Thomas Starr King

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Thomas Starr King
Thomas Starr King.png
Born17 December 1824
New York City
Died4 March 1864 (1864-03-05) (aged 39)
San Francisco
OccupationMinister, orator

Thomas Starr King (December 17, 1824 March 4, 1864), often known as Starr King, was an American Universalist and Unitarian minister, influential in California politics during the American Civil War, and Freemason. [1] Starr King spoke zealously in favor of the Union and was credited by Abraham Lincoln with preventing California from becoming a separate republic. He is sometimes referred to as "the orator who saved the nation." [2] [3]

United States Federal republic in North America

The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United States or America, is a country comprising 50 states, a federal district, five major self-governing territories, and various possessions. At 3.8 million square miles, the United States is the world's third or fourth largest country by total area and is slightly smaller than the entire continent of Europe. With a population of over 327 million people, the U.S. is the third most populous country. The capital is Washington, D.C., and the most populous city is New York City. Most of the country is located contiguously in North America between Canada and Mexico.

Universalist Church of America organization

The Universalist Church of America (UCA) was a Christian Universalist religious denomination in the United States. Known from 1866 as the Universalist General Convention, the name was changed to the Universalist Church of America in 1942. In 1961, it consolidated with the American Unitarian Association to form the Unitarian Universalist Association.

Unitarianism is a Christian theological movement named for its belief that the God in Christianity is one person, as opposed to the Trinity which in many other branches of Christianity defines God as three persons in one being: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Unitarian Christians, therefore, believe that Jesus was inspired by God in his moral teachings, and he is a savior, but he was not a deity or God incarnate. As is typical of dissenters, Unitarianism does not constitute one single Christian denomination, but rather refers to a collection of both extant and extinct Christian groups, whether historically related to each other or not, which share a common theological concept of the oneness nature of God.


Early life

He was born on December 17, 1824, in New York City to Rev. Thomas Farrington King, a Universalist minister, and Susan Starr King. The sole support of his family at 15, he was forced to leave school. Inspired by men like Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry Ward Beecher, King embarked on a program of self-study for the ministry. At the age of 20 he took over his father's former pulpit at the Charlestown Universalist Church in Charlestown, Massachusetts.

New York City Largest city in the United States

The City of New York, usually called either New York City (NYC) or simply New York (NY), is the most populous city in the United States. With an estimated 2018 population of 8,398,748 distributed over a land area of about 302.6 square miles (784 km2), New York is also the most densely populated major city in the United States. Located at the southern tip of the state of New York, the city is the center of the New York metropolitan area, the largest metropolitan area in the world by urban landmass and one of the world's most populous megacities, with an estimated 19,979,477 people in its 2018 Metropolitan Statistical Area and 22,679,948 residents in its Combined Statistical Area. A global power city, New York City has been described as the cultural, financial, and media capital of the world, and exerts a significant impact upon commerce, entertainment, research, technology, education, politics, tourism, art, fashion, and sports. The city's fast pace has inspired the term New York minute. Home to the headquarters of the United Nations, New York is an important center for international diplomacy.

Ralph Waldo Emerson American philosopher, essayist, and poet

Ralph Waldo Emerson was an American essayist, lecturer, philosopher, and poet who led the transcendentalist movement of the mid-19th century. He was seen as a champion of individualism and a prescient critic of the countervailing pressures of society, and he disseminated his thoughts through dozens of published essays and more than 1,500 public lectures across the United States.

Henry Ward Beecher American clergyman and abolitionist

Henry Ward Beecher was an American Congregationalist clergyman, social reformer, and speaker, known for his support of the abolition of slavery, his emphasis on God's love, and his 1875 adultery trial.


In 1849, he was appointed pastor of the Hollis Street Church in Boston, where he became one of the most famous preachers in New England, and a noted speaker on the lyceum circuit through New England and as far as Chicago. He was ranked as one of the four greatest lyceum speakers, along with Wendell Phillips, Edwin Hubbell Chapin, and Henry Ward Beecher [4] ; for some reason, a celebrated fifth speaker, Ralph Waldo Emerson, was not included in this tally. His lyceum lectures for general audiences included "Substance and Show", "Sights and Insights", "The Ideal and the Real", "Existence and Life" [5] , and a number of talks on Plato and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. As Edward Everett Hale recounts [6] :

Hollis Street Church church building in Massachusetts, United States of America

The Hollis Street Church in Boston, Massachusetts, was a Congregational and Unitarian church. It merged with the South Congregational Society of Boston in 1887.

