Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

More Information About Elisha W. King, the Builder and Original Owner of Hawkswood

Recently I have devoted much effort to assembling and distilling information about Hawkswood, the Greek Revival mansion that once stood in Pelham, as well as information about the architect and early owners of Hawkswood.  For examples of prior postings I have published about the mansion, see:

Mon., Feb. 10, 2014:  Hawkswood, Also Known as the Marshall Mansion, Colonial Hotel and Colonial Inn, Once Stood in Pelham Near City Island

Wed., Apr. 5, 2006: "Hawkswood", Later Known as the Marshall Mansion on Rodman's Neck in Pelham.  

Thu., Jun. 28, 2007: 19th Century Notice of Executor's Sale of "Hawkswood" After Death of Elisha W. King

Fri., May 07, 2010: Image of Hawkswood Published in 1831

Thu., June 28, 2007: 19th Century Notice of Executor's Sale of "Hawkswood" After Death of Elisha W. King

Mon., Apr. 26, 2010: Public Service Commission Couldn't Find Marshall's Corners in 1909.  

Today's Historic Pelham Blog posting provides a detailed biography of the man who first built Hawkswood:  Elisha W. King.  Friday's posting will finish the series by identifying the architect of the mansion and providing a detailed biography of that gentleman.  

Detail from Photograph of Hawkswood (aka the Marshall Mansion) During the 1930s.

Elisha William King was a successful New York City lawyer and a City Alderman in New York City for more than twenty years.  He built the estate known as Hawkswood in the Town of Pelham near City Island Bridge during the 1820s.  

King was born on March 19, 1781 in Lyme, Connecticut.  He was the penultimate child of the nine children born to Jeremiah King and his wife, Deborah Dominy King.  Elisha W. King's parents were residents of Long Island when the Revolutionary War began, but fled to Lyme, Connecticut when the British took possession of parts of Long Island early in the War.  During the family's period as refugees in Lyme, Elisha was born.  See Elisha W. King, Esq. in Thompson, Benjamin F., The History of Long Island From Its Discovery And Settlement, to the Present Time, Vol. II, pp. 524-25 (2d Ed., NY, NY:  Gould, Banks & Co. 1843) (hereinafter "Thompson II"). King's ancestry has been described as follows:

"[Elisha W. King] was the son of Jeremiah, grandson of William, and great-grandson of John King, who emigrated from England to Salem, Mass., in 1650, came to Long Island in 1654, and settled at Southampton, from whence he removed to Southold in 1664, after the conquest of New Netherlands by the English.  His wife was Frances Ludlow, whom, it is believed, he married in New England, and by whom he had issue three sons, John, Samuel and William, and six daughters.  These sons purchased a part of Oyster Ponds, where they settled.  Jeremiah, one of the sons of the said William, married a Miss Dominy of Easthampton, by whom he had nine sons . . ."  Thomson II, p. 524.  

Several of Elisha King's brothers were sea-faring men.  This apparently influenced King as a youngster.  He "likewise manifested a strong propensity for the same employment."  Thomson II, p. 525.  Although King's parents attempted to dissuade him from going to sea, he made an attempt to accompany one of his brothers on a "distant voyage."  This attempt turned out to be quite fateful as it led King to the discovery of an entirely different line of employment -- one in which he eventually succeeded mightily.  The story is told that young Elisha King ignored his parents' wishes and:  

