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Sometimes I Google the names of ancestors and wait to see what happens next. I usually know their vital statistics, such as birth, marriage or death records, and I often know their children, or their parent’s names. However, I want to know the stories that might come up in obscure books or newspapers, or their mentions in town records, annual reports, and church bulletins. You never know what you’ll find.

Imagine my surprise when I found the name of my great grandfather on a list of George Peabody Merit Scholarships recipients in the 1879 graduating class of Peabody High School. George Peabody was a famous resident of Massachusetts, and when South Danvers broke off from Danvers, the citizens named their new town after him- Peabody, Massachusetts.

George Peabody (1795 – 1869) was an entrepreneur and a philanthropist. In 1851 he found a company called “George Peabody and Company”, and later went into business with Junius Spencer Morgan to form “Peabody, Morgan and Company.” Peabody retired in 1864, and firm was renamed “J. S. Morgan” and later “J.P. Morgan” after his son. The international bank JPMorgan Chase traces its roots back to Peabody’s original business. Peabody was the only American ever buried inside Winchester Cathedral in London. He was later re-interred at the Harmony Grove Cemetery in Salem, Massachusetts. One of his philanthropic ventures was this lasting Scholarship, which is still awarded by the city of Peabody, Massachusetts.

I found a website by the Peabody Historical Society that lists each group of Peabody Scholars. Apparently the first award was in 1855. Albert Munroe Wilkinson, my great grandfather, won the award in 1879. Albert’s elder brother, Robert Henry, was also a recipient in 1873. Robert’s future wife, Eliza Harris Poor, won the scholarship in 1871. In 1885, a cousin named Rosetta Mary Munroe won the medal. Another distant cousin, Alice Hubbard Munroe, won in 1913 and her brother Allan Breed Munroe in 1917. Other Wilkinsons won the award in 1941, 1958, and 1974 (perhaps distant cousins?).

From School Committee Report on Peabody Prizes - "...determined that a suitable medal shall be awarded and presented to every pupil who shall pass three years, - constituting the entire course, - in either of these schools (Peabody and Holten), and whose attendance, deportment, and advancement shall have been uniformly satisfactory to the teachers and committee. The die, from which the medals are to be struck, will soon be completed, and the following individuals, who have accomplished the amount required, will be entitled to a "Peabody Medal," and will receive the same at an early day. It is hoped that each and all, thus favored, will feel a strong and sincere determination to have their subsequent deportment and standing in life such as will do them credit, and thus honor the Peabody Medal and the generous friend to whose liberality and thoughtfulness they are indebted for this act of encouragement. By habits of industry and perseverance, by acts of kindness, by manly and upright deportment, and by fidelity in all of life's relations and duties, they will best their appreciation of the gift and the giver."

I don’t know what happened to Albert’s medal, but I do know he also received a set of Dickens books from the Peabody School Committee. When my Dad passed away in 2002 my Mom sorted out his books, and gave me a boxful, including a set of Dickens. Months later I noticed that the inside of the books were inscribed to Albert, my Dad’s grandfather, from the Peabody School Committee. Now I know the full story!

Albert Munroe Wilkinson was in the 1886 Peabody City Directory and he is listed as a bookkeeper at Thomas Proctor's, boarding with his mother at 14 Elm Street in Peabody. He is listed in the Salem City Directory as a bookkeeper at 9 Webster Street, living at 15 Stevens St. in Peabody, Massachusetts. After his marriage to Isabella Lyons Bill they lived on Loring Avenue in Salem. Albert died fairly young at age 47 due to "shock following the removal of gall stones, about 12 hours" signed Dr. Benjamin E. Sibley on his death certificate on 12 May 1908 at Corey Hill Hospital in Brookline, Massachusetts. My Dad never knew his grandfather, because of his early death, and I wish I could have told Dad the story of the George Peabody Merit Scholarship.

The Wilkinson Lineage:

Generation 1. Thomas Wilkinson, born about 1690 in England, died before 1739; married August 1715 in Portsmouth, New Hampshire to Elizabeth Caverly, daughter of William Caverly and Mary Abbott, born about 1696 in Portsmouth, married second 27 Nov 1739 to Philip Jewell.

Generation 2. James Wilkinson, born about 1730, probably in Berwick, Maine, died between 1795 and 1805 in Berwick; married first about 1753 to Hannah Mead, daughter of Thomas Mead and Hannah Stilson, born 9 August 1730 in Wakefield, New Hampshire, died before 1759; married second to Mary Unknown.

Generation 3. William Wilkinson, died after 1840; married 7 February 1788 in South Berwick to Mercy Nason, daughter of Richard Nason and Mary Thompson, born about 1764 in Kittery, Maine.

Generation 4. Aaron Wilkinson, born 22 February 1802 in South Berwick, died 25 November 1879 in Peabody, Massachusetts; married 23 June 1829 to Mercy F. Wilson, daughter of Robert Wilson and Mary Southwick, born 17 June 1803 in South Danvers, died 9 October 1883 in Peabody.

Generation 5. Robert Wilson Wilkinson, born 26 May 1830 in Salem, Massachusetts, died 23 March 1874 in Peabody; married 24 November 1853 in Danvers, Massachusetts to Phebe Cross Munroe, daughter of Luther Simonds Munroe and Olive Flint. Three sons:

1. Robert Henry Wilkinson*, born 14 January 1855 in South Danvers, died 22 September 1884 in Peabody; married 18 April 1883 in Peabody to Eliza Harris Poor*, daughter of Nathan Holt Poor and Abigail Morrill.
2. Walter Wilkinson, born 3 November 1856 in South Danvers, died 2 April 1858 in South Danvers.
3. Albert Munroe Wilkinson*, born 7 November 1860 in Danvers, died 12 May 1908 in Brookline, Massachusetts; married 18 October 1894 in Salem to Isabella Lyons Bill, daughter of Caleb Rand Bill and Ann Margaret Bollman.

*denotes Peabody Merit Medal Scholars

For more information:
A list of the George Peabody Merit Medal Scholars
The History of the George Peabody Merit Scholarship Program
“George Peabody: A Biography” by Franklin Parker, Vanderbilt University Press, 1995 The website of the Peabody, Massachusetts Historical Society

Copyright 2010, Heather Wilkinson Rojo

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