Horace King (1807-1885)

Horace King
Public domain image

Horace King, born a slave on September 8, 1807, in Chesterfield District, South Carolina, was a successful bridge architect and builder  in west Georgia, northern Alabama and northeast Georgia from the 1830s to the 1870s.  King worked for his master, John Godwin who owned a successful construction business.  Although King was enslaved, Godwin treated him as a valued employee and eventually gave  him considerable influence over his business.  Horace King supervised many of Godwin’s business activities, including the management of construction sites. In 1832, for example, King led a construction crew in building Moore’s Bridge, the first bridge crossing the lower Chattahoochee River in northwest Georgia.  Later in the decade, Godwin and King constructed some of the largest bridges in Georgia, Alabama, and northeastern Mississippi.  By the 1840s, King designed and supervised construction of major bridges at Wetumpka, Alabama and Columbus, Mississippi without Godwin’s supervision.  Godwin issued five-year warranties on his bridges because of his confidence in King’s high quality work.

Bridge over Chattahoochee River, Alabama
Bridge over Chattahoochee River, Alabama

In 1839, Horace King married Frances Thomas, a free African American woman.  The couple had had four boys and one girl. The King children eventually joined their father on various construction projects.  In addition to building bridges, King constructed homes and government buildings for Godwin’s construction company.  In 1841, King supervised the construction of the Russell County Courthouse in Alabama.  Despite the success of the company in attracting work, Godwin fell into debt.  King was emancipated by Godwin on February 3, 1846, to avoid his seizure by creditors.  King continued to work for Godwin’s construction company and when his former owner died in 1859, King assumed control of Godwin’s business.

During the Civil War, King continued to work on construction projects, usually for the Confederacy, including a building for the Confederate navy near Columbus, Georgia.  Confederate officials also forced King to block several waterways to prevent Union access to strategic points in Georgia and Alabama.

Horace King’s first wife, Frances Thomas King, died in 1864, and he married Sarah Jane Jones McManus after the end of the Civil War.  King’s construction business prospered after the war; he worked to reconstruct bridges, textile mills, cotton warehouses and public buildings destroyed during the conflict.  After passing down the family business to his son, John Thomas King, Horace King was elected as a Republican to the Alabama House of Representatives, serving from 1870 to 1874.

Horace King died on May 28, 1885, in LaGrange, Georgia.