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Johns Hopkins

Birthplace: Whitehall Plantation, Anne Arundel, Maryland, USA
Death: Died in Baltimore, Maryland, USA
Place of Burial: Baltimore, Maryland, USA
Immediate Family:

Son of Samuel Hopkins and Hannah Hopkins
Brother of Gerard Hopkins; Joseph Janney Hopkins; Mahlon Hopkins and Philip Hopkins

Occupation: Philanthropist, Financier, Social Activist
Managed by: Joe Hildebrand
Last Updated:
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Immediate Family

About Johns Hopkins

Financier, philanthropist, university founder, and social activist. Important investor in the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad who used the railroad during the Civil War to transport Union troops to the front. President of Merchant's Bank. A Quaker philanthropist, upon his death left $7 million to found many institutions, including Johns Hopkins University, Johns Hopkins Press, and Johns Hopkins Hospital.

Early Life

On May 19, 1795, Johns Hopkins was born on Whitehall, a 500-acre (two km²) tobacco plantation with approximately 500 slaves located in Anne Arundel County, Maryland. His first name, Johns (not John), was a family name. His great-grandmother, Margaret Johns, married Gerard Hopkins, and they named their son Johns Hopkins, a not-uncommon naming convention at the time; his name was then passed on to his grandson. His parents were Samuel Hopkins (1759-1814), of Anne Arundel County, and Hannah Janney (1774-1864), of Loudoun County, Virginia.

In 1807, the Hopkins family, who were members of the Society of Friends (Quakers), emancipated their slaves, which meant that the formal education of Johns, then 12, had to be interrupted in order to help out on the plantation. Moreover, his help was needed because he was the second oldest of eleven children and, as their local Friends society had decreed, the family freed only the able-bodied slaves, and had to provide for the less able-bodied slaves, who would remain at the plantation and provide labor as they were able. In 1812, at the age of 17, Hopkins left the plantation and went to Baltimore to work in the wholesale grocery business of his uncle, Gerard Hopkins.

While living with his uncle's family, Johns and his cousin, Elizabeth, fell in love, but the taboo against the marriage of first cousins was especially strong among Quakers. Neither Johns nor Elizabeth ever married. Still, just as he would continue to provide for his extended family throughout his life and posthumously through his will, Hopkins bequeathed a home for Elizabeth, where she lived until her death in 1889.

Whitehall Plantation is now located in the Walden Community of Crofton, Maryland. The house, since restored and modified, is located on Johns Hopkins Road, adjacent to Reidel Road. The heavily landscaped house is surrounded by Walden Golf Course, and contains a historic marker. From 1806 to 1809, he likely attended The Free School of Anne Arundel County, which was located in what is now known as Davidsonville, Maryland.


Living his entire adult life in Baltimore, Hopkins made many friends among the city's social elite, many of them Quakers. One of these friends was George Peabody, who was also born in 1795, and who in 1857 founded the Peabody Institute in Baltimore. Other examples of public giving were evident in the city, as public buildings housing free libraries, schools and foundations sprang up along the city's widening streets. On the advice of Peabody, some believe, Hopkins determined to use his great wealth for the public good.

The Civil War had taken its toll on Baltimore, however, as did the yellow fever and cholera epidemics that repeatedly ravaged the nation's cities, killing 853 in Baltimore 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. Many board members were on both boards. The hospital and orphan asylum would each be overseen by the 12-member hospital board of trustees, and the university by the 12-member university board of trustees. Johns Hopkins' bequest was used to found posthumously the Johns Hopkins Colored Children Orphan Asylum first as he requested, in 1875; the Johns Hopkins University in 1876; the Johns Hopkins Press, the longest continuously operating academic press in America, in 1878; the Johns Hopkins Hospital and the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing in 1889; the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine 1893; and the Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health in 1916.

Johns Hopkins' views on his bequests, and on the duties and responsibilities of the two board 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 in his will's two codicils, one dated 1870 and the other dated 1873.

In these documents, Hopkins also made provisions for scholarships to be provided for poor youths in the states where Johns Hopkins had made his wealth, as well as assistance to orphanages other than the one for African American children, to members of his family, to those he employed, black and white, his cousin Elizabeth, and, again, 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 most famous architects of the time, designed the orphan asylum and helped to design the Johns Hopkins Hospital. The original site for the Johns Hopkins University had been chosen personally 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 the 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 the first president of the Johns Hopkins University and Johns Hopkins Hospital, Daniel Coit Gilman and his successors.


Following Hopkins' death, the Baltimore Sun wrote a lengthy obituary which 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.

Johns Hopkins' Quaker faith and his early life experiences, in particular the 1807 emancipation, had a lasting influence through out his life and his posthumous legacy as a businessman, railroad man, banker, investor, ship owner, philanthropist and a founder of several Institutions. From very early on, Johns Hopkins had looked upon his wealth as a trust to benefit future generations. He is said to have 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.

His philanthropy, banking and other business practices were founded neither on slavery nor on the separate but unequal racism of the post Civil War years of his life. In this vein, integral parts of his legacy, as an emancipator, a founder of an orphan asylum for African-American youths, a staunch advocate of abolitionism and of quality care not just for those physically ill, but also for the elderly, the poor, no matter their age, gender, or skin color, and the mentally ill, have by and large been overlooked, even in the institutions that carry his name.

In 1973 Johns Hopkins was cited prominently in the Pulitzer Prize winning book The Americans: The Democratic Experience by Daniel Boorstin, former head of the Library of Congress. From November 14, 1975 to September 6, 1976 Hopkins portrait 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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Johns Hopkins's Timeline

May 19, 1795
Anne Arundel, Maryland, USA
December 24, 1873
Age 78
Baltimore, Maryland, USA
Merchant's Bank
Baltimore, Maryland, USA