Boston State capital of Massachusetts, U.S.

Boston is the capital and most populous city of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in the United States, as well as the 21st most populous city in the United States. The city proper covers 48 square miles (124 km2) with an estimated population of 694,583 in 2018, making it also the most populous city in New England. Boston is the seat of Suffolk County as well, although the county government was disbanded on July 1, 1999. The city is the economic and cultural anchor of a substantially larger metropolitan area known as Greater Boston, a metropolitan statistical area (MSA) home to a census-estimated 4.8 million people in 2016 and ranking as the tenth-largest such area in the country. As a combined statistical area (CSA), this wider commuting region is home to some 8.2 million people, making it the sixth most populous in the United States.

New England Region in the northeastern United States

New England is a region composed of six states in the northeastern United States: Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut. It is bordered by the state of New York to the west and by the Canadian provinces of New Brunswick to the northeast and Quebec to the north. The Atlantic Ocean is to the east and southeast, and Long Island Sound is to the south. Boston is New England's largest city, as well as the capital of Massachusetts. Greater Boston is the largest metropolitan area, with nearly a third of New England's population; this area includes Worcester, Massachusetts, Manchester, New Hampshire, and Providence, Rhode Island.

King said that a popular lyceum lecture was made of five parts of sense and five of nonsense. "There are only five men in America," said he, "who know how to mix them and I think I am one of the five." Other people thought so too, and did not detect the nonsense. His carefully wrought lectures are worth anybody's study today.
He is the author of another lyceum chestnut. Some one asked him whas his honorarium was for each lecture. "F.A.M.E.," said he "Fifty And My Expenses."

During those years, Starr King vacationed in the White Mountains of New Hampshire and in 1859 published a book about the area entitled The White Hills; their Legends, Landscapes, & Poetry. In 1860 he accepted a call from the First Unitarian Church of San Francisco, California. In July of that year, he visited Yosemite and was moved spiritually by its splendor. Upon returning to San Francisco, he began preaching a series of sermons on Yosemite, published letters about it in the Boston Evening Transcript , and aligned himself with fellow abolitionist and landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmsted, to have Yosemite set aside as a reserve. Yosemite would become a California State Park and eventually a National park. [7] Starr King joined the Freemasons and was raised to the sublime degree of Master Mason in Oriental Lodge No. 144 in San Francisco, now Phoenix Lodge No. 144, and served as grand orator of the Grand Lodge of California in 1863. [1]

White Mountains (New Hampshire) mountain range in New England, United States

The White Mountains are a mountain range covering about a quarter of the state of New Hampshire and a small portion of western Maine in the United States. They are part of the northern Appalachian Mountains and the most rugged mountains in New England. The range is heavily visited due to its proximity to Boston and, to a lesser extent, New York City and Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

New Hampshire U.S. state in the United States

New Hampshire is a state in the New England region of the northeastern United States. It is bordered by Massachusetts to the south, Vermont to the west, Maine and the Atlantic Ocean to the east, and the Canadian province of Quebec to the north. New Hampshire is the 5th smallest by area and the 10th least populous U.S. state.

California U.S. state in the United States

California is a state in the Pacific Region of the United States. With 39.6 million residents across a total area of about 163,696 square miles (423,970 km2), California is the most populous U.S. state and the third-largest by area. The state capital is Sacramento. The Greater Los Angeles Area and the San Francisco Bay Area are the nation's second- and fifth-most populous urban regions, with 18.7 million and 9.7 million residents respectively. Los Angeles is California's most populous city, and the country's second-most populous, after New York City. California also has the nation's most populous county, Los Angeles County, and its largest county by area, San Bernardino County. The City and County of San Francisco is both the country's second-most densely populated major city after New York City and the fifth-most densely populated county, behind only four of the five New York City boroughs.

