1850s, King continued to design and
build bridges and other structures, although much of his work during this
period is undocumented. In the early
1850s he was involved in the reconstruction of the Alabama State Capitol,
in Montgomery, which had been damaged by fire in 1849. Perhaps one of the
most significant projects for King personally was a 480 ft long Chattahoochee crossing known as Moore’s Bridge.
King and two partners shared ownership of the structure. Thus he moved
from merely building bridges to own-ing and investing in them. He even
moved his family to Carroll County,
Georgia, in order to collect the tolls.
When the Civil War broke out, King
hoped to continue business as usual, but
wartime conditions made his work difficult. His reconstruction of the Fourteenth
Street Bridge (or Factory Bridge), in Columbus, Georgia, for example, dragged
on for two years. When the bridge reopened, in May 1864, it remained uncovered because the lumber was needed
for the war effort. Even King himself,
although his sympathies lay with the
Union, found himself pressed into
COLLECTION OF THE COLUMBUS MUSEUM, GEORGIA, MUSEUM PURCHASE MADE POSSIBLE BY THE EVELYN S. AND H. WAYNE PATTERSON FUND, TOP; LIBRARY OF CONGRESS, BOTTOM
met while working in West Point who
shared his triracial background. They
would have five children.
After 1842 Godwin became less
active in the construction trade, but
King’s career was just beginning. Although King remained his slave, Godwin by this time allowed him to travel great distances to make and execute
his own contracts. King continued to
follow the ever-advancing frontier, and
over the next three years he did much of
his work in Lowndes County, Mississippi, 300 mi from his home on the Chattahoochee on Godwin’s estate.
King’s primary employer in Lowndes
County was Robert Jemison, Jr., an Alabama entrepreneur who owned plantations, sawmills, and other enterprises.
Jemison saw an opportunity to make
money by investing in toll bridges to
serve the growing regional economy.
King’s first project for Jemison was a
four-span, 420 ft long covered bridge
across the Tombigbee River near Columbus, Mississippi. The records show
that he designed the bridge and oversaw its construction independently of
his master’s supervision.
Theodore R. Davis’s sketch of Columbus, Georgia, was published in
Harper’s Weekly on September 19, 1868.
Jemison, who would later call
King “the most extensive and successful Bridge Builder in the South,” hired
him to build several other crossings,
including a 600 ft long bridge over
the Coosa River in Wetumpka, Alabama, that featured four truss spans and
200 ft of approach spans. Their surviving
correspondence reveals not only a mutually beneficial business relationship but
also a genuine friendship. That friendship yielded rich rewards for King when
Jemison, a member of the state legislature, influenced that body to declare him
a free man on February 3, 1846.
As a freedman in the late 1840s and
Established in 1828 by an act of the Geor-
gia legislature, Columbus was located at
the beginning of the navigable portion of
the Chattahoochee River, which served as
a primary means of transportation, link-
ing it in particular to the cotton planta-
tions in the region. Henry Wellge & Co.
produced a map of the city in 1886.
 Civil Engineering SEPTEMBER 2012