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MARY ALSOP KING (1769-1819)

Rufus W. Griswold, The Republican Court, or, American Society in the Days of Washington. New and rev. ed. (New York, 1856), plate opposite 113. First ed., 1855.

MARY ALSOP KING (1769-1819)

Mary Alsop, the only child of John and Mary Frogat Alsop, was raised in New York City after spending her early childhood in Middletown, Connecticut; her mother died when she was three, and her father never remarried. Because Alsop had been a member of the Continental Congress which declared the colonies independent, he was well-known and respected by America’s founding members. He was also extremely wealthy as a result of a successful career as a merchant. Mary Alsop has been described by many as a great beauty—“her face was oval, with finely formed nose, mouth, and chin, blue eyes, a clear brunette complexion, black hair, and fine teeth. Her movements were at once graceful and gracious, and her voice musical”—and this, in combination with her father’s prestige, made her a much sought-after “belle” of society as a young woman.[1]

So it is unsurprising that when Massachusetts native Rufus King (1755-1827), a lawyer-turned-politician who came to New York to join the Confederation Congress in 1785, quickly became smitten after he met the daughter of his host John Alsop (for he boarded with the Alsops while in the city). In March 1786, at age sixteen, Mary wed the thirty-year-old in one of several marriages of Congressional members taking place that year.[2] Theirs was a celebrated event, uniting two individuals in what was lauded by both John Adams and John Jay as a great interstate bond that had the potential to unite Americans in the concept of a joined nation.[3]

Mary King now performed the duties of a politician’s wife, attending and playing host to countless dinner parties, teas, and other social events, as well as raising their five sons. According to historian Robert Ernst, “the Kings moved in the most fashionable New York society, which included the Duers, the Livingstons, the Jays, members of Congress and their wives, and other public officials.”[4] The couple attended theatrical productions with President and Mrs. Washington, and Mary was part of the circle of friends invited to intimate gatherings hosted by Martha Washington and Abigail Adams.[5]

Rufus Griswold describes Mary King as one of the most esteemed women in New York City, and allows that while she was certainly wealthy, she was not showy about it. He writes that “she possessed little of that fondness for display which made others far more conspicuous.”[6] She may have been admired for her beauty, but she was respected for her gentle nature and modesty. Among her many fans was Massachusetts Congressman George Thatcher, who said of her:

Tell Betsy King [Rufus’s half-sister] her sister is a beauty. She is vastly the best looking woman I have seen since I have been in this city…She is a good hearted woman, and, I think, possesses all that Benevolence and kind, friendly disposition, that never fail to find respectable admirers.[7]

Written by Annie Turner.

[1] Rufus W. Griswold, The Republican Court, or, American Society in the Days of Washington (New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1867), 100.

[2] Robert Ernst, Rufus King: American Federalist (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1968), 68.

[3] Ibid.; A Description of the Republican Court in the Time of Washington: Or, Mrs. Washington’s Reception Day (New York, 1865), 4.

[4] Ernst, Rufus King, 68.

[5] Ibid., 154-55.

[6] Griswold, The Republican Court, 99-100.

[7] George Thatcher to Sarah Thatcher, n.d. (probably Jan. 1788), quoted in Ernst, Rufus King, 137.


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