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REPRESENTATIVE AND LEADING

MEN OF THE PACIFIC

 


 

 

 

 

JAMES KING OF WM

 

 

 

      JAMES KING OF WM. will always be a prominent and honored name in the history of California, and especially in the annals of its chief city. His was the head that planned the regeneration of California society, the heart that periled life to achieve it. From his assassination, as from the blood of a martyr, sprang a great political and social movement, or revolution, as it may be better termed, in San Francisco. This solemn and irresistible rising of the masses for virtual liberty, will be recorded by the historian, and pointed out by statesmen and by philosophers as one of the most signal and instructive triumphs of an outraged people over men who had long violated the right of suffrage, usurped the powers of government, made the Constitution and law a farce, and polluted public morals. His life how short, yet how eventful! He beheld San Francisco rise like Venice, "a sea Cybele, fresh from ocean." In 1851, he beheld it the abode of crime, and was among the earliest and most effective of those who formed the celebrated Vigilance Committee in that year. But he never violated the laws of his country, and was always ready to uphold them even at the risk of his life. Many members of the old Committee remember how manfully he interceded for a suspected prisoner, before that body, and actually armed himself to defend him—believing that none but the vicious should be accused, and none but the guilty punished.

      Who can forget his holy wars? No crusader ever engaged Mussulman beneath the walls of Jerusalem with sterner resolution or more glorious chivalry, than he did the dastardly pests who for years had hovered like carrion crows over the decomposing elements of California society. No Kentucky rifleman ever sent the death messenger with an aim so sure as his, when, with steady nerve and fixed eye, he discharged the terrors of his pen at villainy, vice and corruption. There was no blanching in his features; no quailing in his heart. He knew well the dangers that surrounded him, but, inspired by the justice of his cause, he despised them all.

      JAMES KING was born at Georgetown, District of Columbia, on the 28th day of January, 1822. He was of respectable parentage, and was one of the youngest of a numerous family. His father died in June, 1854, at the ripe age of eighty-three years. Mr. King received a liberal education, and proved himself an apt scholar. To the last of his life he was a student, eagerly seeking knowledge of every kind wherever it could be found. He had a fair acquaintance with the Latin classics, and was well read in the best English and American writers. In later years, he spoke fluently the French and Spanish languages, and was moderately acquainted with the German. About the age of sixteen he assumed the term "of Wm.," which was found to be necessary in order to distinguish him from a number of other James Kings then living at Georgetown. William was his father's name. Some men distinguished themselves from others of the same name by using the word "senior" or "junior," "1st," "2d," and so on. The same end was obtained, in this instance, by adopting the affix of "Wm." It is a custom in some parts of the United States, and particularly in Maryland, thus to take the father's given name as a portion of the son's.

      When about fifteen years old, in 1837, Mr. King left the parental home to push his fortune. He went first to Pittsburgh, where he remained a twelvemonth, as clerk in a store. Afterwards he proceeded to Berrien and St. Josephs, Michigan, at each of which places he stayed a short time. Towards the close of 1838, becoming sick of fever and ague, he returned to Georgetown. The next year he entered the Post Office there, as a clerk, where he served a few months. In the fall of 1839-40, during the Presidential contest between Mr. Van Buren and General Harrison, Mr. King (now "of Wm.") became connected with Kendall's Expositor, a Democratic campaign paper. His connection with that journal lasted for half a year, after which period he engaged for a few months on the Washington Globe. In 1841, he entered as bookkeeper, the banking establishment of Messrs. Corcoran & Riggs, bankers in Washington. He remained in the employment of these gentlemen till 1848, when he determined to migrate to California. He was married in 1843 to Miss Charlotte M. Libbey, of Georgetown. About the time of Mr. King's departure for California, a gentleman who now resides in San Francisco called upon Messrs. Corcoran & Riggs, and asked, the latter what he thought of Mr. King. "He is very clever, steady sort of a man," said Mr. Riggs; "but I don't believe he will ever set the Pacific on fire."

