Camp King, later known as Fort King, was named after Colonel William King, a man all but lost to history. What we know of Colonel King is that he was born in Delaware, was of English descent, and had a colorful military record. His earliest date of military service was in 1808 when he was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant of the 5th Infantry. His military career led him through many battles which earned him a promotion in 1814 to Lieutenant Colonel. During this time, he and his men were particularly prominent at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend in Alabama. After this battle, King had a disagreement with how General Andrew Jackson had reported on the incident and sent a friend to challenge Jackson to a duel to resolve the issue. General Jackson amended his report of the battle and sent this message back to King:
“Go and tell Colonel King our country cannot afford to lose such men as he and I, therefore I will not fight him. I will correct my report in which I inadvertently failed to give him and his men the credit they deserve.”
King and Jackson became friends after this and when Jackson captured Florida in 1818 he made King Military and Civil Governor of Pensacola. As governor, King was charged with upholding Spanish law in the colony, overseeing Spanish property, and caring for the soldiers wounded in Jackson’s campaign.
By 1819, Colonel King had been relieved of his duty and replaced by Edmunds P. Gaines as Governor. King was court martialed and had five charges filed against him as follows:
1. Violation of the fourteenth article of the rules and articles of war, by making and signing a false certificate with respect to his pay. Colonel King was exonerated on this charge.
2. Conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman. Colonel King was found guilty of the charge of “unofficer-like conduct” but was acquitted of the charge of “ungentlemanly conduct.”
3. Violation of the thirty-ninth article of the rules and articles of war, by misapplication of public funds. Colonel King was found guilty of this charge.
4. Neglect of duty and unofficer-like conduct. Specification 4 of this charge declared that Colonel King, “… did encourage and enforce the infliction of corporeal punishment, by stripes and lashes, by issuing and promulgating an order, on or about the 10th August, 1818, at Pensacola, and otherwise, to this effect: that every man found out of his quarters between tattoo and reveille, should receive fifty lashes, and be confined on bread and water in the black hole for the space of one month.” Colonel King was found guilty of this charge.
5. Violation of the thirty-first articles of the rules and articles of war. Colonel King was found not guilty of this charge.
During the 1820 proceedings on the charges against him, Colonel King pled “Not Guilty” to the charges. At the conclusion of the proceedings, the court sentenced Colonel King “to be suspended from all rank, pay, and emoluments, for the space of five years, from the date of the ratification of this sentence.” (American Memory 2006; Military Affairs Lindsay and Hays 1819:158)
While Colonel King’s military career ended in disgrace, he continued to have support from Andrew Jackson. In 1821 King was honorably discharged from the Army. Colonel William King died in 1826 near Mobile, Alabama.
It wasn’t until after Colonel King’s death that Fort King was built (1827) and named in his honor.