"He traveled to New York, and went, with his brother, to the office of Francis Lynch, Esq., a practising [sic] lawyer in that city, to have some necessary papers drawn for his protection as an American citizen, in case of capture.  His personal appearance made such a favorable impression upon Mr. Lynch, as induced him to request the brother to leave the youth with him, till he should return from the present voyage, when, if still inclined to the seas, he might accompany him on the next.  The boy was then but twelve years old, and his new friend treated him with so much kindness and affection, that he became attached to him, and was, at the time, so much pleased with reading law, that he abandoned all thoughts of the sea, and resolved to make the law his profession.  For the more than parental attention of his excellent instructor, Mr. King was ever most grateful and always spoke of his professional preceptor with affectionate respect.  So assiduously did he apply himself to his juridical studies, and so great was his proficiency, that at the age of nineteen years, he felt himself qualified to pass an examination for admission to the bar.  But the rules of the supreme court required all candidates for this purpose to be of the age of twenty-one years.  In this emergency, Mr. King applied for diretion and advice to his friend, the late Col. Richard Varick, a veteran lawyer of the day, stating his wishes, and the obstacle that presented to prevent their gratification.  The answer he received from the venerable counsellor, reminded him that the first duty of a lawyer was to keep council, to which he added, 'keep your own council, and if no one asks your age, you need not disclose it.'  It is almost needless to say that this sage advice was strictly obeyed, and the applicant was admitted to the bar in the year 1800."  Thomson II, p. 525.

Indeed, records confirm that Elisha W. King was admitted as an "attorney at law" in New York County in 1800, a "counsellor at law" in New York County in 1806, and a "counsellor in chancery" in New York County in 1825.  See Skinner, Roger Sherman, The New-York State Register, For the Year of Our Lord 1830, the Fifty-Fourth Year of American Independence, with a Concise United States Calendar, p. 205 (NY, NY: Clayton & Van Norden, 1830).  

Shortly after he was admitted to the New York bar, Elisha W. King married Margaret Vandervoort (Born about 1783 - Died April 14, 1863).  Elisha was only twenty years old at the time.  Margaret, who was about 17 when the couple married, was a daughter of Anne Kouvenhoven Vandervoort and Peter Vandervoort of Bedford, Long Island, "a gentleman of great respectability, and who had frequently represented Kings county, in the legislature of the state."  Thomson II, at p. 525.  Margaret Vandervoort King's portrait, painted by famed artist Samuel Morse, is in the collections of the Smithsonian American Art Museums, control number IAP 83760060. The couple had at least eight children:  Sarah Chandler King, William Sterling King, John Bowne King, Peter Vandervoort King, Theodore Frederick King, Eliza Antonia King, Percy Rivington King, and Helen Frederika King.

King's marriage connected him with Peter Vandervoort and the well-connected Vandervoort family.  As one biographer has said:  "Perhaps no event in the life of Mr. King more advanced his happiness and success than this first and most important one.  By this means, he not only became connected with a family of great influence,, but found a companion every way qualified to aid his onward course to reputation and fortune.  She even assisted him in copying papers, when the urgency of his professional business made it necessary, and he ever found her, as she should be, his first, best friend in every emergency."  Thomson II, at p. 525.  

King practiced with Peter W. Radcliff in a law office at 27 Beekman Street in Manhattan for some period of time.  His law practice took off.  "As an industrious and sound lawyer, Mr. King rose rapidly into public notice, and acquired in a short time a high reputation, and a profitable professional business.  He was highly esteemed for his integrity, and a nice sense of honor, in all his engagements, and strict fidelity to the interests of his employers.  Few men possessed a more pleasing or effective elocution, and his persuasive eloquence procured him great success before a jury of his fellow citizens.  His personal appearance was highly prepossessing, and he possessed a voice which was harmony itself."  Thomson II, at p. 525-26.  

Elisha W. King clearly was a talented and respected attorney.  Indeed, he was remembered for his talents and integrity by those who knew his work for decades after his death in 1836.  See, e.g., Silliman, Benjamin D., Personal Reminiscences of Sixty Years at the New York Bar in McAdam, David, et al., eds., History of the Bench and Bar of New York, Vol. I, pp. 226 & 243 (NY, NY: NY History Company, 1897) (from an address by Benjamin D. Silliman at a complimentary dinner tendered to him by the bar of New York and Brooklyn, May 24, 1889, the sixtieth anniversary of his admission to practice). See also Chester, Alden & Williams, Edwin Melvin, Courts and Lawyers of New York: A History, 1609-1925, Vol. 1, p. 924 & n. 25 (The American Historical Society, Inc., 1925).

