Who was Alexander King?

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By Jackie Hemond (much of the information comes from papers written by Lois Scozzari)

Alexander King (1737-1802) was the great grandson of James King, an original proprietor, commonly known as first settler who arrived in Suffield in 1682. Alexander King graduated from Yale, the first in his family to attend college. Upon graduation, he received a Berkeley scholarship, still awarded today, for excellence in Latin and Greek. Money for the scholarship came from a Newport slave plantation which Bishop George Berkeley donated to Yale. King never owned enslaved people, but several of his Suffield contemporaries did.

King had a 70-volume library and wrote frequently on politics and philosophy. He was Suffield’s principal physician for 40 years. He married Experience Hitchcock, bought 70 acres and in 1764, they moved into a house built by Eliphalet King, Alexander’s cousin. That house is the King House Museum.

King launched himself into government and politics. He was a church deacon; Justice of the Peace; often, when he served as the Town Clerk, he was also the Town Selectman. King was selectman for 32 years from 1768 until 1802 except during 1775-76, perhaps because some townspeople named him a Tory. He also served as a deputy and representative to the Connecticut General Assembly.

At a town meeting on July 4, 1774, exactly two years before the Declaration of Independence, King was selected to be on a committee to decide what Suffield should do about the increasingly restrictive acts which Great Britain imposed upon the colonies. Ultimately, Suffield agreed to suspend all commerce with Great Britain, aid Boston and abide by a forthcoming Congressional plan to secure and preserve “Liberties, Privileges and Freedom.”

Although King approved these measures, he grew increasingly worried about the tyranny of the patriots. “Mobbish tempers are so high that it is dangerous for a moderate to manifest his opinion.” Public officials were forced to give oaths of fidelity. A man suspected of being a Tory was executed in Hartford. In September 1774, mobs in Westfield and Springfield “disciplined” Tories. King worried because he and “sundry Gentlemen” were threatened by Oliver Hanchett and [Comfort] Williston. On September 20, 1774, King wrote that “Oliver Hanchett has made it his business for some time past…that Mr. Granger and I were Tories which at this time has great effect.” These attacks may have barred King from office in 1775 and 1776.

On April 20, 1775, a postrider brought news of the Battle of Lexington. Fifty-nine men under the command of Captain Elihu Kent responded to the alarm that day. The next day, Captain Daniel Austin left with an additional fifty-two men. King had expected to go to Lexington as well, but the Governor requested King’s presence at the Assembly. Although he did not join the militia, King donated grain, animals and saltpeter to the cause.

When the Governor ordered all militia west of the Connecticut River to march to New York to aid George Washington, 180 Suffield men left for the city on August 13, 1776. That night, King served as night watchman, noting that at least 300 Suffield men were at war. The town “is left almost without men except old men and boys.” On October 30, 1776, 70 suspected Tories marched through town on their way to Newgate Prison.

As the war continued, fewer Suffield men joined the fight. The patriotic zeal had ebbed. Even Oliver Hanchett, eager to join the fray at first, stayed home after release from his imprisonment by the British in Quebec City. Finally, the war was over but King’s unease continued. He decried the execution of John André, the British spy. in 1780. In 1784, King resigned from the Connecticut Assembly. He was unsympathetic to Shays Rebellion in 1786, when unpaid, debt-ridden Revolutionary War soldiers protested against taxes. As a representative to the 1788 Connecticut Convention, he voted against the ratification of the Constitution. He was critical of Oliver Phelps who, King believed, gained his wealth in unscrupulous land speculations. In the years just prior to his death, there were rumors that King had turned away from the Calvinist Congregational Church to the more tolerant Universalist faith. King, believing that he and his family would be condemned for his writings, burned most of his papers.

Throughout the war and for the rest of his life, King diverged from the general beliefs and actions of his day. His surviving diary offers an insight into a more nuanced view of the young republic. Not everyone agreed about the direction of the country in his day, just as in our own.

Explore more of the life of Alexander King by visiting the King House Museum, 232 South Main Street. Open Wednesdays and Saturdays, 1-4 p.m., May-September.

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