Rev. Thomas Starr King

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Thomas Starr King

Birthdate: (39)
Birthplace: New York, New York, United States
Death: March 4, 1864 (39)
San Francisco, San Francisco County, California, United States (Diphtheria )
Place of Burial: San Francisco, San Francisco County, California, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of Thomas Farrington King and Susan Margaret King
Husband of Julia Maria King
Father of Edith Sawyer Davis and Frederic Randolph King
Brother of Mary King; Mary Elizabeth King; Edward Mitchell King; William Joseph King; Susan Elizabeth King and 1 other

Managed by: Eldon Clark (Geni volunteer cura...
Last Updated:

About Rev. Thomas Starr King

Thomas Starr King (December 17, 1824 – March 4, 1864) was an American Unitarian and Unitarian minister, influential in California politics during the American 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. He is sometimes referred to as "the orator who saved the nation."


Thomas Starr King 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 age 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.

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. He 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.

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."

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. In addition, he organized the Pacific Branch of the United States Sanitary Commission, which cared 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, one-fifth of the total contributions from all the states in the Union. The relentless lecture circuit exhausted him, and he died in San Francisco on March 4, 1864, of diphtheria.


Mountain peaks in the White Mountains (Mount Starr King, elevation 1,191 m (3,907 ft)) and in Yosemite National Park (Mount Starr King) are named in his honor. In 1941 the Starr King School for the Ministry (Unitarian Universalist), in Berkeley, California, was also renamed in his honor. King’s church and tomb in San Francisco are designated historical monuments. Two streets in the city (Starr King Way, on which the church is located, and King Street in the Mission Bay neighborhood) are named for him, as is the Starr King Openspace, a park in the Potrero Hill neighborhood. There is also a statue of him in Golden Gate Park, facing JFK Drive, quite close to the De Young Museum. There are schools throughout California named and dedicated to him: Starr King Elementary School in San Francisco, Thomas Starr King Middle School in the Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles and Starr King K-8 School in Carmichael, California. A Masonic lodge founded in 1864 in Salem, Massachusetts, bears his name.


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. 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." He also went on to observe that King was not a native of the state. However, Junipero Serra, who is California’s other contribution to Statuary Hall, was in fact born in Majorca, and Ronald Reagan was born in Illinois.

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. 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.

_______________________ KING, Thomas Starr, clergyman, was born in New York city, Dec. 17, 1824; son of the Rev. Thomas Furrington King, a Universalist minister. In 1835 he removed with his parents to Charlestown, Mass., and after the death of his father in [p.253] 1836, was employed in a dry-goods store until 1840, when he became assistant teacher in the Bunker Hill grammar school, and in 1842, principal of the West grammar school at Medford, Mass., and during all this time applied himself diligently to study. He was a pupil in theology under Hosea Ballou in Medford, 1842-45, and was clerk in the navy yard at Chariestown, Mass., for a time.

He delivered his first sermon in Woburn, Mass., in 1845, preached for a short time for a Universalist society in Boston, and in 1846 settled over his first parish at Charlestown, to which his father had ministered. In 1848 he became pastor of the Hollis Street Unitarian church, Boston, Mass., and remained there until the spring of 1860.

During this period he entered the lecture field, gaining great popularity. His lecture subjects include: "Goethe","Substance and Show", "Sight and Insight","The Laws of Disorder" and "Socrates." In 1860 he became pastor of the First Unitarian society in San Francisco, Cal., and his fame as a lecturer having preceded him, he was soon in the lecture-field in California and Oregon. He became familiar with the natural beauties of the Yosemite valley, to which he called the attention of the public through lectures and newspaper articles. Shortly after the secession of the southern states he learned of the existence of a large party in California in favor of forming an independent republic. His efforts against this project drew upon him the attention of the whole nation, and his patriotic denunciation of it won the day at the polls, and California was preserved to the Union.

Through his exertions the United States sanitary commission obtained generous sums of money in California that enabled it to carry on its work at a critical period of the war. At the same time he was occupied with the building of a new church, the cornerstone of which was laid in September, 1862. It was dedicated, Jan. 10, 1864, and in February, 1864, he was stricken with diphtheria from which he never rallied. He was buried with notable civic and military honors. He received the honorary degree of A.M. from Harvard in 1850.

In 1889 a monument was erected to his memory at Golden Gate Park, Cal., at a cost of $50,000. His name was one of the twenty-six in "Class G, Preachers and Theologians," submitted for a place in the Hall of Fame for Great Americans, New York university, in October, 1900, and received seven votes. He is the author of: The White Hills, their Legends, Landscapes and Poetry (1859), and contributions to the Boston Transcript and the Universalist Quarterly. After his death some of his writings were collected and published under the titles: Patriotism and Other Papers (1865); Christianity and Humanity, with a memoir by Edwin P. Whipple (1877); Substance and Showy (1877). He died in San Francisco, March 4, 1864. (The Twentieth Century Biographical Dictionary of Notable Americans: Volume VI)


He wasn't a powerful politician or businessman. He was sickly and funny-looking. "Nature robbed the flesh that she might the more lavishly adorn the mind and heart and soul of the man," a reporter for The New York Times wrote in 1886, trying to be tactful.

