Born in 1755, Rufus King was the eldest son of a prosperous Maine merchant. After graduating at the top of his class at Harvard in 1777 and briefly serving in the Revolutionary War in Rhode Island, King studied law in Massachusetts. He proved a good lawyer and was quickly elected into public service. He was a member of the Massachusetts state legislature and a representative in the Confederation Congress. In 1787 he was a framer and signer of the constitution and helped the document become ratified in Massachusetts. Shortly thereafter King moved to New York City and was elected to the Senate after one month of residency. As a member of the Federalist Party in the Senate, he strived to implement the ideas of strong central government and prompt payment of national debt that his good friend Alexander Hamilton advocated.
In 1796 he was ambassador to Great Britain where he helped shape American maritime policy. He served in the post until 1803, through the administrations of Washington, Adams and Jefferson. On taking his leave from Britain, King George III told King he was sorry to see him leave, “for your conduct here has been so entirely proper, both as it has regarded the interest of your own Country and of this, as to have given me perfect satisfaction.” He retired from public life to King Manor in 1806 but eventually returned to the Senate during the tumultuous years of the War of 1812. During the conflict he stressed country over party and became a rallying point for unity. He was the last standard bearer for the Federalist Party and was defeated in the 1816 presidential election against James Monroe. He returned to the Senate in his twilight years and spoke against the spread of slavery during the debates on the Missouri Compromise. He stood on the Senate floor and amongst a crowd of free blacks said, “I have yet to learn that one man can make a slave of another. If one man cannot do so, no number of individuals can have any better right to do it.” King’s words were radical at the time and it was another 43 years before the Emancipation Proclamation caught up to his ideas.
King always had the idea of settling on his country estate and retiring, but his nation always found more work for the civic leader. He lived off and on in King Manor until his death in 1827. He was buried next to his wife Mary Alsop King, who had died in 1819, at Grace Episcopal Church, which is a block east of King Manor on Jamaica Avenue. Rufus and Mary had five sons who survived to adulthood: John, Charles, James, Edward, and Frederick.
Mary Alsop King was born on October 17, 1769. Her father John Alsop was a prominent New York citizen. He was a prosperous merchant and served as a delegate to the first two Continental Congresses. When her mother Mary Frogat Alsop died at the age of twenty-eight, little Mary, an only child, was just three years old. Her father never remarried. On March 30, 1786, Mary married Rufus King. She gave birth to seven children, John Alsop (1788-1867), Charles (1789 - 1867), Caroline (1790 - 1793), James Gore (1791 - 1853), Henry (b & d 1792), Edward (1795 - 1836), and Frederick (1802 - 1829). Mary died on June 5, 1819, not yet fifty years old, and is buried in the Grace Episcopal Churchyard in Jamaica, New York.
The eldest child of Rufus King (1755-1827) and Mary Alsop King (1769-1819), John purchased King Manor from his father’s estate in 1827 and continued to use the property as a working farm. John followed in his father’s footsteps into politics and was elected twice to the New York State Assembly and Senate, where he spoke out against the 1840 “gag rule” that existed to stop the receipt of abolitionist petitions to Congress.
In 1849 John was elected to Congress where he established his reputation as an opponent of slavery. He also opposed connecting the admission of free states to the Union with that of slave states. John was Governor of New York from 1857-59, and fought for the arrest of “Blackbirders,” men who seized free black New Yorkers and sold them into slavery. Not surprisingly, the King Manor estate was referred to as the “Governor’s House” and retained this name well into the 20th century. John was instrumental in the formation of the Republican Party and cast his vote as an elector-at-large for Abraham Lincoln in 1860.