Throughout his illustrious legal career and even after, Elisha W. King was very involved in public service, philanthropic initiatives, and corporate endeavors. For example, in 1816, King gathered with others to participate in the first meeting that led to the establishment of the New-York Institution for the Instruction of the Deaf and Dumb.  See Twenty-Fifth Annual Report of the Directors of the New-York Institution for the Instruction of the Deaf and Dumb - Appendix No. 1: List of Officers and Directors of the New-York Institution for the Instruction of the Deaf and Dumb, from 1817 to 1844 in pp. 31-33 (also noting Elisha W. King was deceased as of the publication date of 1844).  King served as a Director of the New-York Institution for the Instruction of the Deaf and Dumb 1818-1819.  See Picket, Albert & Picket, John W., The Academician, Containing The Elements of Scholastic Science, and the Outlines of Philosophic Education, Predicated on the Analysis of the Human Mind and Exhibiting the Improved Methods of Instruction, pp. 137-38 (NY, NY: Charles N. Baldwin, 1820). He remained involved with the institution in his later years.  See Skinner, Roger Sherman, The New-York State Register, For the Year of Our Lord 1830, the Fifty-Fourth Year of American Independence, with a Concise United States Calendar, p. 205 (NY, NY: Clayton & Van Norden, 1830) (noting that King was elected as 2nd Ward School Fund Commissioner for the New-York Institution for the Deaf and Dumb in May 1829).  

King also served as a trustee and stockholder of the Manhattan Company in 1833. He held 50 shares on Sep. 1, 1833 and 50 shares on Oct. 1, 1833. See List of the Stockholders of the Manhattan Company, furnished in conformity with a resolution of the Senate of the United States passed on the 11th December, 1833, and by order of a circular of the Treasury Department, dated on the 16th December, 1833 in Public Documents Printed by Order of The Senate of the United States, First Session of the Twenty -Third Congress, Begun and Held at the City of Washington, December 1, 1834, and in the Fifty-Eighth Year of the Independence of the United States in Ten Volumes, Vol. II, pp. 58 & 64 (Washington, D.C.: Duff Green, 1834).  Likewise he served as a Director of Tradesmen’s Bank (177 Chatham Street, NY, NY) in 1833. The bank was incorporated in 1823 for 10 years and the incorporation was renewed in 1831 for 24 years. It was capitalized with 400,000 through shares sold at 40 dollars each. Williams, Edwin, ed., New-York As It is, In 1833; And Citizens’ Advertising Directory, pp. 97-98 (NY, NY: J. Disturnell, 1833).

Elisha W. King made his mark on the City of New York through nearly two decades of service as a City Alderman and member of the New York City Common Council, a predecessor to today's City Council.  In addition to years of dedicated legislative and committee work as a member of the Council, as an experienced "elder statesman" member of the Council he often represented the City in ceremonial events.  For example, in 1825 King was a member of the Common Council of the City of New York. With the opening of the Erie Canal on October 26, 1825, celebrations were held throughout the State of New York. As part of the celebration, King and William A. Davis “journeyed to Buffalo to extend the hospitalities of New York City to the committees along the whole line of the canal; Henry I. Wycoff and Philip Hone were sent to meet King and Davis with the city’s guests as they should enter the Hudson at Albany, and provide facilities for their passage down the river.”  Lamb, Mrs. Martha J. & Harrison, Mrs. Burton, History of the City of New York – Its Origin, Rise and Progress, Vol. 3, p. 696-97 (A.S. Barnes & Co., 1877-1896).  Likewise, King was among those forming a corporation committee representing the City of New York in the arrangement of a banquet on May 4, 1813 at Washington Hall in Manhattan to honor Captain James Lawrence who commanded the Hornet during the War of 1812 and had a series of naval victories over the British including one against the British frigate Peacock off the South American coast on Feb. 22, 1813. See id., p. 624.  

