King family papers  1844-1901 (bulk 1844-1895)
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Collection Scope and Content Note

The correspondence series contains 69 letters. The earliest are from William King to his brothers, while in China in the late 1840s. They mainly concern trade conducted by Russell & Co., and frequently contain figures and purchasing instructions. During early 1850s, King writes several letters from New York discussing stocks and business matters.

A major shift occurs in the mid-1860s, when the most frequent topic of correspondence becomes William King’s mental health. One letter, from N.P. Russell, urges David King, Jr., to make William “obedient…to the stronger will of others” or else face “a public disgrace” and “wreck of both mind and frame” (October 16, 1864). Letters document several unsuccessful attempts to keep King’s behavior in check, including instructions from a physician to King, prescribing a healthier lifestyle (July 21, 1865), but by July 1866, the King brothers were corresponding with the McLean Asylum, where William had already arrived.

The few letters between 1867 and 1895 reveal more about King’s condition, mentioning “delusive fancies,” “acts of violence,” and a belief that “other patients are here as spies upon him” (July 29, 1870). Reports from doctors and friends during this period document a gradual worsening of King’s health and faculties. No correspondence documenting the legal case with Eugenia Webster Ross survives. The two folders of undated correspondence contain several letters in French as well as some unusual ruminations on women, night, and other topics, which appear to be in William King’s handwriting, and may have been addressed to a female love interest.

The documents series contains 36 items, including legal documents such as David King, Sr.’s will, tax documents, land indentures, and lease, loan, and rental papers, dating from the 1840s to 1900. Of particular interest is a printed 1893 Massachusetts Supreme Court record concerning William King’s condition, and Eugenia Webster Ross’ petition.

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