HOW PIRATE’S WARD WED KING’S OFFICER WHO WEARIED OF WARS
Duncan King and His Wife, Who Established Home in Columbus NC
By Minnie McIver Brown
Re-formated by James A. Campbell
Duncan John King is the 5th great-grandfather of James Alan Campbell
Tree #3 - Andrews, Page 5
(Copied from article which appeared in The News & Observer, Raleigh, N.C.,
on Sunday, March 7, 1926)
Deep down in the heart of every one of us there is a certain reluctant, perhaps unacknowledged admiration for the fearless, dashing buccaneers of the glamorous, piratical days. Who has not followed in spirit some daring sea rover, and found himself aboard his gleaming galleon, gilded beakhead a flash, snowy canvas bellying to the breeze, dark keel clearing the white sea foam as she sweeps the Spanish Main? Fluttering black flag, with the ominous skull and cross bones! The grim plank with its trembling victims! Yardarms and shivering rope! Swift sweep of swords! Rapier, saber, clang and clash! Adventure, thrills, blood and thunder! Glorious Pirate King, accepting every challenge with a ringing shout!
These thoughts came surging as I stood at the graves of brave old Duncan King and his protegee, Lydia Fosque, and I recalled their fascinating story, for tragedy and romance cast opalescent shadows about their interesting lives.
Duncan King comes upon the scene at the beginning of the French and Indian War, when the contest between France and England for the prize of empire in the New World was at its height. You will recall that the struggle in America entered around Lake Champlain, Lake George, Fort Duquesne and Quebec, extending from 1752 to 1759. France had Frederick the Great at her throne in the Old World and could ill spare men or money to assist her colonies in the New. The struggle between these ancient enemies was vigorously waged, too, upon the ocean, warships, privateers and merchant men grappling to the death with one another on most of the seven seas, with encounters with pirates as part of the game.
The middle of the eighteenth century was also an eventful era in the history of Southeastern North Carolina. The red man by land -- always more or less friendly to the whites in this part of the colony -- had become reconciled to the new dispensation. The Spaniard, by sea had learned his lesson when in 1748 two pirate ships made an attack upon Old Brunswick on the Cape Fear, about 12 miles from the bar, took possession of the town from September 6 to 10, but were then driven out by Colonel Dry and his Cape Fear Militia. One ship was blown up and the other driven off, and between 30 and 40 Spaniards were taken prisoners. One day was employed in burying the dead Spaniards and two days in bringing spoils from the wrecked vessel to town. These captured goods were divided between the parishes of St. Phillips in Brunswick and St. James in Wilmington. After this encounter the Spaniard was no longer held in awe by the people of this section of the State.
The first permanent settlement made a generation before by South Carolinians near the mouth of Town Creek, had flourished and grown to the extent that further up the Cape Fear the trading post of Newton had been established and its name changed to Wilmington, destined to become the metropolis of the section. The always aggressive and militant Virginia grazers, who began their invasion in 1738 had spied out the ranges, located their cow pens, built their log cabins, and, grown tired or surfeited on hunting, had brought their families to the new country, and with the help of slaves were busily engaged in clearing farm lands, and were rapidly evolving from the despised and feared grazers into respectable and ambitious planters. McCulloch’s colony of Scotch-Irish were making their homes in the fork of the Cape Fear. Governor Gabriel Johnson, a Scotchman and one-time instructor in the University of Edinburgh, in 1736, by proclamation, gave immunity from taxation to families from the mother country who would settle there.
This caused many families to move in direct from the “auld sod.” Huguenots, ever restless since their wanderings began, before and after the Edict of Nantes, finding their possessions in the Antilles too circumscribed, and possibly prompted by the spirit of pioneering, sought and found asylum here. The Governor erected a fort at the mainland commanding the inlet and named it for himself. Under its protecting guns many of the Huguenots had made their homes.
