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BATH — When it comes to Kings who were governor, many Mainers probably think of Angus, not William, who started it all.
City Councilor Sean Paulhus is trying shed new light on William King, Maine’s first governor and a proponent of its statehood, who was as a resident of Bath. Thanks to Paulhus’ initiative, an annual day of observance for King is now before the state Legislature.
Although Paulhus, 25, grew up in Bath, it wasn’t until he was a freshman at Marietta College in Ohio that he became interested in King. He found few memorials to King in Bath, other than one at King’s grave. He also found a collection of King’s books at Patten Free Library.
But given King’s impact on Maine, Paulhus, who serves as sergeant-at-arms for the state Senate, thought there should be more.
Born in 1768
King was born in 1768 in Scarborough, when Maine was part of Massachusetts. He moved to Topsham at 19 and then, in 1799, to Bath, where he served as a representative in the Massachusetts Legislature. He later became a senator of the Lincoln District.
King’s Front Street home overlooked the Kennebec River and stood about where the Customs House is now located. His merchant fleet was docked at the wharves that his house overlooked.
During the War of 1812 he served as a major general in the Massachusetts militia before earning the rank of U.S. Army colonel.
An ardent supporter of statehood, King presided over the District of Maine’s constitutional convention in 1819. When Maine became the 23rd state the next year, King served as its first governor. But it was a short-lived job, with King tapped by President James Monroe in 1821 to be special minister to hammer out a territory claims treaty with Spain.
His contributions to Bath included starting the South Church and the Bath Bank, and serving as customs collector from 1829-1834. He died in Bath in 1852.
Gift to the city
In the summer of 2006, before his junior year at Marietta, Paulhus procured the services of a family friend, Paula Jackson-Roy, to paint a portrait of King. Having seen no commemoration to King at Bath City Hall, Paulhus presented the city with that portrait, which now hangs in the building’s auditorium.
“That was kind of my first project in my William King career,” he said with a chuckle.
During his senior year Paulhus conceived the idea of initiating a Gov. William King Day, to commemorate the man’s Feb. 9 birthday. He was able to get a one-time proclamation from the governor’s office in 2008, and has repeated that effort nearly every year since.
But now Paulhus is aiming for King to have a permanent day on the calendar.
“One of the points of trying to have a specific day for Gov. King is to kind of spread the word educationally, both at the school level and overall,” Paulhus said.
He noted that people remember the individuals who helped found this country, and “I think we should remember the ones who helped formed our state, as well.”
Sen. Seth Goodall, D-Richmond, who is sponsoring a bill for King Day, said last week that “it’s important to bring greater recognition to our first governor.”
The bill is before the State and Local Government Committee, which amended it to change the date from King’s birthday to March 16. That’s the day after Statehood Day, which commemorates another day of importance to King.
While he would prefer King’s day of observance be on his birthday, Paulhus said he would accept the amended date, pointing out that “it’s better to have a Gov. King Day than nothing at all.”
The bill must be approved by the Senate and House before being signed into law by Gov. Paul LePage.
Gov. William King Day would be a step along the way, said Paulhus, who also hopes Bath will one day have a more noticeable monument to one of Maine’s founding fathers.
Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bath City Councilor Sean Paulhus has initiated an effort to establish a permanent day of observance for William King (1768-1852), Maine’s first governor. The portrait of King, which hangs at Bath City Hall, is by Paula Jackson-Roy and was donated by Paulhus in 2006.