One biographer has written about King's service in the municipal councils of the City of New York as follows:

"The services of Mr. King in the municipal councils of the city, will long be remembered.  Elected by no party, he was the representative of his ward.  Firm, judicious, independent and conscientious, he was swayed by no selfish motive; unfettered by party trammels, he followed the dictates of his own good sense, in the discharge of all his public duties.  He was elected assistant alderman of the fourth ward in 1810, and was continued till 1816, when he was chosen to the legislature.  He was afterwards elected alderman, and to the assembly again in 1825.  One of the most important and exciting questions discussed in the common council, while he was a member, was that of the law which prohibited interments in the city, in which he took a prominent and decided stand in favor of the act; and he lived to see it established, with the approbation of a great majority of citizens.  The dignity and sanctity of the pulpit, the talents of the medical profession, the rights of property, the prejudices and sympathies of the people, and the power of family pride, were arrayed against the law and its advocate; and though he strongly sympathized with those who desire, 'when life's fitful dream is o'er,' to repose with their kindred dead, yet he was not moved from his purpose, considering the safety of the living of more value than a regard for the last resting place of those who die."  Thomson II, p. 526.

Elisha W. King clearly had a profoundly positive impact on those with whom he worked and those whom he came to know during his legal career.  One of his nearly life-long friends was quoted saying about King:

"The late Hon. John T. Irving, whose acquaintance with Mr. King, for more than 30 years, was of the most intimate kind, and a person well qualified to judge, thus speaks of his friend.  'Mr. King's mind (says he) was of a varied character; for although his education had been limited, he had a natural tast for works of art, and possessed a genius which was original and refined.  This appeared espectially in his pleadings at the bar, which displayed great force and originality of thought.  There was nothing common place about him; he won the respect of his competitors by the great strenght and resources of his intellect.  Besides this vigor of understanding, which appeared to enlighten whatever it touched, his life was marked by a purity of purpose and by a spirit which was above every thing that was grovelling and mercenary.  He was a liberal practitioner, pursuing it with an elevation of mind, and a courtesy of manner toward his brethren of the bar, which soon obtained their confidence and esteem, and which he never lost.  Industrious, persevering, temperate and frugal, his reputation increased, and wealth flowed in upon him with an unfailing stream.  'Riches altered him not; they only enabled him to follow out more fully the benevolent impulses of his heart; his charity was 'fertile as the Nile's dark waters, undiscovered as their source.' And many objects of his bounty knew not whence relief came, until death stopped the source.'"  Thomson II, p. 526.

Throughout nearly his entire adult life, King was a Mason, having joined the organization as early as 1801.  He climbed the ranks of the organization until he became the Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of the State of New York in 1826.  He served in that role until the following year when he was renominated for further service but stepped aside to allow a colleague to take on the role.  King took the degrees of Knighthood in the organization at the same time as the Marquis de Lafayette, a fellow Mason, during General Lafayette's visit to the United States in 1825.  There is an interesting story of a Masonic relic that passed through King's hands at the time he served as Grand Master in New York.  The story is quoted in full, immediately below:

Vergennes, August 17, 1854.

CHARLES W. MOORE, Esq.-Dear Sir and Br:-I have thought the following incidents might possess interest enough for publication.  

A few months since Mrs. Ann Maria Sherman, of this city, presented to me, as Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Vermont, a very splendid MASTER's APRON, for which, as well on my own behalf as that of my Brethren, I desire to make this public acknowledgment.  

Mrs. Sherman is the wife of Captain Iahaziel Sherman, of this city, and the daughter of Elisha W. King, Esq. formerly Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of New York.  

Brother King became a Mason as early as 1801, and was Grand Master of New York, in 1826 and 1827.  He took the degrees of Knighthood at the same time with Gen. Lafayette, during the visit of that Brother to this country in 1825.