      When Mr. King resolved to emigrate, the gold discoveries of California had not been made, or, rather, the news of them had not yet reached the Atlantic border. An elder brother, who had been engaged in Col. Fremont's expedition across the Rocky Mountains, had visited California in 1846, and had subsequently filled the mind of Mr. King with glowing prospects of the future greatness of the country. This brother was also in the expedition of Col. Fremont in 1848; and it was to meet him in San Francisco, in order that they might enter into business together, that Mr. King sought the shores of the Pacific. Unhappily, the brother perished during Fremont's disastrous trip of the year last mentioned. Mr. King left Washington in May, 1848, and an extract from a letter written to him by his brother while he was in New York waiting for the vessel to sail, shows the condition of things in California, immediately after the Mexican war. He writes:

 

        "You must recollect that society is not formed yet properly in California, and as the population increases they will gradually form laws, adapted to their own peculiar circumstances. I think it would be well to inform yourself of the situation of the country and of the rights of the people, for as soon as the treaty is ratified, public attention there will be at once turned to the establishment of a civil government." *  *  *  I think it would be best to invest your money, or a portion of it, in a good rancho, and if you can purchase Joachim Estrada's, near the mission of St. Louis Obispo anyways reasonable, with the stock, do it by all means. Only have the title examined. This last advice, I give upon the supposition that you would like a agriculture life. If you can buy a lot or a few yards of the Quicksilver mine you had better do it. The best one is about six miles from the Puebla San José, near Mr. Cooke's rancho. If you travel by land between San Francisco and Monterey, you will pass through San José, and it is but a short ride to the mine. Visit it by all means if you are in the neighborhood."

 

      He left New York on the 24th of May, 1848, and in due time reached and crossed the Isthmus of Panama. From thence he could find no opportunity of proceeding direct to California. He accordingly sailed to Valparaiso, with the view of getting a vessel there bound for California.

      The news of the gold discoveries had by this time reached Chile. He was ready to make the best use of the startling intelligence. He purchased some goods at Valparaiso, and hired nine Chilenos to proceed with him to the mines in California, and work for him for a specified time at fixed wages.

      He reached San Francisco, November 10th, 1848, when every body in the place was in a fever of excitement. Six of the Chilenos immediately deserted him. With the three who remained he hastened to Hangtown, now called Placerville, and commenced mining. In three weeks time he found gold enough to pay all the expenses of his original large party from Valparaiso. Afterwards he went to Sacramento, and engaged in business with the mercantile firm of Messrs. Hensley, Reading & Co. He could not, however, be satisfied, while so fair an opening presented itself for the exercise of his proper profession of banking. In July of the same year he sacrificed large pecuniary interests which he had acquired in business, and left for the East to make corresponding arrangements there for the banking establishment which he proposed to form. He speedily returned to California, and on December 5th, 1849, opened a bank in San Francisco, in a small frame building on Montgomery street, between Clay and Merchant streets, under the name of James King of Wm. This was one of the earliest banking houses in the city. Afterwards he built the brick building at the southwest corner of Montgomery and Commercial streets, which was long known as his banking house.

      Mr. King was widely known as a banker over the whole State. He long carried on an extensive and lucrative business, and was universally respected as a man of the strictest integrity and the highest moral worth. His presence was an ornament to society, his friendship a prize which good men rejoiced to possess, and his personal acquaintance esteemed an honor by the most intellectual and influential persons. He was straightforward, earnest, practical and intelligent in all things. His wife, and their family of four children, rejoined him in 1851, and henceforth San Francisco became their home. He continued in the banking business until June, 1854. He had made so large profits in it that about the middle of 1853 he estimated his clear means at a quarter of a million of dollars. But riches take wings and flee away. He had entrusted large sums to a person to buy gold dust in the interior for him, when the agent, without his principal's consent or knowledge, invested the monies in a mining water stock. This unexpected speculation turned out ill. In the attempt to save some part of the original expenditure, Mr. King was induced to venture a great deal more money in the same stock, amounting in the end to about $100,000. All this proved a total loss to him. This unfortunate investments, and the depreciation of other stocks in which he was interested, induced him to close his bank. He did not fail, however, for he sacrificed all that he possessed, and paid his creditors to the utmost farthing. He ever refused to retain the homestead allowed him by law. He turned over the water stock to the banking and express firm of Adams & Co., for literally nothing, (but out of which they afterwards cleared a considerable sum) transferred his banking business to them, and entered their establishments as managing clerk of the banking department, at a liberal salary. No man could say that he lost one dollar by trusting Mr. King as his banker. He satisfied every obligation, and began to seek fortune anew.

