Biographical/Historical Description

Thomas Starr King (1824-64) was born December 17, 1824, his parents, Thomas Farrington King, a Universalist minister, and Susan Starr, both of New York. T.F. King was called to the Universalist Church, Charlestown, MA in 1835, serving there until his death in September 1839. After the death of his father, Starr (as he was known in the family), had to leave school to help support his mother and five brothers and sisters. He worked in a dry goods store, then as a teacher, becoming principal of the West Medford Grammar School at age 18. He resigned this position to accept a clerking job in the Navy Yard were he had a larger salary and more time for independent study. Through self study, he mastered the requirements for entrance to the ministry.

He preached his first sermon at Woburn, MA, 1845, receiving a call to his father's old pulpit in Charlestown which he accepted in 1846. The following year he began his career as a public lecturer, a career in which he became extremely popular and sought after. In 1848, he accepted a call to the Hollis Street Unitarian Church. At the time, Universalist and Unitarian were separate denominations. "Mr. King openly adopted the Unitarian fellowship, although his relations with his Universalist associates continued to be of the warmest and most friendly character." Starr and Julia M. Wiggin were married, December 17, 1848 shortly after his installation. They had two children: Edith and Frederick.

1859 brought several invitations from churches calling King to be their pastor. "San Francisco prevailed." Sailing from New York in April 1860 via Panama, he found SF Unitarian "a moribund church, a depleted society, with an insufficient income and a heavy debt." Landing on April 28 and, with no preparation or advanced notice, King preached the next day to an overflowing crowd. "When his first year closed the debt was paid and the church was on a solid basis, the strongest Protestant parish in the city."

With the attack on Fort Sumter in 1861 and the beginning of the war, the position of California was uncertain. Powerful interests in California leaned toward secession, others toward declaring California an independent republic. King decided "California must be won over at any price" and began his crusade for the Union. He lectured and preached from one end of the state to the other "in an earnest fight against secession." He faced hostile crowds, threats of harm, even threats against his life. In the fall election, the loyalty of the state was settled by an overwhelming majority. It was felt that "no one force had done so much to save the State as Mr. King."

With the loyalty of California safe, King turned to other service. He entered in to the movement for the sick and wounded soldiers fund-raising throughout the entire west coast for the Sanitary Commission. He raised a million and a half dollars in 1862. He also began work on raising the money for and then construction of a new church building for SF Unitarian. "At last, his overtaxed powers gave way." The new church, in which he preached seven Sundays, was completed and dedicated in January 1864. He contracted diphtheria and died on March 4, 1864.

The city of San Francisco, and the entire state, went into mourning. "One wild, wild wave of excitement rolled over this city when the flag, at half-mast, and rumor from ear to ear announced the departure of a mighty spirit. From the gilded saloon to the Christian parlor --wherever he was hated most or loved best, men stopped to pause and ponder, and to simply say, with more than eloquence: 'Starr King is dead!'" (G.G.F., Alta California, March 4, 1864)

(This biographical sketch is taken from "Thomas Starr King", by Horace Davis, in the Pacific Unitarian, March, 1904. See Box 4, ff 18)