William King (1768-1862) was an American merchant, ship-builder, and statesman from Bath, Maine. A principal proponent of statehood for Maine, he became its first governor when it separated from Massachusetts in 1820.
Personal and business career
William was born on February 9, 1768 at Scarborough, then in Massachusetts. His formal education was limited to local schools and ended when he was thirteen. He was largely self educated, and was truly a self-made man. Starting as a hand in a saw-mill, he went on to open his own mill.
He then expanded in virtually every direction imaginable. He became a ship-builder, then a ship-owner. He became the largest merchant shipping owner in Maine. He became a successful merchant and a significant real-estate investor. He opened the first cotton mill in Maine, at Brunswick. He founded and was president of the first bank of Bath.
King became active politically in 1795 as a member of the Democratic-Republican Party. He represented Topsham in the Massachusetts House in 1795 and 1799. After he moved to Bath, he represented that town in 1804. He served in the State senate for Lincoln County from 1807 to 1811.
When the War of 1812 broke out, Massachusetts made him Major General King of the militia, in charge of the Maine district. He devoted much of his attention to coastal shipping and defenses. But he also led recruiting efforts for the regular army, for which has was made a Colonel in the United States Army. The war effort and defense requirements worked a great hardship in the Maine district. So in 1813 King began a seven year effort that started with his petition to Massachusetts for separation.
In 1816 he was re-elected to the Massachusetts state Senate, and finally secured their approval for Maine to become a separate state, in 1818. But then events were put on hold at a national level. The Missouri Compromise finally allowed Maine to be recognized as a state on March 15, 1820. A grateful people elected him as the first Governor of the New State.
In May of 1821, President James Monroe named him as a special minister to negotiate a treaty with Spain. By 1824 he had successfully negotiated a treaty that kept the United States from becoming embroiled in issues surrounding the Mexican struggle for independence. He returned home at resumed private life.
With the shifting of political parties, he ran once more for Governor, as a Whig in 1834, but lost.
King continued as a prominent business man, investor, and ship-owner. Even though he had a very limited education he served for years as a trustee and overseer of Bowdoin College, and as a trustee of Waterville College (now called Colby College). He died at home, in Bath, Maine on June 17, 1862 and is buried in the Oak Grove Cemetery there.
- Marion Smith; "General William King: Merchant, Shipbuilder, and Maine's first Governor"; 1980, Down East Books, ISBN 0892720727.