One autumn’s day in 1752 the always arresting cry of the “Ship Ahoy!” brought these citizens of old Fort Johnson hurrying to the beach, for it was a pleasant break in the monotony to watch a ship make port, and see her passengers disembark. As she gradually neared shore, she was recognized as an English privateer, and keen eyes made out the name Adela on her hull. When she docked their curiosity was aroused to see a handsome young man, in the uniform of an English officer, coming down the gang plank bearing in his arms a beautiful little girl of about five years old. Her black curls, dark eyes and olive complexion gave hint of her nationality before her baby lips began prattling in animated French. Curiosity gave place to surprise when no woman--nurse maid or mother--emerged from the ship. “God bless the pretty baby!” came back to her in her own native tongue from these Huguenot ladies gathered to see the ship unload. She clapped her hands in glee to find herself understood, and conversation and friendship were immediately established. The Adela was an English privateer that had been cruising against the Spaniards in the Caribbean, and Duncan King was one of her commanding officers. Now, a privateer in those days was scarcely more than a pirate ship, only flying some country’s flag which gave her respectable standing, so what, pray, was a little French girl doing aboard this vessel, unmothered and unattended, save by this kindly officer! Speculation was rife, but curiosity was destined to remain unsatisfied for many years.
The story as divulged at a later day is probably only one of many tragedies of those wild, troublous days of the eighteenth century. A merchantman upon which Lydia Fosque, her father and mother were embarked returning to southern France from perhaps a peaceful business trip to one of the West Indies, was overtaken by a Spanish pirate ship. In the encounter luck was with the buccaneers, and having plundered the ship and scuttled her, her human freight was made either to “walk the plank” or were set adrift in open boats to make port or perish on the high seas. But even their callused hearts shrank for the murder of innocent babes, and little Lydia, with the sparkling black eyes, was adopted by the captain and his pirate crew. We can imagine the mingled feelings of that anguished mother’s heart as, torn between hope and despair, she made ready her baby girl’s wardrobe for adoption by these wild sea rovers. Perhaps a fate worse than a home beneath salt sea waves awaited this babe. But to take the life of their own child was unthinkable and that was the only alternative. So doubtless with many prayers and Ava Marias she commended her to God and resigned her to her captors.
Just what happened was never known, but Lydia’s wardrobe was of the daintiest and costliest material, and all her personal belongings bespoke the home of wealth and refinement. Just how long a time elapsed before the pirate ship was overtaken by the privateer Adela is also unknown, but when the smoke of battle cleared away the Adela was in command of the situation, the pirate captain and crew walked the gruesome plank or were set adrift on the open seas, their ship scuttled or taken as a prize, and little Lydia, by a swift turn of fickle fortune’s wheel became the ward of the officers of the British privateer, with Duncan King, young, debonair Scotchman, her special guardian. But these were perilous times and grim, and a fighting vessel was no fit place for a baby girl of tender years.
So, this explains the arrival of the Adela at Fort Johnson, on that crisp October day in 1752. Assisted by the commander of the fort, a fellow officer in his majesty’s service, Duncan King searched out a cultured Huguenot lady, Mrs. Holmes, and gave the child Lydia into her keeping, with a generous quantity of Spanish pieces of eight to care for her and insure her education. Since he was following the fortunes of war, the hazards were many and long, and he wanted her future assured should his ship fail to return. All arrangements having been completed, Duncan King bade adieu to Lydia, unwound the loving little arms clinging so pathetically to the jolly playmate she had learned to love aboard the big ship, and promising to return as soon as may be, sailed away about the King’s business. Just where he went is not known, but he was an officer in Wolfe’s army at the Battle of Quebec, September 12, 1759, and took part in that historic struggle that wrested Canada from the French and gave that rich possession to England.
