Kings of the Kingdom – The Life of Thomas Rice King

It has been said that recorded history is the memory of a people which gives purpose and meaning to lives that otherwise would run aground in the storms of our own biographies. It is the anchor to which we hold when defining moments create paradigm shifts in direction, focus, or function. To be without memory is to be a ship at sea without a rudder.

Historical memory provides foundational ties which define who we are, what we believe, and what we stand for. Our unique world enlarges to give critical perspective and values when built upon generational experience. Individual lives can only be constructed commensurate with the foundation upon which they are built, and the trials and tribulations of life are more easily overcome by understanding the generations past. Each individual’s history is more than the raw data of dates and places, but comprises getting inside the mind and heart, to understand habits, personality, towering strength and gut-wrenching weakness, to find larger-than-life characteristics that define each person as a unique child of God.

Antiquity opens the door to envision more clearly existing opportunities and favors of life. Without history we are blinded by the mountains to be climbed, forests to be explored, and rainbows to be discovered. When this perspective is discarded or blurred by our own careless mistakes or indifference, we sow the seeds of our own destruction as a person, a people, or a nation. Yet, in all historical study it is important for the student and reader to see and to evaluate events and experiences through the eyes and standards of the participant, not their own. What may have been acceptable in one time period may not be in another.

Through an examination of history, the past, the present, and the future become inseparably linked. Through family history our grandfathers and grandmothers are not just faceless people, but they become part of our lives, personalities, and values. We become a living extension of their lives, and from their foundation we have the opportunity to become even greater than they were, and our children greater than we. Is this not the great secret of historical perspective?

The study of Thomas Rice King is a model of this family foundation. He and his forebears, as well as his family, stand tall in the pages of time as common people, who through hard work and perseverance created a proud heritage for grateful descendants, perhaps not to be measured by political office, titles, or trophies, but by producing a legacy of honorable viii The Kings of the Kingdom everyday people who excelled in building a religious and secular society within family, community, and country. While never part of the inner circles of the political, economic, or religious elite, Thomas and Matilda associated with them and worked to accomplish the same noble goals and objectives.

The known beginnings of the King family are rooted in seventeenth century England with Edmund Rice and his family who joined the great migration to Puritan Massachusetts in the 1630s. Contemporary with the Rice family was the family of Thomas King; and within twenty years the two families were inseparably connected as three Rice sons married three King daughters. Bringing the two families even closer was the King family’s adoption of a Rice grandson, Samuel Rice. Following the death of Elizabeth King Rice, the baby Samuel was adopted by Elizabeth’s brother, Peter. Samuel became the heir of Peter and assumed the name of Samuel King, thus ensuring the continuation of Thomas King’s name as there were no other male descendants than the childless Peter. Thomas Rice King, by his very name, symbolically links the two families together.

The Rice and King families built their homes, raised their families, and helped develop new communities in the undeveloped land they called New England. They were part of the stirring religious, economic, and political reformation of the day. They served their communities and church, fought the Indians, French, and later the mother country itself to help shape the destiny of a new nation.

In mid-nineteenth century, their Puritan and congregationalist beliefs gave way to a new religious system when Thomas Rice King, his father, and two older brothers, accepted both the profound excitement and frightening burden of Mormonism. This significant paradigm shift, second only to the familial emigration to the American colonies, sent the King family into a new dimension which became part of the development and settlement of the Mormon empire in the Great Basin in the western United States. Here many members of the family served Church missions, lived the economic communal United Order, and participated in the social experiment of plural marriage. The men knew the trials of becoming outlaws and served time in prison for their religious belief. They endured the prejudice and jealousy of neighbors causing them to move on and establishing a new home in the latter years of their life. Yet through it all, they were fortified by spiritual confirmation and experience.

The Kings were a proud and strong-willed people, enterprising, hardworking and independently minded, yet submissive to church and family leadership. There are also traces of stubbornness with a hardheaded temperament. Their souls were filled with a passion and vision of a new ix and better life. During the United Order period in Piute County, the Kings controlled the temporal as well as the ecclesiastical positions of leadership. Thomas was president and son, William, was bishop. Sons Culbert, John, Volney, and Edwin also played key roles. In the ensuing power struggle after the death of Thomas, William won out, but not without ill feelings. Behind their backs the Kings were referred to by their detractors as the “Kings of the Kingdom.”

While they were never monetarily rich or achieved economic or political prominence, they counted their wealth in their posterity and by providing humble service to their church and community. Today a small southern Utah community still bears the name of Kingston in honor of Thomas Rice King, and it is the only remaining evidence of this failed early attempt to live a more perfect economic union.

The descendants of Thomas and Matilda have traveled differing roads, experiencing both humble and prominent circumstances. Coming out of the United Order experiences, the family has produced a fiery conservative U.S. Senator, and on the other end of the political spectrum, an ultra-liberal governor of California, and an internationally noted writer for socialism. Most descendants have remained active participants in the Mormon tradition, while others elected to adjust their religious focus.

In writing the account of early seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Rice and King families there are no known letters or diaries. Most information comes from public records and secondary sources. Of the Thomas Rice King family, a son, Volney King, was a diarist for several years; and a few family letters and writings have surfaced. From these records we do have an understanding of the basic landscape of their life, yet there are many instances where it would be nice to know their innermost thoughts and feelings and to better understand their marital and parent-child relationships. The Kings were not a perfect family and any attempt to portray them otherwise is a distortion of life. They were a great and wonderful people, devoted to family, church, and community, who made mistakes and exhibited excruciating human weaknesses. Many of them deeply agonized over plural marriage, living in the United Order, and being sent to prison. The matriarch, Matilda, a devoted member of the LDS faith was denied service in the Fillmore Ward Relief Society presidency because she could not give up her corn cob pipe, yet she spoke in tongues, had her prayers dramatically answered at critical times and experienced the transfiguration of Brigham Young to Joseph Smith in Nauvoo. Perhaps from these experiences there is a significant message to her descendants that we
not take life too serious, that there is eternal hope for us all.

As a descendant of Thomas Rice King, I, today, enjoy the nobility of this birthright.

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Larry R. King