A Fleeting Glimpse

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February 22, 2015 by tuttijackson

Studying the past can often seem like looking through a dark and narrow window. We can just quite make out a figure; remote, distant. Primary sources can illuminate our subjects with clarity, and sometimes great emotion.

Sarah Worthington King Peter, 1854

Jean Aubery, Portrait of Sarah Worthington King Peter, 1854. H 38067. Ohio History Connection.

Sarah Worthington King Peter was the second daughter of United States Senator and Ohio Governor, Thomas Worthington. She was born in Chillicothe in 1800 and married Edward King, the son of Senator Rufus King, when she was just 16. The Ohio History Connection holds a small collection of King Family Papers. The collection includes Sarah’s correspondence with Edward, as he rode the circuit practicing law and was frequently away from home.

Their first and only daughter, Mary, was born January 30, 1821. On Wednesday morning, August [21], 1822, Sarah sent the following letter to Edward:

Our dear babe, my beloved husband, is failing fast – so rapidly that I fear you will scarce have time to see her before her last agony – I need not say my grief is inexpressible – I pray Heaven she may be spared until you see her – tho’ there is no hope of her recovery – Your afflicted Sarah

Sarah Worthington King letter, August, 1822

Sarah Worthington King letter, August, 1822. MSS 40 King Family Papers, Box 1, Folder 1. Ohio History Connection.

Mary Alsop King passed away on August 22, 1822. Reading the simple, sad words of the letter, we can feel perhaps a little of the enormity of Sarah’s task in the face of profound sorrow; shared but separate. It is this human connection that provides us with a fleeting glimpse of understanding into the lives of the people of the past. Holding the letter in hand is a transcendent experience, as the past and present compress. We stand in the space between Sarah who must relay the most horrible news and Edward who is forever in anticipation of his grief.

Sarah’s letter and Jean Aubery’s portrait of Sarah are available online at Ohio Memory, the collaborative statewide digital library project of the Ohio History Connection and the State Library of Ohio, with digital collections from over 360 cultural heritage institutions representing all of Ohio’s 88 counties.

Sarah Worthington King Peter (1800-1877) led a remarkable life. She was a philanthropist and patron of the arts, establishing the Philadelphia School of Design for Women and the Ladies’ Academy of Fine Arts in Cincinnati. She traveled to Europe and worked as a nurse during the Civil War. She converted to Catholicism in 1855 and helped establish a number of convents in the archdioceses of Philadelphia and Cincinnati.

Learn more:

King, Mrs. Margaret Rives. Memoirs of the Life of Mrs. Sarah Peter. Cincinnati: R. Clarke & Co, 1889.

McAllister, Anna Shannon. In Winter We Flourish; Life and Letters of Sarah Worthington King Peter, 1800-1877. New York: Longmans, Green and Co, 1939.

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