I emailed a few people this morning noting that Rufus King died at his Jamaica (Queens) home on this date in 1827, 195 years ago today. One of them emailed back noting that King was born one years prior to Mozart and thus came of age not just during the American and French Revolutions but in an era when he got to hear the work of some of the greatest composers of all time. Beethoven himself died in March 1827, one month prior to King. Last June a friend and I ventured out to the King Manor, where among other things we visited the Grace Episcopal Church cemetery around the corner from the house. Most of the Kings are interred here. For more, here is the first of two article about Rufus King I wrote for the Journal of the American Revolution published two years ago almost to the day.
The Journal of the American Revolution has uploaded my article about the early days of Tammany. I hope you enjoy reading it a much I enjoyed putting it together.
This past Thursday in the early evening I attended a virtual writing event at which we the participants wrote in bursts of twenty minute increments with a brief break in between to check in on how we did. For me it was a chance to get back to my manuscript about the Rufus King family, which I had to put aside in mid-August to prepare for the academic year. I mention it because the book begins with a brief telling of the October 1881 centennial observation of the Siege of Yorktown. Cornwallis surrendered to Washington on October 19, 1781. In what seems a lifetime ago I wrote a little bit about this five years ago in August 2015, though from a different angle from which I will be focusing in the King book.
The reason I mentioned all this here is because John Alsop King, Jr., Rufus King’s grandson, was one of the leaders of the New York delegation. He was hardly unique: the grandsons of many of the leading figures of the Revolutionary War Era participated in the Yorktown observation, which proved hugely important in late nineteenth century diplomacy.
(image/Norman B. Leventhal Map & Education Center of the Boston Public Library)
The editors at the Journal of the American Revolution have posted the second and concluding article I wrote about Rufus King. This article brings King from 1789 to 1805, the year he purchased the house we see above. It worked out well because the scope of the JAR ends in 1805. Anything beyond that isn’t so much part of the Revolutionary or Early American periods. In 1805 King had another third of his life to go, but that’s a story for another time and venue. Work has been progressing on the manuscript about the King family in which I am in the early stages of writing. When the pandemic ends, I intend to visit archives in Massachusetts, Milwaukee, and elsewhere to track down the lives and times of his children, grandchildren, and beyond. Thankfully, there is also a large amount of material related to various Kings here in New York as well.
I love this image that we see above of King Manor. It comes from the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) report. It never quite occurred to me until I wrote the article linked to above that Rufus and wife Mary purchased this hime in 1805 inspired not just by Rufus’s childhood experience in Scarborough, Massachusetts (today Maine), but by the grand manors they would have seen in England when Mr. King was the U.S. ambassador to the Court of St. James’s.
(image/Library of Congress)
I spent the morning tweaking the outline and adding to the King family tree for my book project about the Rufus King family. Keeping the names and dates straight is key because I am covering from the early 1700s through the 1930s and death of Charles King. This morning I came up with a working title for the manuscript: “The Kings in America: One Family in the Forging of a Nation.” In my research today I also came across this 1838 hand-doored engraving and thought I would share. Here we see hikers enjoying the scenery along the Hudson River near Weehawken, New Jersey. It is striking how rural the scene is. This is also the spot where Vice President Aaron Burr mortally wounded Alexander Hamilton in their 1804 duel. The building atop the bluff is Highwood, the home built in the early 1830s by James Gore King, a son of Rufus King. It is poignant that James King built his house on this particular spot; his father Rufus was a good friend of Hamilton’s, and James would have known that this was where the duel took place.
James Gore King entertained Charles Dickens, Washington Irving, Daniel Webster, and others here at his Highwood estate in the decades prior to the Civil War. King was a banker and railroad magnate, among other things. A Whig, he served in the 31st Congress with his older brother John Alsop King from 1849–1851 and thus took part in the debates that evolved into the Compromise of 1850.
(image/Yale University Art Gallery)
This past weekend the editors at the Journal of the American Revolution uploaded this podcast we recorded in early May. This was so much fun to do and I appreciate the opportunity to tell the fascinating story of the King family.