He was a Unitarian preacher, and an amazing one at that; spellbinding, said people who heard him. He spoke up for slaves, for the poor, for union members and the Chinese. Most memorably, he spoke up for the Union, roaming the state on exhausting lecture tours, campaigning for Abraham Lincoln and a Republican State Legislature, imploring California not to join the Confederacy. He succeeded, but he did not live to see the Union victory. He died of diphtheria in 1864, age 39.

"He saved California to the Union," this paper wrote, quoting Gen. Winfield Scott.

Statuary Hall is an exclusive club, but its members are not all well remembered. Most people in Hawaii would recognize King Kamehameha I and Father Damien of Molokai. But it would be hard to fill a schoolbus with New Yorkers who know Robert Livingston, one of the lesser founding fathers, and George Clinton, not the guy with Parliament Funkadelic, but the other one who was Thomas Jefferson's vice president.

And that's as it should be. Boldface names get all the attention. The Capitol needs a place for footnote-face names. Isn't that what bronze and marble are for, to affix dimming reputations and outlast frail memories?

Here, then, a final toast to the worthy but obscure. To the frail patriot Thomas Starr King. And to Gov. George Washington Glick, bumped by Kansas in 2003 for Dwight D. Eisenhower. -------------------------------------------------

Thomas Starr King (December 17, 1824-March 4, 1864), a Universalist and a Unitarian minister, was a lecturer and orator whose role in preserving California within the Union during the Civil War is honored by statues in the United States Capitol and in Golden Gate Park in California. Two mountains are named for him, one in New Hampshire's White Hills; another in the Sierra Nevada of California.

Barely five feet tall and physically fragile, King was undistinguished in appearance. Well into his thirties he appeared no older than a youth. His energy and magnetism as an organizer, minister, and preacher, however, quickly impressed any who had mistakenly judged him by appearance. "But, though I weigh only 120 pounds," he remarked late in life, "when I am mad I weigh a ton!"

Starr King was born to Thomas Farrington King and Susan Starr King in New York City in December, 1824. He was named after his maternal grandfather Thomas Starr, an immigrant from the Rhineland. His family called him "Starr." At the time of his birth, his father was an itinerant Universalist minister in based in Norwalk, Connecticut. An eloquent and outgoing preacher, Thomas F. King soon afterwards found a settlement in Hudson, New York. In 1828, King was called to the larger Universalist church in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and in 1835 he moved his ministry, and his family, to Charlestown, Massachusetts, just across the Charles River Bridge from Boston.

Starr was a precocious child. His parents encouraged him in habits of industrious study. They were delighted when he early proclaimed his desire to be a minister like his father. By the age of thirteen he already had a published sermon. The death of his father when Starr was only fifteen years old, however, made it impossible for him to attend college or divinity school. He took up the responsibility of providing for his mother and siblings and went to work.

One of his jobs, and the one he liked best, was as bookkeeper in the Charlestown Navy Yard. His wages were enough to support the family and the hours of work allowed him to attend lecture courses at Harvard College. He sought opportunities to hear good preaching and studied assiduously on his own. Among the Universalist ministers who helped and encouraged him during his period of unofficial study were Hosea Ballou 2d, a friend of his father whom Starr called his "theological father," and Edwin H. Chapin, his father's successor at Charlestown. During this time Theodore Parker promoted him and provided him with preaching opportunities. He never completed a degree program. Yet he qualified himself for the professional ministry by means of independent study. Many years later, when he received recognition for his preaching and public speaking abilities, he would refer to himself as "a graduate of the Charlestown Navy Yard."

In 1846, the twenty-one year old Starr King accepted a call from the Charlestown Universalist Church. Though hesitant to serve the same congregation his father had so successfully served, King was eager for the challenge of parish ministry. In the event, he found the situation an uneasy one. "Preaching to aged men and women who have seen me as a boy in my father's pew," he admitted, "I necessarily cannot command the influence which a stranger would wield."

The following year King met Henry Whitney Bellows, minister of the First Unitarian Church of New York, upon whom he made such an impression that Bellows immediately sought to have King called by New York's Second Unitarian (Church of the Messiah). Although King's preaching pleased the congregation, the trustees balked at calling a young minister without official educational qualifications. The church offered him only the probability of an offer, if he undertook a year of study at the theological school at Cambridge. King refused such terms. When he returned to Charlestown, however, he took with him letters of introduction from Bellows which provided him a wider access to Unitarian notables in Boston.