      On February 22d, 1855, Adams & Co. failed. The consequences of their failure were disastrous in the extreme to thousands of industrious persons in every portion of the State. Mr. King retired from the ruined firm without a shadow of stain upon his personal reputation. He had done his duty to his employers, and had acted in good faith and honorably towards the creditors. He was next to seek justice for them, or at least avenge them on their betrayers. After the failure of Adams & Co., and in March, 1855, he endeavored to create a new banking business for himself, but without success. Public opinion ran strongly against all banks, and general distrust was excited against making deposits in any. He had no capital but his good name, and that could not be coined into money to enable him to conduct the necessary financial operations. He was therefore obliged to close his establishment in the month of June following. He preserved his credit and reputation for personal probity, throughout; and nobody had yet sustained any loss through him. While diligently pursuing his profession, he ever sought to perform the duties incumbent on a good citizen. As foreman of the Grand Jury, and as a leading agent in whatever public and private movements were connected with the promotion of the peace, purity and prosperity of San Francisco, he rendered much valuable and effective service to the community.

      It was the Grand Jury of November, 1853, of which he was foreman, that preferred a bill of indictment against the City Treasurer. For the fearless discharge of his duties Mr. King received much newspaper abuse, and a warning that if he did not desist, his life would be in danger. In reply to an abusive article published in a daily paper, after stating his reason for not more fully giving the evidence that was brought before the Jury, he says:

 

      "I will say, however, that from the very commencement of proceedings against one of the parties accused, threats were made to the effect that if we found a true bill against that gentleman, at least five or six of us would certainly be shot, and that a certain newspaper in this city would be "down" upon us. *  *  *  I have been called upon by several of my friends, and requested to arm myself against an attack. I have not and do not intend to carry any weapon. I shall have no fears for anything that may occur, and in conclusion will add, that, though I shall feel bound to defend myself as I can, if assaulted, yet I know my position too well to allow any threats or editorial remarks from a certain quarter to tempt me from my present position. I went on this Grand Jury with the greatest reluctance. During the whole course of my life, I have not absented myself so much from my business as I have during its session. I think I am within bounds in saying $2,000 would not repay me for that neglect. I asked to be excused, and the Judge would not do it; but fined me $50 for not being more punctual. The fine was afterwards remitted. I have endeavored to do my duty faithfully. I trust the public, even if it does not think as I do, will give me credit for my intention; but whether it does or not, I cannot cater to that public's taste to the violence of my oath. I have confidence in their sense of justice; whether they approve or dissent, I can meet the eye of any man living, and, what is sweeter still, am at peace with my own conscience, and can look around in my family circle and know that the mother and six little ones need not blush for me."

 

      At the risk of repetition of some of the events before narrated in this sketch, we shall proceed to give Mr. King's published statement of the relations that existed between Adams & Co., and himself: showing how he stood with them, and how earnestly he strove to prevent the failure which he saw would inevitably befall them unless they pursued a different business policy. Mr. King says, in answer to queries addressed to him through the newspapers:

 

      "Through the imprudence of a banker at Sonora (who had been my cashier during nearly the whole of the years 1850-51, and in whose judgment and discretion I had the utmost confidence) a large amount of funds placed by me in his hands for the purchase of gold dust, was, without my knowledge, taken for the uses of the Tuolumne Hydraulic Association, of which he was the Treasurer. The stockholders refusing to ratify certain extraordinary expenses incurred by the Board of Directors, a suit was instituted, which was decided against the stockholders, and the canal was bought in at Sheriff's sale, to secure the debt. Unable to meet my call for funds, the parties in question did all they could, and gave me the entire works for security. Month after month I waited anxiously for the receipts, which did not, by any means, equal the anticipations of those familiar with the work. During all this time I was a prey to the most agonizing doubts and fears.