During the Civil War, Starr King spoke zealously in favor of the Union and was credited by Abraham Lincoln with preventing California from becoming a separate republic. At the urging of Jessie Benton Frémont, Starr King teamed up with writer Bret Harte, and Starr King read Harte's patriotic poems at pro-Union speeches. [8] Starr King also read original verses by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and James Russell Lowell which captured the imagination of the Californians. In a letter by Starr King wrote to James T. Fields, the editor of the Atlantic Monthly , "The state must be Northernized thoroughly, by schools, Atlantic Monthlies, lectures, N.E. preachers." [8] On George Washington's birthday in 1861, King spoke for two hours to over a thousand people about how they should remember Washington by preserving the Union [9] :

Union (American Civil War) United States national government during the American Civil War

During the American Civil War (1861–1865), the Union, also known as the North, referred to the United States of America and specifically to the national government of President Abraham Lincoln and the 20 free states and four border and slave states that supported it. The Union was opposed by 11 southern slave states that formed the Confederate States of America, also known as "the Confederacy" or "the South".

Abraham Lincoln 16th president of the United States

Abraham Lincoln was an American statesman and lawyer who served as the 16th president of the United States from March 1861 until his assassination in April 1865. Lincoln led the nation through the American Civil War, its bloodiest war and its greatest moral, constitutional, and political crisis. He preserved the Union, abolished slavery, strengthened the federal government, and modernized the U.S. economy.

Jessie Benton Frémont American politician

Jessie Ann Benton Frémont was an American writer and political activist.

"I pitched into Secession, Concession and (John C.) Calhoun (former U.S. vice president), right and left, and made the Southerners applaud. I pledged California to a Northern Republic and to a flag that should have no treacherous threads of cotton in its warp, and the audience came down in thunder. At the close it was announced that I would repeat it the next night, and they gave me three rounds of cheers." ... King covered his pulpit with an American flag and ended all his sermons with "God bless the president of the United States and all who serve with him the cause of a common country."

Starr King's younger brother, Edward Starr King, served as captain of the clipper ship Syren. Capt. Starr King arrived in San Francisco aboard Syren just two days after his elder brother's stirring 1861 speech about Washington and the Union, remarking, "Starr has the brains of the family, and I the brawn." [10]

<i>Syren</i> (clipper) clipper

Syren was the longest lived of all the clipper ships, with a sailing life of 68 years 7 months. She sailed in the San Francisco trade, in the Far East, and transported whaling products from Hawaii and the Arctic to New Bedford.

Plaque at Thomas Starr King sarcophagus. Sarcophagus of Thomas Starr King - San Francisco, CA - DSC05119.JPG
Plaque at Thomas Starr King sarcophagus.

In addition, Starr King organized the Pacific Branch of the United States Sanitary Commission, which raised money and medical materials for wounded soldiers and was the predecessor to the American Red Cross. A fiery orator, he raised more than $1.5 million for the Sanitary Commission headquarters in New York City, one-fifth of the total contributions from all the states in the Union.

Sarcophagus of Thomas Starr King in San Francisco Sarcophagus of Thomas Starr King - San Francisco, CA - DSC05121.JPG
Sarcophagus of Thomas Starr King in San Francisco


The relentless lecture circuit exhausted him, and he died in San Francisco on March 4, 1864, of diphtheria and pneumonia. His dying words were said to be, "Keep my memory green." [11] Over twenty thousand people attended his funeral and several of his friends including Charles Stoddard, Bret Harte and Ina Coolbrith published tributes. [12] King is interred at First Unitarian Church of San Francisco between Starr King and Geary Streets in San Francisco. In the 1940s, most of San Francisco's dead were disinterred and moved to new resting places outside city limits; the grave of Starr King was one of the very few allowed to remain undisturbed. [13]



Mount Starr King in Yosemite Mount Starr King west profile.JPG
Mount Starr King in Yosemite






Statuary and monuments

Statue in California State Capitol

Thomas Starr King (National Statuary Hall Collection statue, now located at the California State Capitol) Thomas Starr King2.jpg
Thomas Starr King (National Statuary Hall Collection statue, now located at the California State Capitol)

As part of honors originally paid to Rev. King, he was judged worthy of representing California in the National Statuary Hall Collection displayed in the United States Capitol. In 1913, King was voted one of California's two greatest heroes and funds were appropriated for a statue. In 1931, California officially donated a bronze statue of King to be mounted in Statuary Hall.

