This business partnership with Moore was later dissolved, due to disagreements created by Hopkins” penchant for accumulating capital in the business.After Moore”s retirement, Hopkins partnered with three of his brothers and the company “Hopkins & Brothers Wholesalers” was founded. The company prospered by selling miscellaneous goods in the Shenandoah Valley by horse-drawn wagons (“Conestoga wagons”), sometimes in exchange for corn whiskey, which was then sold in Baltimore as “Hopkins” Best.” However, most of Hopkins” fortune was made through his judicious investments in a number of enterprises, especially the Baltimore-Ohio (B & O) Railroad, 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 a director of a number of other organizations.
A charitable person, Hopkins put up his own money more than once, not only to help Baltimore City in times of financial crisis, but also to bail the railroad out of debt twice, in 1857 and 1873.
In 1996, Johns Hopkins was ranked #69 in “The Wealthy 100: From Benjamin Franklin to Bill Gates – A Ranking of the Richest Americans. Past and Present.”
From a very young age, Johns Hopkins had regarded wealth as a trust for the benefit of future generations. He is reported to have told his gardener that, “Like the man in the parable, I have had many talents given to me and I feel I am indebted. I am not going to bury them, I am going to give them to boys who aspire to greater culture,” a matter he shared with friends 25 years before Andrew Carnegie published Gospel_of_Wealth.
He died on Christmas Eve 1873 at the home of his cousin Elizabeth.