      For the first time in my life I was unexpectedly placed in a position where, in the event of a run, I could not possibly meet my engagements. No one that has not been similarly situated can imagine the agony I endured from day to day, and week to week, as I saw persons walk into my office and deposit money which, in the event of a panic, before I could turn my property into cash, I knew I could not return. I saw it all, felt it all, and dared not open my lips. I cared not about being poor. All I aimed at was to be able, at a moment's warning, to return what had been entrusted to me. I was afraid to attempt borrowing money, lest it should hasten the very crisis I wished to avoid. I consulted with a few friends, showed them my books, and asked their advice. "Why," said one of the firm of Page, Bacon & Co., "Mr. King, I don't see that you are as bad off as you represent; you are stronger than any banker in the street excepting, perhaps, Messrs.——— and Messrs.————." "Then, heaven help us all," I replied, "for I don't see how I can get along without borrowing, and that would never answer for a Banker. The result of this conference was that I was offered, if needed, $50,000 by Page, Bacon & Co., and $50,000 by Mr. Haskell, of Adams & Co. As I hesitated about accepting this offer, one of the friends urged, among other things, that Mr. Haskell (of Adams & Co.) considered himself under obligations to me for the handsome manner in which I had managed their affairs at Stockton, where, by pledging myself for coin advanced them to aid their house, I had stopped the run at that point and saved the other country offices as well as the parent house here. That my commission as receiver would have amounted to a large sum, which I had refused to accept, and declining any compensation for my time and services, received back only the actual amount of my expenses— some $160, or $170. This decided me, and I told them I would call on them in case I needed any assistance. I set myself earnestly at the work of selling off my property, calling in loans, and converting everything into cash, when I received the following offer from Mr. Woods (of Adams & Co.) through Mr. Park: 1st. On my transferring to them a certain amount of property, part in cash, part in bills receivable, and the balance in certain pieces of real estate, they would undertake to assume all my liabilities of every kind, provided they did not in the aggregate exceed an amount before stated by me from memory. 2d. I should remain in their employ for the space of two years, for which they agreed to pay me the sum of one thousand dollars per month, and a certain per centage on the amount of their interest account, regardless of any losses or gains either on said interest or any other account.

 

      I declined giving Mr. Park any answer until the offer was made in writing; which was done in the course of a half hour, and accepted by me without hesitation; for, though it left me penniless, it enabled me to meet all my engagements, and I was assured of their ability to advance the amount required without any detriment to their own depositors. After the bargain was concluded, and whilst the lawyers were drawing the papers, Mr. Woods called on me, and asked how I liked the bargain. I replied, "Very much, indeed. And what do you think of it? "Well," he said, "I like it so well that I would not undo it for $100,000." "And I assure you," I rejoined, "that even if I were sure your most sanguine expectations would be realized, I would not undo it for a like sum."

      After receiving the details of my assets, Mr. Woods expressed himself highly pleased at the result, and said to a mutual friend; "King is entirely too honest; he underrated everything he had, and though he had become so disgusted with the canal as not to set any valuation at all on it, I am satisfied I shall make from $100,000 to $150,000 out of it; and when I get through, we shall make King a present of $10,000 or $20,000. I am posted on canals, and he knows nothing about them."

      Among the assets thus conveyed by me to Adams & Co., were:

The three story fire-proof Building, at the corner of Montgomery and Commercial Streets,

valued at, ...................................................................................................................  $36,000 00

Lot on Stockton Street, for which I had been offered ................................................    7,000 00

Water Lot No. 273 ....................................................................................................... 15,000 00

Three small Lots valued at $250 each ........................................................................       750 00

Loan to Orphan Asylum, on mortgage .........................................................................     500 00

Eighty Acres of Land on the County road, with dwelling-House, Barn, Carriage House,

 &c., and all the Stock thereon, as well as Furniture in the house,…….......................   8,000 00

Buggy, pair of Horses, Harness, &c. ...........................................................................   1,000 00

$1,000 of old Stock, Bradley, Berdan & Co., cost $1200, ..........................................   1,000 00

$3,000, Plank Road Stock, at 55 cts.............................................................................   1,650 00

$15,100, Central Wharf Stock, at 30 cts......................................................................   4,530 00

1st Class Bills Receivable, all since paid..................................................................... 37,189 00

Debt of A. A. Cohen, since paid..................................................................................   1,200 00

Over Drafts, since paid................................................................................................  17,472 55

Fremont Drafts, since paid............................................................................................ 14,125 00

Cash .............................................................................................................................. 49,548 87

                                                                                                                                    —————

                                                                                                                                    $194,965 42

 

