Clarence Rivers King

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Clarence Rivers King

Also Known As: "James Todd"
Birthdate: (59)
Death: 1901 (59)
Immediate Family:

Son of James Rivers King and Caroline Florence King
Husband of Ada Copeland King

Managed by: Private User
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About Clarence Rivers King

Clarence R. King (January 6, 1842 – December 24, 1901) was an American geologist, mountaineer, and art critic. First director of the United States Geological Survey, from 1879 to 1881, King was noted for his exploration of the Sierra Nevada. He was born in Newport, Rhode Island.


In 1862, King graduated from the Sheffield Scientific School of Yale College with a Ph.B. in chemistry. While at Yale, he studied with James Dwight Dana. After graduation King traveled on horseback to California with his good friend and classmate, James Terry Gardiner. In California he joined the California Geological Survey without pay where he worked with William H. Brewer, Josiah D. Whitney and Richard D. Cotter. In October 1872, he uncovered a diamond and gemstone hoax perpetrated by Philip Arnold. His exposure of this fraud contributed to his heroic national reputation. In 1864, King and Richard Cotter reported the first ascent of Mount Tyndall.

In the mid-1850s King began to read works by John Ruskin and associated with a group of American artists, writers, and architects who followed Ruskin's thinking. Through this group he became aware of the British Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. In 1863, with John William Hill and Clarence Cook he helped to found the Society for the Advancement of Truth in Art, an American group, similar to the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, who published a journal called The New Path.

In 1867, King was named U.S. Geologist of the Geological Exploration of the Fortieth Parallel, commonly known as the Fortieth Parallel Survey, a position for which he strongly lobbied. King spent six years in the field exploring areas from Wyoming to the border of California. During that time he also published his famous "Mountaineering in the Sierra Nevada" (1872). After the completion of the field work, in 1878 King published "Systematic Geology."

King was also invited to examine the site of a diamondiferous area, which he exposed as a fraud, called the Diamond hoax of 1872. HIs exposure of the diamond fraud helped build his heroic national reputation.

While conducting field work for the Survey, King met and befriended Henry Brooks Adams. Their friendship lasted for the rest of King's life, and he is often mentioned in reverent and adoring terms by Adams in the autobiographical The Education of Henry Adams (1907). From descriptions of King appearing in both Adams and Sandweiss, it is clear that King was unusually intelligent, witty, charming and magnetic—and a one-of-a-kind conversationalist. People in general were drawn to him.

In 1879, the US Congress consolidated the number of geological surveys exploring the American West and created the United States Geological Survey. King was chosen its first director; however, he served for only twenty months.

King died of tuberculosis in Phoenix, Arizona, and is buried in Newport, Rhode Island. Kings Peak in Utah, Mount Clarence King, and Clarence King Lake at Shastina, California are named in his honor. The US Geological Survey Headquarters Library in Reston, Virginia, is also known as the Clarence King Library.

King spent his last thirteen years leading a double life. In 1887 or 1888, he met and fell in love with Ada Copeland, an African-American nursemaid (and former slave) from Georgia who had moved to New York City in the mid-1880s. As miscegenation was strongly discouraged in the nineteenth century (and even illegal in many places), King hid his identity from Copeland. Despite his blue eyes and fair complexion, King convinced Copeland that he was an African-American Pullman porter named James Todd. The two fell in love and entered into a common law marriage in 1888. Throughout the marriage, King never revealed his true identity to Ada, pretending to be Todd, a black railroad worker, when at home, and continuing to work as King, a white geologist, when in the field. The union produced five children. King finally revealed his true identity to Copeland in a letter he wrote to her while on his deathbed in Arizona.


Martha A. Sandweiss, Passing Strange: A Gilded Age Tale of Love and Deception across the Color Line (2009)
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Clarence Rivers King's Timeline

Age 59