NOT UNTIL he returned to Georgia late in the spring of 1862 did the full impact of the war touch Thomas Butler King. Home was no longer the plantation house on Saint Simons, but rather the cottage in Ware County to which the planting operations had been moved during his absence in Europe. In the winter of 1860–61, King had foreseen the possibility that the family would be forced to abandon Retreat. His acquaintance with naval affairs, the vulnerability of the Georgia coast, the location of Retreat-all made him appreciate the threat of hostile action in case of war. While he made preparations for his diplomatic venture, therefore, he corresponded with his eldest son about the necessity of transporting the family and slaves to the mainland if military action threatened.1 Although no definite place of refuge was picked before he left, the choice of Mallery King fell upon the same area that he and his father had visited the preceding year in search of new cotton land.
With careful planning, the younger Kings accomplished their removal from Saint Simons gradually. With the news of the bombardment of Fort Sumter, Florence, Virginia, and Georgia King began packing their belongings. Valuables were buried, pictures and books were shipped to Savannah for storage, and the three Misses King, together with the children of the slaves, crossed over to the mainland plantation where their sister, Hannah King Couper, resided.2 Even the Couper home was too close to the sea to afford any real security, and the arrival of a blockading vessel off the coast set Florence and Virginia King once more on the move. They took refuge with their cousin James King and with friends at Tebeauville, some sixty-five miles inland near the new plantation.
Of all this moving, and the concurrent activities of his sons in the army, King received only fragmentary reports while he was in Paris. He did learn, by her own hand, why Georgia did not accompany her sisters to Tebeauville. Among the young West Pointers who had resigned their commissions in the United States Army to cast their lot with the Confederacy, she had met one, Major William Duncan Smith, whom she found to be “a very noble hearted, generous man.”3 She had accepted his proposal of marriage, and despite the failure to receive any approving words from her father the couple went ahead with their plans for an early wedding. From Paris, King did send them his blessing, but it was many months later that Georgia King Smith heard of the missing letter. She was the first of his daughters to see King upon his return, when she went to Richmond to take care of him while he recovered from an attack of food poisoning. Her husband, they discovered, was the nephew of one of King’s oldest personal and political friends, F. M. Robertson of Charleston, South Carolina. By the first of May, King had recuperated enough to make the journey to Tebeauville, and Georgia rejoined her husband, now Brigadier General Smith, at his new command in Charleston.4
Regarding the new plantation at Tebeauville, King had received conflicting reports. Mallery King, who had borne the responsibility for management of the slaves during the past three years, thought that the land was good, “tho’ I don’t suppose we will be able to make more than provisions the first year.”5 Lord King was more enthusiastic after spending a long convalescent leave there:
In comparison with other planters, and especially considering that we are all in the army, I think we have been very fortunate.… All our negroes are well housed and there is a fair prospect of making provisions the present year.… Mall deserves the credit firstly Wm Couper & the Girls next.6
At least there were sure to be congenial neighbors, for Tebeauville was the refugee area for many of the planters of the Altamaha. Hannah King Couper, whose husband was trying to supervise both his own and the Kings’ removal to Tebeauville, was more aware of the drawbacks to their new situation:
there are hundreds now without meat & worse with no salt—And here are thousands of negros run away from the coast into these woods— who cant possibly make any thing like provisions enough for another year.7
The King slaves seemed content with their new quarters and were behaving well “& there was not one who did not eagerly ask ‘When are we to see Mausa?’”8
It was to this new establishment that King turned his steps after his illness in Richmond. A small cottage had been built near the railroad line from Tebeauville to Waresboro, and here his eldest unmarried daughter, Florence, kept house for him. To the great satisfaction of his daughters, he took up the challenges presented by the new situation and began to show an interest in making the new plantation pay for itself. Some of the hands were already at work cultivating provision crops; King now sent others out into the extensive pine forests of the neighborhood to produce turpentine. He anticipated that this would prove to be a marketable crop in a Confederacy short of manufactured products, but the demand for the naval stores turned out to be very uncertain, and the returns did not match the income that the Kings were accustomed to receive on their usual cotton crop. In the face of war-imposed difficulties, King failed to salvage even a living from his “planting’’ operations.9
The following year saw one more step in the breakup of the King menage as an economic unit. To provide a cash income, King turned to the practice of selling the labor of the slaves, like other slaveowners who had sought refuge in the Tebeauville area. In August 1863 he suspended turpentine production and hired twenty-two hands to the government. He engaged a farmer of the neighborhood to live on the place and supervise the production of a corn crop, “and (which is very important) begin a regular system of spinning and weaving clothes for the negros,”10 By hiring a slave to the government, Georgia King Smith explained to her brother, “we can get $25 pr month & have him fed—& then if he runs to the Yankees get $2500 from the Government—”11 The $6,600 yearly income from this arrangement was expected to supply the cash to maintain the family and the slaves who remained at Tebeauville. Under the impact of war, the way of life that King had known at Retreat had disappeared.