On August 31, 2006, however, the California Legislature approved a joint resolution to replace Thomas Starr King's statue in Statuary Hall with a statue of Ronald Reagan. [15] The resolution was authored by Republican State Senator Dennis Hollingsworth, who stated the reason for the resolution as, "To be honest with you, I wasn't sure who Thomas Starr King was, and I think there's probably a lot of Californians like me." [16] He also went on to observe that King was not a native of the state though, of course, neither is Reagan (nor was Junipero Serra, the other statue representing California in Statuary Hall).

As a result of this resolution, King's statue was removed from Statuary Hall, and the statue of Ronald Reagan was placed in Statuary Hall on June 10, 2009. [17] In November 2009, Starr King's statue was reinstalled within the Civil War Memorial Grove in Capitol Park, which surrounds the California State Capitol in Sacramento. It was formally dedicated in a ceremony held on December 8, 2009. [18]


  1. 1 2 "Thomas Starr King Honored at State Capitol". Masons of California. Retrieved 2017-08-21.
  2. "Thomas Starr King (Replaced)". Architect of the Capitol. Archived from the original on 2015-06-02. Retrieved 2015-05-16.
  3. Congressional Record, V. 152, PT. 17, November 9, 2006 to December 6, 2006 . Retrieved 2015-05-16.
  4. Thomas Starr King, Patriot and Preacher, Charles William Wendte, Beacon Press, 1921.
  5. Ibid.
  6. James Russell Lowell and His Friends, Edward Everett Hale, Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1899, pages 106-107.
  7. Smith, Jordan Fisher (June 7, 2016). Engineering Eden: The True Story of a Violent Death, a Trial, and a Fight Over Controlling Nature. New York City: Crown Publishers. pp. 19–20. ISBN   978-0307454263.
  8. 1 2 Tarnoff, Benjamin (2014). The Bohemians: Mark Twain and the San Francisco Writers Who Reinvented American Literature. Penguin Books. pp. 30–31. ISBN   978-1594204739.
  9. Rev. Thomas Starr King, Starr King School for the Ministry
  10. Wendte, Charles William (1921). Thomas Starr King, patriot and preacher. Boston: Beacon Press. pp. 160–161. ISBN   978-0-548-00757-0.
  11. Tully Shock, Oscar (1870). Representative and Leading Men of the Pacific: Being Original Sketches of the Lives and Characters of the Principal Men, to which are Added Their Speeches, Addresses, Orations, Eulogies, Lectures and Poems, Including the Happiest Forensic Efforts of Baker, Randolph, McDougall, T. Starr King, and Other Popular Orators (Google ebook ed.). San Francisco: Bacon and Co. p. 166.
  12. 1 2 3 Tarnoff, Ben (2014). The Bohemians: Mark Twain and the San Francisco Writers Who Reinvented American Literature. Penguin Books. pp. 66–67. ISBN   978-1594204739.
  13. "Why Are There So Many Dead People in Colma? And So Few in San Francisco?". KQED News. December 16, 2015. Retrieved 2017-08-21.
  14. "Thomas Starr King (sculpture)". Save Outdoor Sculpture! . Smithsonian American Art Museum . Retrieved 12 May 2012.
  15. "Senate Joint Resolution No. 3". California Legislature. September 8, 2006. Retrieved 2017-08-21.
  16. Geiger, Kimberly (October 25, 2006). "Debate urged on Starr King eviction". San Francisco Chronicle . Archived from the original on May 23, 2013. Retrieved 2013-04-15.
  17. Lovely, Erika; Martin, Jonathan (June 3, 2009). "Congress honors Ronald Reagan with figure in Statuary Hall". Politico . Retrieved 2017-08-21.
  18. Kennedy, Gerrick D. (December 21, 2009). "A giant of California history returns to Sacramento". Los Angeles Times . Retrieved 2011-05-11.


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