Little Lydia found herself again in environments new and strange and though suffering some homesick pangs for the gay young officer on whom her hungry little heart had set its starving affections, she never the less quickly dried her tears and learned to live with her foster mother , the gentle Mrs. Holmes under whose affectionate and conscientious care she blossomed into a happy and beautiful girlhood. In the year 1761 Mrs. Holmes decided to join a colony of Huguenots residing in Savannah. She and Lydia had all things ready to depart aboard the vessel due to arrive on a certain day. She had received no word from the young officer during all these years, nor did she think she ever would. But to her surprise when the vessel upon which she and Lydia were to take passage arrived, who should appear but this same Duncan King, wounded and declaring that he was through with wars and the sea, and asking for an accounting of her stewardship. Lydia was summoned.
Duncan King’s heart stood still when, instead of the child he was expecting, there entered this tall and beautiful girl, just budding into woman hood with the swiftness not uncommon to those in southern climes. His arms, that had opened to receive a child, dropped suddenly as he stood abashed before her gentle maidenhood. his dream of a home presided over by the mature Mrs. Holmes and enlivened by the childish laughter of little Lydia was rudely shattered. The gifts he had brought to please a child were useless here.
Mrs. Holmes held to her plan to join relatives in Savannah, and how could he ask Lydia to abandon the only mother she had ever known for his guardianship, even could another Mrs. Holmes be found to act as chaperone! In the meantime, Mrs. Holmes boat rode at anchor in the sound, and time was short. What was to be done! Mrs. Holmes offered the only solution. Duncan King was used to rapid decisions. Very carefully and gently he explained the situation to Lydia. His wooing was swift but effective. He was a handsome man in his early thirties and a romantic figure in his officer’s uniform of scarlet and gold, a hero of many battles. Perhaps like Desdemona she loved him for the dangers he had passed and for the ones from which he had rescued her. At any rate, Mrs. Holmes, her foster mother, had given her in honorable marriage to Duncan King ere her ship sailed out of the port for Savannah.
Duncan King had not returned from the wars, privateering and a life of high adventures and hazard with only wounds and glory to his credit. Among other perquisites were certain land grants in Bennington, Vt., and along the Hudson River for his valuable services to the crown in Canada and upon the seas. These holdings were confiscated during the Revolution and were recently appraised at $12,000,000. But the bleak climate of the North did not appeal to Duncan King and his girl wife from sunny France, so instead of going there he purchased several thousand acres of land in Columbus County in a virgin forest on the east side of Fryar Swamp. Here slaves were brought, lands were cleared, and a handsome home was erected, where Duncan and beautiful Lydia lived happy and devoted lives, dispensed a generous hospitality and reared a fine family. This home was standing up to the time of the Civil War, occupied by the descendants of Duncan and Lydia and was ever a center of social life and culture for the community.
During the Revolution Duncan King, as became a retired officer of the British Navy, was loyal at heart to the King, but as he had stated in 1761, he was through with wars and fighting. Therefore, he maintained a neutral attitude, but the suspicious Wigs kept him ever under surveillance and he was often in danger of arrest and imprisonment as a Tory sympathizer.
On one occasion, religious services were being held about four miles from his home, and Lydia, always noted for devout piety, was in attendance. Suddenly a company of Patriots under Gen. Joseph Graham came galloping up the road. Quick as thought Lydia divined their mission in the neighborhood, flew to her black filly, mounted, and started to ride. A soldier, suspicious of such haste, grabbed her bridle. She fetched him a rap in the face with her riding quirt and set spurs to her horse. The bridle was snatched off but the filly made a break for home. As soon as the soldiers recovered from their surprise they gave chase, but Lydia’s spirited horse soon outdistanced them. Duncan King was at home in deep conversation with his neighbor William White (for whose grandson the county seat of Columbus was later named) concerning the grave problems of the day and hour. Hearing and recognizing the ringing hoofbeats of Lydia’s mount, King rushed to the door to learn the cause. As she swept up the avenue, a vivid, gallant little figure, she waved excitedly and pointed to the swamp. Duncan lost no time in seeking shelter and asylum in its protection depths. No sooner was he safely out of sight than up galloped the pursuing Wigs. As they dismounted, Lydia, all unruffled, came tripping out to receive them. The leader congratulated her upon her horse and horsemanship, but, with a quick glance about, inquired why such unseemly haste! Lydia’s face wore an arch smile as she answered, “I was expecting you to follow and remain for dinner, so I hurried ahead to inform my butler, and make fitting preparations for such distinguished guests.” And the story goes that they did remain to dine but not to make search for the missing host.