Another Unitarian opportunity was not long in coming. The Hollis Street Church, reduced in size after losing many members as the result of a controversy over the decided antislavery and temperance stand taken by the previous minister, John Pierpont, made King an offer in 1848. When King agreed to serve the Hollis Street Church, it seemed to many that he was changing denominations and deserting his old faith. But his embrace of a broad ecumenical religion included Unitarians without repudiation of his Universalism. Questioned about this, King responded with the blend of intelligence and humor which marked all his prophetic ministry. He said, "The one [Universalist] thinks God is too good to damn them forever, the other [Unitarian] thinks they are too good to be damned forever." According to King, the only reason that Unitarians and Universalists had not already joined together was that they were "too near of kin to be married."

Days after he was installed at Hollis Street, Starr King and Julia Wiggin of East Boston married. Their family eventually included daughter Edith and son Frederick. Starr also continued to support his widowed mother and a chronically ill brother. His $3000 yearly salary from the Hollis Street Church would not stretch far enough.

The popular lecture circuit was a natural choice to supplement King's funds. He had begun lecturing in 1847. By the 1850s he had entered the ranks of the most respected and popular platform speakers of the time. His friend Henry Whitney Bellows compared him favorably to such well-known orators as Wendell Phillips and Henry Ward Beecher. "He is witty," Bellows noted, "and just profound enough to be intelligible to people who cannot enjoy any thing that does not go beyond their own ideas." One lecture, on the German poet Goethe, struck Harvard president James Walker as remarkable. Travelling a circuit that extended from Bangor, Maine to St. Louis, Missouri, King was successful in communicating to a mass audience the thought of such men as Socrates and Daniel Webster, and attracted large crowds to hear him on such topics as "Substance and Show" and "Existence and Life."

Over eleven years King helped the Hollis Street Church recover from turmoil and factionalism and achieve financial health. During this time the congregation grew to five times its former size. He was both a beloved pastor and a brilliant preacher. Theodore Parker called him the best preacher in Boston. His sermons, read from manuscript in a deep and resonant voice, were philosophical and literary. The goodness of God, the beauty of creation, and the progress of humankind were the inspirations King evoked in his preaching to draw people to a life of goodness. Towards the end of his pastorate, King expressed his vision for the church "as the interpreter of Christianity," using the metaphor of the building of a great organ. "The final justification of each sect is found when we can regard it as a new stop, or class of pipes, with an original constitution and quality, to pour out some essential sentiment with nobler volume, or richer melody, in response to the glory of God."

Because of his manifest achievement as a scholar and minister, Harvard University awarded King an honorary Master of Arts in 1850.

Worn down by years of what he called "the detestable vagrancy of lecturing," in 1859 King sought a new position which would pay him enough so that he would have less need to augment his income, and, as he wrote Bellows, one where his labor "would be of greater worth to the general cause than it can be in Boston." Having received several offers, including Brooklyn, New York and Cincinnati, Ohio, King chose San Francisco, California as it was, in his estimation, "the more crying call."

In California, beginning in April, 1860, King had several ministries, one to his congregation of Unitarians on Stockton Street, another to Christians in the San Francisco area, and yet another to the people of the entire state. He helped the Unitarian church to become financially solvent and led them to build a new church building. His preaching attracted new membership, a number of people regularly travelling from the interior of California to hear him preach. Despite the effort that he devoted to Unitarian institution building on the west coast, King believed that he had a role to play in the spiritual development of the community as a whole. In his sermon, "Spiritual Christianity," he described Christianity not as a creed or an institution, but as a spirit, a "secret agency" or force underlying many specific outward expressions. He thought that God's spirit was to be found both inside and outside the church, in works of secular art and in in private lives. He found more unity and truth in shared public expression than in the speculation of dogma and theology. "Only those elements of the faith and life of every church . . . which can be set to music,— are worthy and enduring elements." He had a millenial vision of the emergence of a unified, and liberal, Christianity: "Our mission is to hasten the time when the church in general shall modify her creeds and grant more freedom to thought and organize more charity, and receive again into fellowship the needful forces, which her narrowness has spurned."

King was soon drawn into the politics of his new state and became an advocate for the preservation of the union. He campaigned for the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860, preaching from his own pulpit and lecturing on a tour of the mining towns of the California interior. In 1861 launched a lecture campaign in San Francisco with his address, "Washington and the Union." He followed this with a series that included "Webster and the Constitution" and "Lexington and the New Struggle foe Liberty." He delivered these speeches in San Francisco and repeated them throughout the state. After the capture of Fort Sumter, King announced that he would give all his energy to preserving the union. Following the news of the disastrous First Battle of Bull Run (Manassas), he toured with a lecture aimed against defeatism, "Peace, What Would It Cost Us." His campaign for Republican candidates at the state level in 1861 helped elect a Republican governor and a pro-Union coalition to the legislature. According to General Winfield Scott, the Union Army commander-in-chief, Starr King "saved California to the Union."