By the end of the summer of 1862 King felt that he could leave his new home for a trip to the Madison Springs resort, before going on to see Governor Brown. There was still the unfinished business of a report to the governor and the legislature on the results of his trip to Europe, and he no longer held a seat in the Senate which would enable him to look out for his own interests. Governor Brown, however, endorsed his report, and in November recommended that King be relieved of the unexpected additional expenses that his prolonged stay in France had entailed. The Governor’s recommendations were referred to a special committee headed by King’s friend A. E. Cochran, who had succeeded him as senator from Glynn County. Cochran’s committee issued a report that complimented King highly for the carrying out of his mission. The contract which King had made with Sabel and Company of Liverpool was regarded as a complete fulfillment of his instructions, but was rejected by the legislature because of the praiseworthy change which had been effected in French steamship policy. The Commissioner’s triumphs over difficulties were recounted in brief but glowing terms, and the highest praise was reserved for his propaganda efforts. His publications, the committee declared, “have done more to place the real political and commercial resources of this country before the European people than any acts or papers which have fallen under their observation during our troubles.”12 The appropriation for additional funds went through without opposition, and shortly before Christmas Cochran was able to write King the good news that $2,900 now stood to his credit in the treasury, adding:
Mr. Hester in the House & Mr. Seward in the Senate made speaches … to the effect that your services to the country in Europe had been of more value than all which had been done by the representatives of the Confederacy. I heard Ex Gov. Johnson & Vice President Stephens say as much.…13
Such expressions of appreciation from former rivals in politics would have been gratifying, if they had not arrived in the wake of bad news from the battlefront.
With the outbreak of the war, all four of King’s sons had volunteered for service in the Confederate armies, and still another soldier was added to the family by Georgia’s marriage to General William D. Smith. None of the Kings had been badly injured in the early engagements in which they participated, but death struck quickly in the second year of the war. First came the news that General Smith was dead, felled not by bullets, but by a long illness. Then, in December the casualty lists from Fredericksburg bore the name of Henry Lord Page King, killed while carrying dispatches as a member of General McLaws’s staff in the fighting for Marye’s Heights. His body was brought back to Georgia by his servant, and on Christmas Day 1862 was laid to rest in the graveyard at Christ Church.14 From the burial, King went on to Richmond to collect the effects of his dead son, and to catch a glimpse of his son Floyd, who managed to get a ten-day leave from his duties. Floyd was shocked by the change in his father’s appearance since they had last seen one another, and wrote warningly to Mallery King that their father was “breaking fast.”15
Despite his grief, King found the air of the Confederate capital stimulating. Old friends, along with some old enemies, sat in the seats of power, and he made new acquaintances. To the distinguished visiting Guards officer, Colonel Fremantle, he appeared “very agreeable and well informed.”16 The two men met by chance at the hotel, and King introduced the visitor to the social circle that revolved about Mrs. Robert C. Stanard, whose house in Richmond was “one unremittent salon.”17 But surely this bustling capital would be even more enjoyable if he, too, held an official position. By June King had decided to seek a seat in Congress, much to the distress of his widowed daughter, who thought it unsuitable for her father to enter the lists against “a young man scarcely tried…,”18 King was not swayed by her protest.