In every community there is always one person who sets the standard of morals as well as of architecture. In her community Lydia Fosque was that person. She was the leading spirit in establishing Methodism in this section of the county, organizing and supporting old Shiloh Church, and was its patron saint as long as she lived. In the very early days of the church there was a small log house, where the paraphernalia of the church service was kept. But the Church proper was the “forest primeval”, and the minister occupied an elevated platform for pulpit. On special occasions or during protracted meetings, brush shelters were erected for protection against rain and shine, and here “in the darkling forest, amidst the cool and silence, they knelt down and offered to the Mightiest solemn thanksgiving and supplication”. Here many noted ministers of the Methodist church have broken to hungry souls the bread of life. Among them may be noted Dr. Charles F. Deems, one-time president of Greensboro Female College, and later pastor of the Church of the Strangers, in New York City. There is a deed to this Shiloh church property on record dated 1803, and soon after a church building was erected, but Lydia Fosque King had organized it long years before this time, and services were regularly held there.
Among her descendants was numbered Rev. James King, of Alabama, a son. He was a presiding elder and noted minister of the M.E. church in that state. “The children of thy servants shall continue”. Other descendants include Fosque King, killed in the Civil War, Bruce King, Confederate veteran, passed to his reward within recent years, Jack King, a grandson and splendid citizen, John W. King, founder of King’s Business College, and many others, honorable and true. The French blood is distinctly traceable in the dark hair, eyes and complexion of many of them. Some claim that William Rufus King, for 30 years United States Senator from Alabama, minister to France and Vice-President of the United States during Pierce’s administration, was a descendant also, but this I have not verified, though he was a native of Sampson County, North Carolina.
In 1840 Rev. James King and other descendants erected at the graves of Duncan and Lydia King a handsome imported monument of Scotch granite. It took a yoke of ten oxen a week to transport it from the Cape Fear River landing to its present site. It is a graceful obelisk, eight feet tall, 20 inches at the base and 10 at the apex, resting on a broad base. On the west face is the following inscription.
A native of Scotland
and an officer in General Wolfe’s Army
at the battle of Quebec
Departed this life July 3rd 1793
Aged 64 years
Wife of Duncan King
Departed this life
Dec’r 31st 1819
Aged 70 years
On the east face is an inscription to a son, Alexander King, and wife, Catherine Holmes, and records that he died at the age of 92 and was for 61 years a member of the M.E. church. That was a great day at old Shiloh Church when the monument was dedicated. People came from miles round about, noted divines were present and glowing tributes were paid to the life and services of Duncan and Lydia King.
And here in a native forest, fragrant with aromatic myrtle and jasmine, near the church which Lydia founded, lies the dust of these two, whose lives so strangely met and blended. Trees have grown old and died on this grave, and others have sprung up to take their places. At the foot of the grave a splendid Hickory keeps watch and ward, while at the head a group of hollies arranged by Nature in the shape of a cross, keeps ever green the memory of these Columbus County pioneers. But for the monument erected by appreciative children and grandchildren 85 years age, the exact spot of the sepulcher would have been lost, but the ideals for which they stood and the religious principles for which they strove shall abide to “shine as the brightness of the firmament and as the stars for ever and ever”
NOTE: In the article above the author places the setting in Columbus County. That is true now. But until 1808, some 15 years after Duncan King’s death, it was Bladen County. Columbus County was formed in 1808 from lands of Bladen and Brunswick Counties. And, her reference to William Rufus King as possibly being a descendant of Duncan and Lydia King is probably true. A statue of him stands on the courthouse square in Clinton, Sampson County, North Carolina, and I have often referred to it, boastfully, as being in honor of my “cousin”. (more notes follow in the original post).