Saturday, November 6, 2010

Rufus King Library Sheds Light On Historic Statesman by Jason Antos - | Queens Gazette

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We are often judged by what we leave behind. Possessions can serve as a window into an individual’s mentality, faults and achievements.

The library of Rufus King is evidence of such a legacy. King, a signer of the U.S. Constitution, presidential candidate and resident of Jamaica, was a prolific politician, abolitionist, family man and lover of books.

“King was ahead of his time,” historian David Gary said.

Gary, who once gave tours of King’s estate, King Park at 150th Street and Jamaica Avenue in Jamaica, has been researching the history of the 2,200-title library of the one time senator and ambassador to Great Britain.

“I want my research to bring Rufus King and his ideals to light,” Gary said. “King was an antislavery advocate four decades before Lincoln.”

King chose to hire free workers to tend to his property on Jamaica Avenue, rather than engaging in the practice of slavery.

According to Gary, King read a vast number of books covering many topics, including travel books, history (modern and classical), politics, philosophy, natural law, speeches, languages science, geography, biography/memoir, current events, bound newspapers and magazines. King was also known for reading certain books many times. Evidence of this has been found in small notations he made on the front pages of numerous books. About 20 percent of the books in the collection display such markings made by King.

During his research, Gary noted that King possessed 10 volumes printed in the 16th century, 150 volumes from the 17th century, 250 volumes from the first half of the 18th century and a number of antique volumes as well as pamphlets and letters.

King wasn’t a fan of fiction; however, he did enjoy the theater and had a collection of Shakespeare as well as 22 volumes of “Bell’s Theater”, a popular omnibus of works by several playwrights. The collection also included a number of books covering maritime and international law.

“The more I find in the collection of King’s library, the more insight we have into his political ideals and morals,” Gary said.

Born in Massachusetts in 1755, King’s passion for books began when his father, Richard, traded a pair of his own shoes for two volumes, which he gave to young Rufus, then 11 years old. Richard King would go on to have a library of 35 books.

King purchased the home in 1805 and expanded the farm that now makes up King Manor. He died Apr. 29, 1827 and his funeral was held on the property that is now an historic site. He is buried in the Grace Church Cemetery in Jamaica.

The Rufus King Manor organization, founded in 1900, is the only historic house museum in Southeast Queens. The New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission designated King Manor as a landmark in 1966, with portions of the interior designated in 1976. The home and property were added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1974. The King Manor Museum Society provides the community with lectures and walking tours while preserving a collection of architectural, archaeological and historical research articles.

The Rufus King School, P.S. 26 in Fresh Meadows, and Rufus King Hall on the Queens College campus help to continue King’s little known legacy.

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Photo Jason D. Antos