The first task of the prospective candidate was to place his name before the public for nomination. During the last week in June the Savannah Republican carried in its columns an exchange of public letters. Representative citizens of ten counties of the First District wrote to King, asserting that the country needed his experience to help guide its destinies and requesting permission to propose his name at any convention that might be held. With a faint show of reluctance, their correspondent agreed to the suggestion. The following day the same group of men issued an invitation to the voters of the district to send delegates to a convention to be held July 23, 1863, at Blackshear, Georgia. This move was quickly countered by the incumbent of the First District seat, Julian Hartridge. He made public a letter declaring himself a candidate and opposing the call for a convention. The exigencies of the times and the absence of many voters on army duty made a convention impracticable, he contended. He proposed to make no campaign, but he agreed to render a public account of his services to any voters who invited him to address them.19
During the ensuing month the supporters of the two candidates took up the cudgels for the man of their choice. Some backers of King attacked Hartridge for evading the traditional nominating convention and for speaking throughout the district when he had declared that the times would not justify a campaign. A defender of Hartridge, on the other hand, decried the convention because it was inspired by King and favored only by his supporters. County meetings that endorsed Hartridge passed resolutions against the convention, while most of the counties that appointed delegates to the convention expressed a preference for King.20
Since Hartridge’s supporters boycotted the convention, King’s unanimous nomination at Blackshear could hardly be called surprising. The platform of the convention, embodied in an address to the people of the district, accused the incumbent, Hartridge, and the Confederate Congress generally with “criminal neglect or bungling mismanagement.”21 The first charge against the Congress was its failure in the realm of finances; until recently, no taxes had been levied to give stability to the currency. As a result, inflation had raised the cost of government and the cost of living, yet speculators in cotton had profited enormously. To remedy the previous failures, the writer of the address proposed a government monopoly on the cotton crop. After this opening criticism, the address listed other deficiencies of the Congress: its weak naval policy, the practice of keeping secret the sessions of the House of Representatives, and the inadequate pay scale for the army. The broadside closed with a tribute to King, emphasizing his twenty years of legislative experience.
Despite the difficulties of wartime, the campaign was waged with enthusiasm at the hustings and in the press. King and Hartridge were joined by another candidate, Charles H. Hopkins, who made his bid for election mainly on the question of raising the pay of soldiers. All three candidates publicly answered a series of involved questions propounded by “A Citizen.” In simplified form, these inquiries were: whether the country should continue the war or seek an early peace, whether the pay of the soldier should be increased, and whether an alternative to the independence of the Confederacy or submission to the United States should be considered. In posing the last question, “A Citizen” seemed to have had in mind some attachment to England or France in a dependent or protectorate status. Each of the candidates rejected the third question as ridiculous or irrelevant and advocated an increase in the pay of the soldier. On the question of continuing the war, some differences of attitudes appeared. Hopkins declared himself in favor of the earliest possible peace with honor, without amplifying his stand. Hartridge called for the aggressive prosecution of an offensive war as the only way to an honorable peace. King favored a cessation of hostilities, but at the same time emphasized the need for a vigorous prosecution of defensive warfare until the Lincoln government sought peace.22 In addition to answering these questions, both King and Hartridge spoke widely throughout the district, each appealing for votes on the record of his past services to the state. Even though bad health forced King to interrupt his canvass, his daughters expressed increasing confidence in his success during the last six weeks before the election.23
The final returns of the October election were delayed more than two weeks, awaiting the arrival of all the absentee votes of the soldiers. On the face of the first returns, Hartridge seemed sure of reelection, since he had carried Chatham County by a margin of eight to one, and Chatham accounted for nearly one-fourth of the total vote. It soon became apparent that King had won a majority of the counties of the interior of the district, and Hartridge’s victory became more doubtful. The vote for Hopkins was negligible. When the last of the absentee votes from the armies in Tennessee and Virginia had been counted, Hartridge’s majority was reduced to fifteen votes out of a total of more than six thousand ballots.24
King’s ambition and temperament alike precluded his accepting meekly a defeat by such a narrow margin, particularly when ample grounds appeared for a contest of the election. At its next session the Chatham County grand jury denounced “the practice of buying and selling votes at elections, a practice which is said to have been not uncommon in years past, but which this Grand Jury believed was carried on, with scarce an attempt at concealment, at the State election in October last.”25 Announcing that open bribery was practised, with the price ranging between five and ten dollars a vote, the Grand Jury returned several indictments. King, who had amassed a heavy majority outside of Chatham, could hardly fail to profit from a successful prosecution of these cases. However, a contest would have to await the meeting of the next Congress, and he bided his time until the spring of 1864. Meanwhile, he had shown some of his old power as a vote-getter, and his name would be kept before the public by the senatorial election that was scheduled to take place when the legislature met in November.