To this should be added one good Note, payment of which, by request,

was not pressed.................................................................................................           3,312 00

And the Loans made on Account, and by Note, as security for which, I held the

Tuolumne Hydraulic Canal, which cost upwards of $350,000, and which I am now

informed is paying $2,000 per month........................................................................     80,055 35

On which had accrued at the time I closed business, an average of about five months,

interest, say................................................................................................................  12,000 00

      In addition to this amount of $290,332.77, I handed over sundry Bills Receivable, not considered good, amounting to $22,580.15, but which were not conducted at the time. The whole amount of my liabilities, here and elsewhere, amounted to the sum of $278,951.29.

      From the Bulletin of November 3d, 1855, we take the following, entitled

 

To the San Francisco Public:

 

      A Card over the signature of the Financial Conductor of the Chronicle newspaper, and which appeared in yesterday's issue of that journal, being the first effusion of that kind over the real name of the author, demands, I think, a notice from me. Passing over the abusive terms applied to me by the writer referred to, I come at once to the direct charges made against me by a man of whose person I am totally ignorant, with whom I am not aware that I ever yet exchanged a word, and of whose very name, until within the past week, I was wholly unconscious. And first, as to the charge of living extravagantly and beyond my means. I lived well, but, for my means, not extravagantly. My house was a good one. I aimed to have it such. It was not larger than I needed, and was furnished well, without having unnecessary display. Those who were in the habit of visiting there, will judge from the following table whether my style of living was beyond my means.

      I made it a point to balance my profit and loss account once a month for the purpose of seeing how my affairs stood, and regulating my expenses accordingly.

      The following table shows the net profit of my banking business, over and above salaries and all office expenses, for a series of months.

      For the month ending April 30, 1852..............................................................         $6,591 56

                                    "     May 31,    "   ..............................................................         3,535 01

                                    "     June 30,    "  ...............................................................         4,183 08

                                    "     July 31,    "  ................................................................         5,075 08

                                    "     Aug. 31   "  .................................................................           922 87

                                    "     Sept. 30  "  .................................................................         2,702 57

                                    "     Oct. 31   " .................................................................             830 14

                                    "     Nov. 30  "  ...................................................................       1,048 14

                                    "     Dec. 31  "  ....................................................................      5,033 91

                                    "    Jan. 31, 1853.................................................................       1,619 48

                                    "    Feb. 18   "  ...................................................................        3,726 35

                                    "    Mar. 31  "  ......................................................................     2,695 92

                                    "   Apr. 30   "  ......................................................................         970 34

                                    "   May 31  "  ...................................................................          4,557 68

                                    "   June 30  "  ........................................................................        524 31

                                    "   July 31  "  ........................................................................      3,257 22

                                    "   Aug. 31 " ..........................................................................    5,483 54

                                    "   Sept. 30 " ..........................................................................    4,101 44

Oct., Nov. and to Dec. 31,    "  .............................................................................         4,104 89

                                                                                                            ——————

      Making for twenty-one months, the sum of .......................................................      $60,963 53

and an average for the whole period of $2,903.03 per month. This, be it remembered, was my income from my regular banking business, and did not include my profits from sales of real estate, of which a separate account was kept. As to the "parties" alluded to by the proprietor of the Chronicle, I never gave but one during my seven year's residence in California. So much for the private affairs of a household thus unceremoniously dragged into the public prints by a man whom, so far as I know, I have never seen.

     The next thing to be noticed is the charge of betraying the confidence reposed in me by the firm of Adams & Co., in whose employ I once was. This charge I fully answered in my letter to I. C. Woods, dated the 26th of July last, and published in the Sun and Alta, wherein I showed that, notwithstanding the quarrel then going on between Woods and Cohen, on the one side, and myself on the other, I refused to give any information about matters obtained by me whilst in their employment, and preferred the loss of my best friends rather than betray the trust. When announcing my determination to Mr. Woods, I said: "This sir, is the most painful duty I ever had to perform. My honor forces me to keep your secret, whilst by so doing I am sure to lose my best friends, and you and Cohen, my worst enemies, knowing the dilemma in which I am placed, chuckle with delight at the pain that decision gives me." Profoundly ignorant of the rascality of Woods, that has since been told me, I never opened my lips to any one about the private affairs of Adams & Co., until the attorney of one of the partners (Mr. Adams) asked for a statement of what I knew about the business of the firm, and I told everything I knew to that partner, because he had a right to know it.

