Biography / Administrative History
Scope and Content of Collection
Title: Thomas Starr King collection,
Collection number: GTU 93-5-01
King, Thomas Starr, 1824-1864
Wendte, Charles William, 1844-1931
2.5 linear feet (7 boxes and 4 folios).
Digital materials : 1 scrapbook (3 parts), 1 book, and 6 photographs
The Graduate Theological Union. Library.
Abstract: Thomas Starr King (1824 - 1864) was a Unitarian and Universalist minister and popular lecturer. Son of a Universalist minister
who served in New York and Massachusetts, he also served churches in the Boston area. He accepted a call to San Francisco
in 1860 to serve the Unitarian Church. With the start of the Civil War, he lectured and campaigned successfully throughout
the state to keep California in the Union and raised substantial funding for the Sanitary Commission. His was one of two statues
from the State of California in the Capital Building, Washington, D.C., until replaced by Ronald Reagan in June 2009. The
King statue was installed in the Civil War Grove in Capitol Park, Sacramento, December 8, 2009.
Physical location: 2/C/4-5
Languages represented in the collection:
Collection is open for research.
Copyright has not been assigned to The Graduate Theological Union. All requests for permission to publish or quote from manuscripts
must be submitted in writing to the Archivist. Permission for publication is given on behalf of The Graduate Theological Union
as the owner of the physical items and is not intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder, which must
also be obtained by the reader.
Thomas Starr King collection, GTU 93-5-01. Graduate Theological Union Archives, Berkeley, CA.
Charles Wendte, Unitarian minister in Oakland, who had known Thomas Starr King when a young man in the 1860's (See introduction
in Wendte's scrapbook, Folio 1) collected much of the material. This material was donated to the then Pacific Unitarian Seminary,
which became the Starr King School for the Ministry. Over time, other materials were added from individuals and from the San
Francisco First Unitarian Church. The collection is owned by Starr King School for the Ministry: GTU Archives is the designated
repository. Transferred May, 1993.
Charles Wendte, Unitarian minister in Oakland, who had known Thomas Starr King when a young man in the 1860's, created the
initial collection. Among his many actitivities, he worked on the committee to build the monument to TSK in Golden Gate Park,
SF, 1892; authored a book,
Thomas Starr King, Patriot and Preacher, 1921; and worked on designating TSK as one of the representatives in the U.S. Capitol's Statuary Hall, 1927. The collection
contains materials he gathered for these projects. This material was donated to the then Pacific Unitarian Seminary, which
became the Starr King School for the Ministry.
Other materials from individuals and from the San Francisco First Unitarian Church were added to what came to be known as
the Starr King Collection. If indicated, the sources of items are identified in the container listings. Many items, particularly
the printed materials, have the name of the school and the collection, and assigned call numbers written on them. Included
in the Starr King Collection at SKSM were books, pamphlets, and other published material either original to TSK, or about
him after his death. These were not transferred with the archival collection, but are maintained in the SKSM Rare Book Room.
The majority of letters and sermons original to TSK in this collection are from his early years in Boston.
Biography / Administrative History
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
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.
In 1859 King received several invitations from churches calling him 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, then after a second bout of pneumonia, 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.
Scope and Content of Collection
The collection includes original papers (letters and sermons), copies, printed material, photographs, scrapbook, newspaper
articles, and King's leather traveling case. The majority of letters and sermons original to TSK in this collection are from
his early years in Boston. Materials include Charles Wendte's work on the committee to build the monument to TSK in Golden
Gate Park, SF, 1892, and to designate TSK as one of the representatives in the U.S. Capitol's Statuary Hall, 1927.
The following terms have been used to index the description of this collection in
the library's online public access catalog.
King, Thomas Starr, 1824-1864.
Wendte, Charles William, 1844-1931.
French, Daniel Chester, 1850-1931.
King, Thomas Farrington, d. 1839.
Norris, Julia Wiggin King, d. 1904.
Unitarian Universalist Churches--California--History--Sources.
California--History--Civil War, 1861-1865.
United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865.
San Francisco (Calif.)--History--19th century.