More than once when he was a congressman, King had cast a longing eye in the direction of Senator John M. Berrien’s seat in the United States Senate, but he had never dared openly to challenge the elder statesman of the Whig Party in Georgia. Now, when he himself had taken on an elder statesman role, King’s earlier ambition entered the realm of possibility. Herschel V. Johnson, whose term was expiring in 1863, had originally accepted the senatorship reluctantly and had served unenthusiastically.26 Yet he consented to stand again for election, and his known political following made him the favored candidate. State sectionalism, as was so frequently the case, found an outlet in the senatorial selection. Both Johnson and Benjamin H. Hill, the other Georgia Senator, represented the upcountry agricultural interest; the seaboard area, in the opinion of residents, deserved a representative of its own. The Savannah Republican proposed the name of a man whose wisdom, the editor felt, fitted him to be Johnson’s successor, whose experience in business and naval matters had prepared him to represent the commercial interests of Savannah-Thomas Butler King.
In accordance with the usual custom, King and the other senatorial hopefuls were invited to take seats on the floor of the legislature, and some of them addressed that body unofficially. In the balloting that took place November 25, 1863, the votes were divided among eight candidates. Herschel V. Johnson led the first ballot with seventy-nine adherents, but Robert Toombs, Lucius J. Gartrell, and Thomas Butler King all showed substantial strength. On the second ballot Johnson increased his lead over the other candidates, and on the third he received a majority of the votes cast, most of King’s original supporters acquiescing in the majority choice. Even so, King could derive satisfaction from the knowledge that he could make a respectable showing in a contest with some of the foremost political leaders of Georgia and far surpass the once popular Howell Cobb.27
Defeated in his bid for the Senate, King reverted to the earlier plan of contesting the election of Hartridge the preceding October. With the evidence of corruption already before the courts, he might have been successful, but before the battle was joined he found himself engaged with a more deadly enemy. In March, sickness forced him to postpone his journey to Richmond. After a partial recovery in April, he fell so gravely ill that his son Floyd applied for compassionate leave to go to his father’s bedside. Once more King began to recuperate, only to suffer another relapse. On May 10, 1864, he died at his home in Waresboro, Georgia. His last hours were peaceful ones, and he was able to speak consoling words to the daughters who nursed him and to leave his blessing for his absent sons.28
So died Thomas Butler King, planter, promoter, and politician. With his boyhood in Massachusetts, his youth in Pennsylvania, and his activities in Georgia, California, and Texas, King typified the restless American who pushed into new areas to give political and economic organization to a continental domain. At the same time that the industrial revolution altered the economy of King’s native state, the rise of cotton culture based on slavery fixed the course of development in his adopted home, Georgia. Steam power worked another revolution in transportation, and rails came to replace waterways as the carriers of passengers and goods. King’s business affairs and his public career kept him in the forefront of these economic developments. Political parties took form and disintegrated, and King the State Rights man, the Whig, the Know Nothing, and the Democrat had a voice in governmental decisions for three decades. When the Southern states seceded and tried to establish a new nation, King the Georgian reported the resolutions calling for the secession convention and then served as his state’s representative in Europe. Into whatever role he played he poured his best energies, his considerable talents, and his unquenchable spirits.
As a planter, King was a significant figure less for what he did than for what he was: one of that extremely small group of slaveowners who counted their dependents in the hundreds. He was the head of a large plantation, the ultimate expression of the cotton economy at its fullest development. Socially and economically he stood at the top of a complex organization that ranged down from himself through his family, the tutor and governess, the overseer, the house servants, and the driver, to the field hands. Under his supervision the interdependent members of this economic unit supplied themselves with the necessities of life and produced the cotton crop which would bring in the cash for additional needs or desires. The principal beneficiaries of the system, of course, were the owner and his family, and the Kings in many ways embodied a way of life which was regarded as the ideal of the plantation South. The large family remained a closely knit group, dependent on one another for amusement and society, working at their assigned supervisory tasks within the framework of the family. They enjoyed abundance and leisure, but their activities were simple and close to the land which nourished them, rather than luxurious and carefree. For the most part, they lived in rural isolation, save for summer visits to resorts in the South, or “at the North.” The master, on the other hand, mixed freely in the affairs of the outside world, pursuing his business interests or holding public office. Towards the other members of the economic unit, particularly the slaves who performed the basic labor, the Kings maintained an attitude compounded of several elements, two ingredients being a sense of responsibility and a feeling of affection.