     The public have already been informed of the causes which led to my employment by Adams & Co. After completing the charges necessary to the system of accounts introduced by me into that office, I set myself to work to find out, as far as the books in my possession would show, what the real condition of the house was, and soon made up my mind it was insolvent. I immediately reported the fact to Mr. Woods, who at first affected to laugh, and then becoming seriously alarmed, asked me what I meant? I replied: "to discharge my duty to my employers, and by warning you, sir, of the condition of the house, if possible, save it from ruin, and its depositors from heavy losses." The result of that conversation was, that he promised to sell off what property the firm owned, and convert everything to cash; to allow me to reduce the amount of bills receivable to the extent of two or three hundred thousand dollars; to build no more offices and buy no more property; but to sell off his ranch, as well as all his other private "property" so called, and generally take the measures proposed by me for placing the house in a condition to meet any crisis that might arise. Had Mr. Woods adhered to my advice, the house would have been in far better condition to stand the crisis that awaited it. But every move I made for the good of the house was thwarted by a contrary one on the part of Mr. Woods. With all the exertions I could make, it took me nearly a whole month to reduce the loans $60,000, and in five minutes, Woods had arranged for loans to the extent of $125,000. What could I do?  I was but a clerk; he the sole partner resident here.

     The question now arises naturally, why it was, when I discovered the house was insolvent, I did not resign and leave it? My answer is, that by contract I was bound to remain with them for the space of two years, and could not get away. In addition to this, let me ask what good could I have accomplished by leaving the firm in the lurch, as it were, and in so doing alarm some of the depositors and hasten the ruin? By remaining I not only fulfilled my contract: but as Woods spoke of going to the Atlantic States, I had some hopes of having more power placed in my hands, and with him out of the way, might possibly save the house.

     On the 17th of July, 1855, Mr. ————, now a very wealthy citizen of San Francisco, with whom Mr. King had been on hostile terms, and the latter met on Montgomery street, opposite Barrett & Sherwood's jewelry store, and a few words ensuing, the nature of which was unknown to any beside the parties themselves, Mr. King struck ——— several times about the head and shoulders, and considerably worsted his adversary. This led to the following challenge by Mr. ——, and reply by Mr. King.

SAN FRANCISCO, July 17, 1855            

To James King of Wm.,

      Sir.—I hereby demand satisfaction from you, for your conduct toward me this afternoon.  I refer you to my friend.

                                                                                    Your obedient Servant,

                                                                                                _____________         

                                                SAN FRANCISCO, July 18th, 1855.

 

Mr.—————,

      Sir:—I now proceed to give you my reply to the note you handed me last night. And first, waiving other insuperable objections to the mode indicated of settling such difficulties, I could not consent to a hostile meeting with Mr. ——. The public have already been fully advised of my estimate of his character. The relative positions of Mr. ——— and myself are entirely unequal in worldly fortune, and domestic relation. He is understood to be possessed of an abundant fortune. In the event of his fall, he would leave ample means for the support of his wife and child. Recent events have stripped me entirely of what I once possessed. Were I to fall, I should leave a large family without the means of support. My duties and obligations to my family have much more weight with me than any desire to please Mr. ——— or his friends, in the manner proposed. I have ever been opposed to duelling on moral grounds. My opinions were know to Mr. ———, and when he addressed me the note which you had the imprudence to deliver, he was well aware that it would not be accepted or answered affirmatively. That fact is insufficient to demonstrate his contemptible cowardice in this silly attempt to manufacture for himself a reputation for "chivalry."

      Whilst nothing could induce me to change my principles upon the subject of duelling, my conscience is perfectly easy as to my right and the propriety of defending myself should I be assaulted.

      Do not flatter yourself, sir, that this communication is made out of regard either to yourself or to Mr.——. I write this for publication in the newspapers. I avow principles of which I am not ashamed, and shall abide the result.  JAMES KING of WM.

      This was the first instance in the history of California that any one had had the moral courage to refuse to fight a duel when challenged; and among other evidences which Mr. King received of the high appreciation which the better class of society placed upon his conduct, was the following communication addressed to him, which was signed by many of the prominent business men of the city.

