Thomas Starr King

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For other people named Tom King, see Tom King (disambiguation).
Thomas Starr King
Thomas Starr King.png
Born 17 December 1824
New York City
Died 4 March 1864
San Francisco
Occupation Minister, orator
Religion Unitarian

Thomas Starr King (December 17, 1824 – March 4, 1864) was an American 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."[citation needed]


Thomas Starr King was born on December 17, 1824, in New York City to Rev. Thomas Farrington King, a Unitarian 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 Unitarian 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 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]

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."[2]

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.[3] 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. The Starr King Unitarian Universalist Church in Hayward, California, the Starr King School for Ministry in Berkeley, California, and a Masonic lodge founded in 1864 in Salem, Massachusetts, bear his name. The Starr King Parent-Child Workshop, founded in 1949 in Santa Barbara, California, is an active cooperative nursery school and parent-education resource.


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.[4] 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."[5] 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 the 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.[6] 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.[7]


  1. ^ a b "Thomas Starr King Honored at State Capitol". Retrieved 2014-06-21. 
  2. ^ Wendte, Charles William (1921). Thomas Starr King, patriot and preacher. Boston, MA: Beacon Press. pp. 160–161. ISBN 978-0-548-00757-0. 
  3. ^ "Thomas Starr King (sculpture)". Save Outdoor Sculpture!. Smithsonian American Art Museum. Retrieved 12 May 2012. 
  4. ^ "Senate Joint Resolution No. 3". Retrieved 2011-05-10. 
  5. ^ Geiger, Kimberly (October 25, 2006). "Debate urged on Starr King eviction". The San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2013-04-15. [dead link]
  6. ^ "Congress honors Ronald Reagan with figure in Statuary Hall". Retrieved 2011-05-10. 
  7. ^ "Statue of 19th-century abolitionist comes home to California Capitol". Retrieved 2011-05-11. 


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