(image/The Maine Historical and Genealogical Recorder)
I spent a good portion of the day finding, reading, and saving various articles related to the King family as I gear up to begin writing my book manuscript in greater earnest over the summer. I am staying as organized as I can because my narrative will go from the early 1700s through the 1930s and cross several generations as they navigate their lives and times. I spent a good chunk of today on Charles King, who is credited with seventy years of military service starting in the 1860s through his involvement training troops that soon went off to France to fight in the Great War. He lived until March 15, 1933, dying after a fall two weeks into the Franklin Roosevelt administration. Charles was the great-grandson of Rufus King.
One of the key aspects to Charles King’s life, in addition to his long military service, was his other career as a writer. His work is little read today, but Charles King was the best-selling author of over five dozen books and 150 some odd magazine articles, working in short and long form fiction, non-fiction, and autobiography. Many called him the “American Kipling” because his life and work overlapped so neatly with that Englishman’s. They also covered many of the same topics and themes, King from and American perspective and Kipling from a British one as they bought their small war in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. I do not yet know if the reason for Charles King’s current anonymity is due more to the possible outdatedness of his prose or the possible outdatedness of his ideas. Put another way: King’s triumphalist interpretation of how the west was won is looked upon unfavorably today. Here we see one of his stories as published in Lippincotts in 1888. This magazine work was hugely important to writers of all styles and genres in King’s time.
(image/J.B. Lippincott & Co, Philadelphia, PA, 1888)
I have been trying this weekend to make some headway on a project that hopefully will come to fruition sometime this summer. Though there is still much to do, the writing is coming along. My goal is to finish the draft before Memorial Day. We’ll see if that comes to pass. One of the figures in the project is John Jay, who died on May 17, 1829. Jay was a governor, acting Secretary of State, and Supreme Court Chief Justice among other things. His grandson is a figure in Incorporating New York, my as-yet unpublished manuscript about Civil War Era New York City. It is often lost on us how little time passed between the Revolutionary and Civil War generations. I had hope to visit the Jay Heritage Center in Rye this summer but that is looking less likely given the current pandemic situation. This coming September there is a conference related to Jay at Columbia University to commemorate the completion of the seven-volume Jay Papers project. Hopefully that will still come to pass, if only in an online virtual context.
The Journal of the American Revolution has posted my article about Rufus King. Of all the things I have written (so far), this may be the most rewarding. King is such an important figure and his story is so important to tell. This article ends in 1789, the year of the First Congress and Washington’s inaugural at Federal Hall. I am working on a part two right now that will bring King up through 1805, the year after his unsuccessful presidential bid and purchase of his Jamaica Queens home. The article is still very much in the early stages, but if all goes as planned it will get released sometime in early summer.
Now seems an opportune time to say publicly that I’ve decided my next book project will be about the King family in America. I had the Ah-ha moment this past Saturday and spent a good portion of this past weekend preparing some timelines. I intend to cover six generations from the early 1700s to the 1930s. Rufus King’s son, John Alsop King, plays a role in my yet-to-be-published manuscript “Incorporating New York” about Civil War Era New York City, so the topic is less of a digression than it might seem at first glance. In many ways, Rufus King’s sons and grandsons, and the generations of which they were a part, had to deal with the issues that the founders had put off, slavery, expansion, and other contentious things in particular. Rufus King himself returned to the Senate in the 1810s and dealt with such hot-button issues as the War of 1812 and Missouri Compromise. It is a story worth telling.
(image/CaptJayRuffins via Wikimedia Commons)
Over the weekend I continued on a project that ideally will become public sometime later this spring. I’d rather save the content for the project itself but could not resist sharing right now that two of the main figures in my story were married on this date in Manhattan in 1786. Rufus King represented Massachusetts in the Congress of the Confederation when he met Mary Alsop, the beautiful daughter of wealthy New York City merchant John Alsop. The following year King represented Massachusetts in the 1787 Constitutional Convention and helped draft that document. By the following summer the necessary number of states had ratified the Consecution, after which he and Mary moved to New York permanently. King was soon elected to the U.S. Senate and served in the First Congress. More . . . hopefully, to come.