 

JAMES KING of WM., Esq.,

      Sir:— Your fellow citizens, whose names are subscribed to this letter, desire to express to you their admiration of the moral courage and sound principle manifested in your refusal to accept the challenge of Mr. ——, to meet him in a duel. We believe that the so-called code of honor which requires all who consent to be governed by it to submit every injury, insult, misrepresentation or misunderstanding to the decision of the pistol or the knife, to be in violation of the law of God, and of the laws of this State, and of those sacred obligations which a man owes to his family, his relatives and dependents, and to society.

      We are convinced that if an expression of the sentiment of this community could be had upon this subject, a very large majority would be found to view with abhorrence the risking of life for insufficient cause, and often upon a mere punctilio; and that we express the feeling common to them, as well as ourselves when we thank you for the bold, manly, and uncompromising manner in which you have refused to sanction the practice. With the expression of an earnest hope, that if no higher principle should govern our fellow citizens, a regard for their interest may soon induce them to see to it that good laws well administered shall in future save us from violence and bloodshed; and with assurances of our high esteem and regard, we remain,        Your obedient Servants,

                                                                        (Here follow some seventy signatures.)

      On the 8th of October, of the same year, Mr. King started and edited the Daily Evening Bulletin, a newspaper which suddenly rose to the most unbounded popularity, and which has had a wide sway, and exercised a great influence over the community. As stated by himself, the problem to be solved at the establishment of this paper was: "Would the San Francisco public sustain a truly independent journal—one that would support the cause of morality, virtue and honesty, whether in public service or private life, and which, regardless of all consequences, would fearlessly and undauntedly maintain its course against the political and social evils of the day?" The answer Yes! was soon and loudly made, and enthusiastically echoed from every town and mining camp in the country. The services rendered by James King of Wm., in the Bulletin, to the cause of political integrity, and public and private morals, will never be forgotten by the people of the State. He attacked the vicious and criminal wherever he found them. Corruption in high places met in him a relentless foe.

      A notorious and professedly banking house, but which was virtually a political institution, that had long overridden the Constitution, and made and unmade—against the will of the people, and by the most disreputable means—nearly every officer of the city and State, was assailed by the Bulletin in regular form; and its corruption, it insolent and dangerous usurpation, and at the same time its inherent weakness, exposed. The wrongers and swindlers of the unfortunate creditors of Adams & Co. were pitilessly attacked and held up to the scorn and detestation of the people. The demoralizing system of bestowing Federal, State and city appointments chiefly on professional gamblers, duelists, rowdies, and assassins—on the debauched, illiterate, idle, criminal, and most dangerous class of mixed population of the country—was forcibly pointed out and indignantly condemned. A high standard of honesty was laid down for all public men. The law's cruel delay, the baseness and corruption of its ministers, the dishonorable professional conduct of leading pleaders in the courts, all were made plain to the honest and unsuspecting, and properly stigmatized. In short, the glaring evils of the body politic, the denial and perversion of justice, and the unworthy personal character and incapability of the general class of men who held office, or who were connected with the courts of law, were loudly and unsparingly denounced. Mr. King did not waste his energies by uttering smooth, general homilies on evil doings; he struck directly at the evil-doer. If a man whose conduct required to be publicly exposed were really a swindler, a gambler or duelist, a common cheat, a corrupt judge or a political trickster, the Bulletin, standing alone in this respect among the timid, time-serving or bribed city press, dared so to style him. But to only did Mr. King, in his paper, expose scoundrelism, vice and crime, and smite their votaries wherever he detected them; he also endeavored, and not in vain, to aid in whatever could restore and strengthen the moral tone of society. He urged the decent observance of the Sabbath; he recalled public attention to the plainest and most necessary dictates of religion; he encouraged the establishment of public schools, and dwelt on the blessings of a sound and liberal education; he frowned on gambling, dueling, and willful idleness; he sought to soothe and re-inspire the desponding who had the desire but lacked the opportunity, and especially the energy and perseverance, to earn a living by the sweat of their brow; he strove to free the city from the unblushing presence of the lewd who had so long assumed insolently to follow, if not often to lead, the virtuous and decent portion of the community. The political knave, the dishonest officeholder, the gambler, swindler, loafer and duelist, the base class of lawyers—in brief, the vicious, lewd and criminal of every kind, were in consternation; their unhallowed practice and gains were disappearing.