King’s planting experiences over forty years illustrate some of the characteristics of the plantation system, especially its wastefulness and tendency to expand. When he first undertook the management of Retreat in the 1820’s, he embarked on a program of expansion. Over the course of ten years he added to his holdings until he owned some 20,000 acres and 355 slaves. Few planters of the time could match him in the scope of his operations, and it was fitting that at the end of the 1830’s he should emerge as a spokesman for planters. The master of Retreat and Waverley plantations and the owner of the Middleton Barony took the lead in seeking to alter the cotton marketing system by promoting direct trade with Europe and by changing the system of credit and sale. The proposals which he and other planters put forward, along with their prosperity, disappeared in the depression that followed the Panic of 1837. Even after the heavy financial losses that he suffered, King still belonged to the class of large planters, since he remained the supervisor of his wife’s estate. Under his direction, Retreat continued for twenty years to supply the needs of some 150 people.
Although he was no agricultural reformer, King was alert to the need for diversified farming and careful husbanding of resources. He eagerly adopted new methods and improvements which would increase the productivity of the plantation. According to the census records of 1850 and 1860, Retreat was the most productive of the Saint Simons cotton plantations, yet at the same time it was well balanced with livestock and products for home consumption. The Retreat orchards were well known locally. Nevertheless, the exhaustion of the soil and the increasingly inferior position of this “old” plantation in competition with newer and more fertile lands were revealed as the years passed. In their efforts to increase production, the Kings in the 1850’s acquired more land on the island, and they seriously considered moving west. The Civil War merely hastened the death of Retreat as a plantation, and King’s war-time experience on the mainland showed how completely the society and economy in which he had lived was disintegrating under the impact of war.
King the promoter was a pioneer in the development of railroads. The Brunswick and Altamaha Canal and Railroad Company and the Brunswick and Florida Railroad were typical of the wild expansion of the Jacksonian era that ended in the financial debacle of 1837. To these schemes King contributed an enthusiastic leadership and a talent for publicity. He added refinements to the projects for exploiting a natural advantage, and he attracted outside capital to the development of Brunswick. His financial misfortunes resulted from a combination of unsound financing and the downfall of the general economy. His companies suffered from the basic instability that characterized the railroad and banking mania of the 1830’s.
King’s later financial adventure with the Southern Pacific Railroad had a curiously repetitive quality. Once more he grasped the opportunity of exploiting a geographic advantage, the Thirty-second Parallel transcontinental rail route. Once more his chief contributions were enthusiasm and a talent for publicity. He repeated the financial errors of his earlier projects, building a structure of inflated values and high-sounding promises, rather than a sound transportation company. Once again his hopes were wrecked with the collapse of the general economy in the Panic of 1857. Yet the very scope of the Southern Pacific project illustrates how greatly King’s economic vision had grown over the span of two decades. Inspired by the vision of a transcontinental railroad, he helped set up a $100,000,000 corporation, spread publicity on a national scale, and used his political experience to gain for his companies the governmental grants that were essential to success. The Southern Pacific scheme, with its irresponsible financing, its exploitation of natural advantages, and its alliance of business and government, gave a foretaste of the era of big business that was to follow after King had passed from the scene.
In his corporate ventures King was uniformly unfortunate. He lacked the administrative talent to translate his dreams into reality. With different associates, he might have made better use of his abilities as a publicist and lobbyist. Under other management both the Brunswick and Florida and the Southern Pacific projects were partially realized within twenty years after he envisioned them. As it happened, he went from one failure to another; his enthusiasm and persistence, his persuasiveness, and his vision only served to prepare the way for others to succeed.
It was as a politician that King achieved his greatest success and met his greatest disappointment. His political career spanned the era from Nullification to the last congressional election under the Confederacy. Over that period of thirty years his course often appeared inconsistent, but it closely reflected his economic background and his sectional views. As a State Rights advocate he served his apprenticeship in Georgia politics, sponsoring state aid to the economic development of his area. In Congress, he led his colleagues into the alliance that was the Whig party. His own shifting opinions well illustrate the increasing conformity of the Georgia Whigs with the national organization. From a nullifier and a spokesman against the tariff, King became a proponent of a national bank and a moderately protective Whig tariff. His sponsorship of the increase and reorganization of the navy and of a two-ocean network of subsidized mail steamship lines made him one of the most nationalistic of all the Southern Whigs. His advocacy of railroad grants and of federal expenditures for rivers and harbors placed him in the forefront of the Whigs who favored federal internal improvements.