In addition King organized fund-raising for the United States Sanitary Commission, a civilian organization, headed by Henry Whitney Bellows, charged with overseeing the health and medical care of the United States army. By the end of the war California had donated one quarter of the money received by the Sanitary Commission. The first large donation, sent by King, arrived just in time to be of use at the battle of Antietam in 1862.

While living in Boston King had often vacationed in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, and had sent accounts of the scenery to the Boston Evening Transcript. These were gathered in 1860 into a volume, The White Hills: Their Legends, Landscape, and Poetry. As he traveled in California, lecturing and hiking, King sent back east more letters to be published in the Transcript. He was particularly struck by the mountainous scenery around the Yosemite Valley, which he thought the equivalent in natural scenery of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony.

Exhausted from his labors for church and country, King contracted diphtheria. He died of pneumonia on March 4, 1864.

The Thomas Starr King papers, including King's lectures and journals, are at the Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley. Collections of Starr King papers and letters are at the Huntington Library in San Marino, California; the California Historical Society in San Francisco, California; and at the Massachusetts Historical Society in Boston (in the Henry Whitney Bellows papers and the Thomas Starr King letters). His sermons and speeches are on microfilm at the Stanford University Library. There are several posthumously published collections of King's works: Patriotism, and Other Papers, with a Biographical Sketch by Richard Frothingham (1864); Christianity And Humanity: A Series Of Sermons, edited with a memoir, by Edwin P. Whipple (1877); Substance and Show, and Other Lectures. edited, with an introduction, by Edwin P. Whipple (1877); and A vacation among the Sierras; Yosemite in 1860, edited, with an introduction and notes, by John A. Hussey (1962).

Memoirs and biographies of King include Richard Frothingham, A Tribute to Thomas Starr King(1865); Charles W. Wendte, Thomas Starr King, Patriot and Preacher (1921); Arnold Crompton, Apostle of Liberty: Starr King in California (1950); and Robert Monzingo, Thomas Starr King: Eminent Californian, Civil War Statesman, Unitarian Minister (1991). Three chapters of Arnold Crompton, Unitarianism on the Pacific Coast: The First Sixty Years (1957) are devoted to King. Walter Donald Kring's Henry Whitney Bellows (1979) sheds light on the important relationship between Bellows and King. There are biographical sketches of Thomas F. King by Lemuel Willis in The Universalist (27 June, 1874) and by John G. Adams in his Fifty Notable Years (1883).

Article by Celeste DeRoche and Peter Hughes «tab» All material copyright Unitarian Universalist Historical Society (UUHS) 1999-2009 ------------------------------------------ Book results for Thomas Starr King The White Hills: Their Legends, Landscape, and ... - by Thomas Starr King, Merrill G. Wheelock - 403 pages Thomas Starr King, Patriot and Preacher - by Charles William Wendte - 226 pages Thomas Starr King: a memorial address ... - by Edward Everett Hale, South Congregational ... - 23 pages [1, 2]


Minister, Civil War Figure. Born the son of a Unitarian minister, King would take his late father's place as minister of the First Unitarian Church in Charlestown, Massachusetts in 1846. In 1848, King left Charlestown for Boston where he accepted a position at the Hollis Street Unitarian Church. Drawing upon his strong opposition to oppression, he soon began a preaching crusade against slavery, which led to him becoming on of the most well known ministers of his time. In 1860, he left the Hollis Street Church and moved to California, where he became minister of the First Unitarian Church of San Francisco. With the outbreak of the Civil War, California's future with the Union became uncertain due to her large originally Southern population. Seeing the possibility of secession, King began a lecture and preaching tour through the state urging for California to remain with the Union. It is because of his efforts, King is credited today as being the man who kept California in the Union. Soon afterwards, he would organize fundraising efforts for the United States Sanitary Commission, ultimately resulting in providing a large percentage of the money the Commission would raise for the entire war. Upon his death in 1864, his body was interred on the grounds of the First Unitarian Church and today; both the church and his grave are California Registered Historical Landmarks. In 1931 a statue of Thomas Starr King was chosen, along with Father Junipero Serra, to represent the state of California in the National Statuary Hall Collection at the United States Capital and would remain there until 2009, when he was replaced with a statue of President Ronald Reagan. His statue can now be found within the Civil War Memorial Grove at the California State Capitol in Sacramento. (bio by: G.Photographer)

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Rev. Thomas Starr King's Timeline

December 17, 1824
New York, New York, United States
Age 27
San Francisco, San Francisco County, California, United States
April 4, 1862
Age 37
San Francisco, San Francisco County, California, United States
March 4, 1864
Age 39
San Francisco, San Francisco County, California, United States
San Francisco, San Francisco County, California, United States