      A conspiracy was formed: and the end of it all was the public assassination of this brave champion of the people's rights. The conspirators resolved and swore to secure impunity to the guilty doer. A base, illiterate man—a convicted felon, who had served a sentence of imprisonment in Sing Sing penitentiary, but who yet held a high municipal office in San Francisco, into which he had been stuffed by ballot-box fraud—was the wretched tool of the secret murderers. The professed cause of the deed was that James King of Wm., had told the truth concerning him.

      The circumstances attending the assassination, and the events which followed, will ever appear as fixing a grand epoch in the history of California, and from that day will date the regeneration of public virtue, if not also of private morals, in the State.

      Mr. King was taken unawares, and deliberately shot down, about five o'clock on the afternoon of Wednesday, the 14th day of May, 1856, on the public thoroughfare, near the northwest corner of Montgomery and Washington streets. A ball, fired from a navy revolver, entered the left breast and passed through his body. After lingering in much pain, and for some time affording strong hopes of recovery, he gradually sank, and died of the wound shortly after one o'clock on the afternoon of Tuesday, the 20th of May.

      His death was universally regarded (except by the miserable faction whom he had pursued) as a national calamity, and every honor that a grateful people could bestow was heaped on his memory. A public subscription, amounting to nearly $32,000, was raised throughout the city and State, and presented to his widow and family of six children. He was thirty-four years and a few months old when he died. His was a tall, well-proportioned, manly form. The keenness of his eyes, his handsome black beard, and the noble expression of his countenance—the index to his heroic character—were vividly remembered by all who saw him but only once. His body lies buried in the Lone Mountain Cemetery, mid-way between the city and the ocean.

      On the afternoon of Thursday, the 22d day of May, the assassin, James P. Casey, was hanged before a vast multitude by the Vigilance Committee. At the same instant of time that a solemn dirge was being chanted over the dead body of the victim, previous to the funeral procession leaving the old Unitarian Church, on Stockton street, for the cemetery, the murderer was struggling with death. That day, May 22d, 1856—in which also news reached San Francisco of a dreadful railway accident on the Isthmus of Panama—was one of manifold horrors to the citizens.

      Among the numerous tributes offered to the memory of James King of Wm. were the following verses, written by W. H. Rhodes, Esq., (better known by the nom de plume, "Caxton,") which were appropriately set to music by Prof. Rodolph Herold.

 

"He Fell at His Post Doing Duty."

                                   

                                                The patriot sleeps in the land of his choice,

                                                     In the robe of a martyr, all glory,

                                                And heeds not the tones of the world-waking voice,

                                                     That cover his ashes with glory.

                                                What recks he of riches? what cares he for fame,

                                                     Or a world decked in grandeur or beauty?

                                                If the marble shall speak that records his proud name,

                                                     He died at his post, doing duty !"

 

                                                The pilot that stood at the helm of our bark,

                                                     Unmoved by the tempest's commotion,

                                                Was swept from the deck in the storm and the dark,

                                                     And sank in the depths of the ocean.

                                                But little he'll grieve for the life it has cost,

                                                    If our banner shall still float in beauty,

                                                And emblaze on its folds, of the pilot we lost,

                                                    "He died at his post doing duty !"

 

                                                The warrior-chieftain has sunk to his rest—

                                                     The sod of Lone Mountain his pillow;

                                                For his bed, California has opened her breast;

                                                     His dirge, the Pacific's sad billow !

                                                As long as the ocean-wave weeps on our shore,

                                                     And our valleys bloom out in their beauty,

                                                So long will our country her hero deplore,

                                                     Who fell at his post doing his duty !

 

 

 

 

 

Transcribed by: Jeanne Sturgis Taylor.

Source: Shuck, Oscar T., “Representative & Leading Men of the Pacific”, Bacon & Co., Printers & Publishers, San Francisco, 1870. Pages 563-579.


© 2008 Jeanne Sturgis Taylor.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MEN OF THE PACIFIC

 

GOLDEN NUGGET'S SAN FRANCISCO BIOGRAPIES

 

San Francisco County