This note accompanies the follow episode(s):
The Writer’s Almanac for May 19, 2017: Ode to the Joyful Ones

May 19, 2017: birthday: Johns Hopkins

It is the birthday of American merchant Johns Hopkins, born on a tobacco plantation in Anne Arundel County, Maryland (1795). The Hopkinses were Quakers and in 1807 they’d freed their slaves, so Johns stopped going to school at a young age to help out on the plantation.

He left for Baltimore in 1812 to work in his uncle’s grocery business. He lived with his uncle’s family and fell in love with his cousin Elizabeth, but Quakers strongly opposed the marriage of first cousins. Both Johns and Elizabeth remained single their entire lives. After working for his uncle for seven years, Johns started a dry goods business with his three brothers. They sold goods to farmers in the Shenandoah Valley, and they often took moonshine as payment. Back in Baltimore, they bottled the moonshine and sold it to city folk as “Hopkins’ Best.” Johns invested his profits in the Baltimore and Ohio railroad, turning his modest Hopkins’ Best earnings into a sizeable fortune.

With no wife or children, he began to ponder the fate of his tremendous fortune after his death and in 1867 he incorporated The Johns Hopkins University and The Johns Hopkins Hospital. When he died in 1873, his $7 million fortune was divided between the two institutions.