One of the most romantic and frequently claimed spirit entities, manifesting at many Spiritualist séances of different mediums over many decades. He claimed that he had been Henry Owen Morgan, the famous buccaneer who was knighted by Charles II and appointed governor of Jamaica. "Katie King," Florence Cook 's control, claimed to be John King's daughter. John King first manifested with the Davenport brothers in 1850, his first materialization following the flash of a pistol fired by Ira Davenport in the dark. He remained as spirit manager with the Davenports throughout their career, and in typtology and direct voice he gave them sound advice during difficult times.
While faithfully serving the Davenport brothers, King took charge of the séances in the loghouse of Jonathan Koons in the wilds of Ohio. As the head of a band of 160 spirits, King claimed descent from a race of men known as "Adam," who had as leaders "the most ancient angels." They signed their communications "King No. 1," "No. 2," and so forth, and sometimes "Servant and Scholar of God." In his last incarnation King had strayed from the path of virtue and become a redoubtable pirate. He communicated in direct voice through a trumpet, his own invention, and through direct scripts. The tone of these writings was sanctimonious and upbraiding (e.g., "We know that our work will be rejected by many, and condemned as the production of their King Devil, whom they profess to repudiate, but do so constantly serve by crucifying truth and rejecting all that is contrary to their own narrow pride and vain imaginings.").
The Telegraph Papers of 1856 published a psychometric reading of the writing of John King by a Mrs. Kellog and a Miss Jay of New York, to whom the paper was handed in a sealed envelope. Kellog became entranced and said:
"A person of great might and power appears before me—a power unknown. I cannot compare him to anyone on earth. He wields a mighty weapon. I can neither describe nor explain the influence that emanates from him. I can only compare it to one of whom we read in the Bible. It seems like unto one who 'rules the world.' It does not seem to have been done by any human being. It does not seem to me that a mortal could have been employed even as the instrument for this writing. This is beyond human effort."
Jay gave a similar reading: "It must be a power so far exalted in the scale of development as to grasp the great laws that govern all material combinations. He does not seem to be of the Earth, but to belong to another race of beings, whose spiritual growth has continued for ages."
In the early years of British Spiritualism it was the aspiration of many mediums to secure the influence of John King. Mary Marshall was the first, Agnes Guppy-Volckman, Georgina Houghton, Mrs. A. H. Firman, Charles Williams, William Eglinton, and Cecil Husk followed. In the United States he was claimed by Mr. and Mrs. Nelson Holmes and Helena Petrovna Blavatsky during her early career as a Spiritualist. V. S. Solovyoff, in his book A Modern Priestess of Isis (1895), suggested that Blavatsky's Mahatma Koot Hoomi was John King transformed by Eastern garb.
On March 20, 1873, in a daylight séance conducted by Charles Williams, John King manifested so successfully that a sketch was made of him by an artist. A week later he appeared again in solid and material form. He was usually seen in the light of a peculiar lamp that he carried and that illuminated his face and sometimes the room. In Paris on May 14, 1874, a young man tried to seize him. John King eluded his grasp and left a piece of drapery behind. The medium was found entranced. He was searched, but no paraphernalia for deception was discovered.
In time John King took charge of the physical phenomena of Etta Wriedt in London. He greeted the sitters of Williams's and Cecil Husk's circle by their names. W. T. Stead once found a mislaid manuscript through communication in automatic writing from John King. "Feda," the control of Gladys Osborne Leonard, informed H. Dennis Bradley during a séance of his own that John King often helped with the voices and that the volume of King's voice was enormous.
Of all the public activities of John King, his association with Eusapia Palladino was the most remarkable. He said in many messages that Palladino was his reincarnated daughter. A curious story of his appearance in strong light is told by Chevalier Francesco Graus, an Italian engineer, in a letter to Vincent Cavalli. The letter was published in Luce e Ombra in April 1907. At the time of the narrative, Palladino worried herself ill over the theft of her jewels. She was so affected by the reproaches of the police inspector that she fainted. The table began to move and rapped out, "Save my daughter, she is mad." Graus later wrote of the incident:
"A minute later in full light, a phenomenon occurred which I shall never forget. On my left, in the space separating me from Mme. Palladino, appeared the form of an old man, tall, rather thin, with an abundant beard who, without speaking, laid the full palm of his right hand on my head, which he squeezed between his fingers as if to draw from it some vital fluid, and when he saw fit he raised his hand and spread over Eusapia's head the fluid he had withdrawn from my brain. He repeated this operation three times in succession, then the figure dissolved. Mme. Palladino immediately returned to her normal state. I remained for three consecutive days in such a condition of cerebral prostration, on account of the fluid that had been drawn from me, that I could not carry on the smallest intellectual work."
King and Morgan
The identification of John King with Henry Owen Morgan, the pirate, was investigated by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who had in his possession a contemporary picture of the buccaneer king. It bore no resemblance to the tall, swarthy man with a noble head and full black beard who presented himself in materialized form. But Doyle stated that a daughter of a recent governor of Jamaica was confronted in a séance in London by John King, who said to her, "You have brought back from Jamaica something which was mine." She asked, "What was it?" He answered, "My will." It was a fact. Her father had returned with the document.
Through Etta Wriedt at Julia's Bureau in London, John King gave many particulars in regard to his corporeal life in Jamaica and made beautiful bugle calls through the trumpet, saying that was how he used to call his men together in the old buccaneering days, one terrific blast being his signal to fight.
In February 1930 John King manifested in Glen Hamilton 's circle in Winnipeg, Canada, and carried on a dialogue with "Walter," who controlled another medium, feigning that they were aboard a pirate ship among a crew of ruffians. This playacting had a psychological purpose—the recovery of past memories and the imagining of a sailing ship that was afterward built out of ectoplasm.
The continued manifestation of John King with different mediums over a period of some 80 years raises a number of interesting questions. If the manifestations were genuine, why should a relatively unimportant individual dominate séance phenomena? Why should such a personality exist virtually unchanged for nearly a century? Was there so little progress in the spirit world? Or did the interest of mediums in a well-defined personality bring about conscious or unconscious fraud? Or was John King perhaps a fictitious personality like "Philip," the experimental "ghost" created by members of the Toronto Society for Psychical Research?
Berger, Arthur S., and Joyce Berger. The Encyclopedia of Parapsychology and Psychical Research. New York: Paragon House, 1991.
Medhurst, R. G., and K. M. Golney. "William Crookes and the Physical Phenomena of Mediumship." Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research 54 (1964).