During Brother King's Grand Mastership, Br. John Jacob Astor presented him with the Apron which Mrs. Sherman has now presented to me.  It was sent to Br. King with a letter of which the following is a copy, and the original of which was presented me with the Apron and is now in my possession.

'DEAR SIR:-I take the liberty to send you an Apron, which I hope you will do me the favor to accept, and to believe me to be, very respectfully, 

Dear sir, your obedient servant,


E.W. King, Esq.                April 18, 1827.'

Brother King resigned the office of Grand Master in June, 1827, in favor of Br. Stephen Van Rensselaer, and on that occasion the following proceedings were had in the Grand Lodge of New York, as appears by an original copy from the records now in my possession.

Grand Lodge of the State of New York.

On motion - Resolved, That the R.W. Oliver M. Lownds, R.W. Welcome Esleeck, and the W. Brs. Lebbeus Chapman, Henry Marsh and John O. Cole, be a committee to convey to the M.W.P.G.M. Elisha W. King, the thanks of this Grand Lodge for the able and disinterested manner in which he has discharged the duties of the Chair, and to request his acceptance of a piece of plate, with a suitable inscription, in testimony of the high respect entertained for his services.

O.M. LOWNDS, G. Secretary.

Grand Master King died on the first of December 1836, and it gives me great pleasure to be able to preserve this evidence of the high esteem in which he was held by his Brethren.

The Apron presented is precisely such a one as such a man as Brother Astor might be expected to present to his Masonic Brother and personal friend - rich but not tawdry.  It is wrought wholly by the needle in silk and gold and silver tissue, upon a beautiful satin, with a very choice selection of Masonic emblems.  It is not overloaded, and the selection seems to me to be made in the purest Masonic taste.  The All-Seeing Eye is more perfect than any thing I have ever seen accomplished by needle-work; the coffin is perfect; the sprig of acacia appears as if just plucked from its native tree, and it is difficult to convince ones self that the three lesser lights are not actually burning.  Most Fraternally yours,


Tucker, Philip C., An Interesting Relic in The Freemason's Monthly Magazine, Vol. XIII, No. 11, Sep. 1, 1854, pp. 321 & 347.

In 1826, Elisha W. King ran for Congress within District New York 3, a plural district with three seats in Congress.  Of the five candidates for the three seats, all three Jacksonian Party incumbents held their Congressional seats in the election.  Elisha W. King finished fifth among the five candidates with only 13.1% of the vote.  See United States House of Representatives Elections, 1826, Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_House_of_Representatives_elections_1826 (visited Feb. 12, 2014).  

It seems that after his loss in the Congressional campaign of 1826, Elisha W. King settled for lesser office.  He served as Justice of the Peace (together with Joseph Lyon) in the Town of Pelham, Westchester County, New York, where he built Hawkswood.  See Skinner, Roger Sherman, The New-York State Register, For the Year of Our Lord 1830, the Fifty-Fourth Year of American Independence, with a Concise United States Calendar, p. 280 (NY, NY: Clayton & Van Norden, 1830).

According to some sources, the same year (1827), King retired from the practice of law.  Yet, King is still shown in the New York City Directory of 1830-31 as an attorney and counselor with an address located at 27 Beekman in Manhattan.  See, e.g., 1830-1831 Longworth’s New-York Directory for the 55th Year of American Independence, p. 389.  In any event, at about this time, King moved to his country home known as Hawkswood in the Town of Pelham near City Island Bridge.  

King remained at Hawkswood as a retiree until November 1836 when he became ill.  He traveled to the home of his son, Dr. Theodore F. King, in Brooklyn where he sought medical relief. He remained under his son's care for a short time and died in his son's home on December 1 or December 3, 1836. Thomson II, p. 527.  

King's widow, Margaret Vandrvoort King, died at the age of 80 at the residence of her daughter, Mrs. A.T. Watson, on Staten Island.  See Died . . . King, N.Y. Times, Apr. 17, 1863.  

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