Civil War History Programs with the Resident Associates Program
past articles

Vol. 1

Vol. 2

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Vol. 4

Vol. 5

Vol. 6

Vol. 7

Vol. 8

Vol. 9

Vol. 10

Only in America?

The Smithsonian Associates Civil War E-Mail Newsletter, Volume 2, Number 4

Many years ago a child was born into the most abject poverty imaginable. He and his family literally owned nothing and had no prospects of ever rising above their degraded condition. What saved them was the fact that their closest neighbor recognized in the boy an unusual intelligence and an innate ability in mathematics. The neighbor trained the boy in what he knew about civil engineering. When the boy grew up, he and his mentor became partners in a building business in Georgia.

Together the mentor and the man built hundreds of bridges, private homes, and public and commercial buildings. Today the man is most remembered for the many covered bridges he designed and constructed. These bridges were vital in developing and linking the small rural areas of southern Georgia and points west. Each log used in these bridges was cut by hand, and the timbers were joined using 5,000 pegs per 100 feet. The man said these bridges would last a hundred years, and some of them have lasted longer than that.

Eventually the man became an extremely prosperous and renowned engineer/businessman, as well as an Alabama state representative. When the man died, hundreds paid their respects, and his obituary told the story of how he had "risen to prominence by force of genius and power."

This man was Horace King. His achievements are all the more remarkable when we learn that he was born a slave in South Carolina in 1807. It was his master who recognized his brilliance and eventually gave him his freedom, thereby allowing King to live a fruitful and accomplished life and to make an indelible contribution to society. There is no way to know how many other geniuses have been have been lost because they were born into poverty or slavery.