In both his political and economic careers runs one thread of consistency. Whether in state politics or national, in Washington, Milledgeville, Austin, or San Francisco, he supported the alliance of business and government in the development of transportation facilities. His early measures in state politics and his legislative triumphs in Washington embodied the principle of government aid; his transcontinental railroad plans depended on government assistance; and when he returned to Georgia politics he took up once more the same theme. In the national legislature he also served as the special advocate of the commercial community of Savannah, the principal seaport in his state. In all his ventures he sought to establish that identity of interests that would ally men of wealth and talent with the established government, the same principle which Alexander Hamilton had championed in the first years of the republic. In his own person, King united two of the economic groups, the planters and improvers of trade routes—who joined with the manufacturers and merchants to give leadership to the Hamiltonian party of the 1840’s, the Whigs.
At the same time, King was the heir by adoption of the State Rights philosophy which acknowledged Thomas Jefferson as its founder. The conflict between his Hamiltonian and Jeffersonian views pulled him first one way, then another. He favored land grants by Congress to aid the construction of railroads, but he followed State Rights doctrine by insisting that the grants be made to the states, not directly to the railroad companies. During one term in Congress he opposed the Independent Treasury on the grounds that it concentrated too much power in the general government; during the next, he advocated a national bank to preserve the commercial stability of the nation. He could denounce the tariff as a piece of legislation for special interests one term, and sponsor an $800,000 subsidy to steamship lines the next. During his years in Congress, he never solved the conflict in basic philosophies of government that produced these paradoxes. On the whole, his Hamiltonian views prevailed; he gave lip service to State Rights principles, but the outstanding measures that he sponsored tended to strengthen the general government.
As a veteran Whig in Congress, King became one of the leaders of the national party. He helped to unite the Northern wing of the organization behind the candidacy of Taylor in the campaign of 1848, but his ambition to become Taylor’s Secretary of the Navy was thwarted by the opposition of his Georgia colleagues, Toombs and Stephens. Instead, he became Taylor’s agent to carry out the Presidents policy in California, attempting at the same time to become one of the Senators of the new state. He was one of the few Southerners who remained faithful to Taylor when the President insisted on the admission of California to the Union as a state, but by this time King had abandoned his political base in Georgia. His administrative appointment in California was essentially a continuation of the political adventure begun in 1849. He introduced reforms at the Custom House, but his strict enforcement of the revenue laws made him unpopular. At the same time he used the San Francisco Custom House as a headquarters for building up the Whig Party in the state and as a springboard for his own attempts to become Senator from California in 1851 and 1852. He was torn between his desires to serve the administration, to serve his party, and to serve himself, and he ended by pleasing no one. The California adventure on which he based his hopes for political and economic advancement produced neither fortune nor place.
When King reentered the arena of Georgia politics in the late Fifties, he sounded the familiar theme of state aid to private transportation companies, but this time in opposition to the leading interests of Savannah. Although he did not regain his old seat in Congress from the First District, he showed signs of recovering a place of leadership in state politics during a term in the Senate of Georgia. When the choice of secession was presented, he did not hesitate to go with his state down the road of disunion, in strong contrast with his actions ten years earlier in support of the Taylor administration. As a Confederate, he served his country in an anomalous diplomatic mission notable mainly for his strenuous propaganda efforts.
When all Kings different political roles are assessed, it is clear that he reached his peak in his last two terms as a Congressman, when he was still closely attuned to the needs of his district and when his experience and seniority in the House of Representatives gave him the power to serve his constituency. By careful attention to the desires of his area, by party regularity, and by solid legislative achievements, he established himself as an outstanding Whig member of Congress in the 1840’s. His hopes of becoming Secretary of the Navy or Senator were thwarted by his own deficiencies or the jealousy of others. For all his talents, energy, and ambition, he lacked the popular traits that raise a man to the first rank among politicians.
As King lay dying, the armies of the country that he had chosen had already begun their march toward final defeat. With him was dying also the whole economic and social order of which he had been a conspicuous leader, and during the war both King the promoter and King the planter had lost their occupations. Although King the politician had met rejection at the polls, with characteristic optimism he prepared to contest an election which denied him an opportunity to serve his country. To the end he remained an adventurer, eager to do battle for a place of honor. The news of his death brought to his family a letter from a longtime associate, J. L. Locke, who paid honor not to the achievements of a public man, but to the virtues of a friend:
He was very brave and manly—generous, liberal, with nice sensibility —courtly manners—and so many of those becoming graces with [which] Nature refuses to endow the mass of human beings.29
Locke’s tribute would have made a fitting epitaph to be inscribed on the tomb of Thomas Butler King, in the burial ground of Christ Church, Saint Simons Island, Georgia.