John and Katie King : Father and daughter spirit Controls. Probably the busiest spirit of the dead in the history of Spiritualism, John King served as the spirit control for many major 19th-century Mediums, including the Davenport Brothers, Eusapia Palladino, Mary Marshall, Agnes Guppy, Frank Herne, Charles Williams, Mr. and Mrs. Nelson Holmes, W.T. Stead, and even Madame Helena P. Blavatsky. His erstwhile daughter, Katie, performed similar duties, principally for Florence Cook but also worked for Herne and Williams and the Holmeses in Philadelphia.
According to his own account given from the Other Side, John King had been Henry Owen Morgan, the English pirate who plundered Jamaica in the 17th century and then became the island’s governor after being knighted by King Charles II. He first appeared as John King, the spirit, in 1850, in the gunflash of young Ira Davenport’s pistol. The Davenport brothers called him John, or Johnnie, King, and he acted as their main control and master of ceremonies throughout their career. King allegedly pushed the brothers to give performances in large halls and reputedly gave them the construction specifications for their famous CABINET.
But King was an adept moonlighter and an eager participant in the common practice of spirit-lifting: borrowing another medium’s spirit control. In 1852, while still guiding the Davenports, he appeared to Jonathan Koons in backwoods Ohio to lead the raucous gatherings in the Koonses’ Spirit Room. To Koons, King introduced himself as King Number One, chief of a band of 165 spirits described as part of an ancient and primal order of man that antedated Adam by many thousand years. King Numbers Two and Three were Number One’s adjutants. King Number Three also called himself the Servant and Scholar of God.
King relinquished his royal ancestors after his experiences in Ohio to appear at the London Séances of Mrs. Guppy and her protégés, Frank Herne and Charles Williams. He also regularly appeared to Mr. and Mrs. Nelson Holmes, both in London and in Philadelphia. Guppy first heard from King through direct voice at a Séance conducted by Mary Marshall. King had been communicating by Direct Voice Mediumship and TRUMPET—a conduit he is credited with inventing—to both the Koonses and the Davenports since the mid-1850s. By 1872, King appeared regularly to Guppy and to Herne-Williams fully materialized. Sitters at a Herne-Williams Séance could shake the former blackguard’s hand, and once King materialized so completely that a sketch was made. Working with Katie King, the two performed the greatest apport feat of all time, allegedly transporting Guppy herself to a Séance at the Herne-Williams home.
While staying at the Nelson Holmeses, Madame Blavatsky became acquainted with John King. His swashbuckling past appealed to her, and he frequently appeared in her early letters and spiritualist meetings. V. S. Solovyoff, a Russian journalist and longtime friend of Blavatsky, speculated that the Mahatma Koot Hoomi was nothing more than John King dressed in Eastern clothing. (The Mahatmas were, according to Blavatsky, spiritual masters who transmitted the teachings that formed the basis of the Theosophical Society she cofounded.)
In the early 1870s, King added Naples to his itinerary. The Italian medium Signor Damiani found the psychic gifts of Eusapia Palladino remarkable, and his wife heard from John King at a Séance that she should seek out a powerful medium named Eusapia; he even gave Palladino’s street address to Signora Damiani. From that time on, King was Palladino’s principal control. The scientists who investigated Palladino throughout her career de scribed King as most anxious to help her produce convincing phenomena. Speaking in Italian through the medium, King claimed that Palladino was his daughter reincarnated. One sitter, a Chevalier Francesco Graus, testified that King psychically drew out Graus’s cerebral fluid during a Séance and administered it to Palladino to relieve her agitation and anxiety.
In most spiritualist circles, however, John’s daughter was Katie King, the former Annie Owen Morgan. Quite a colorful character herself, Katie died at about age 23 after murdering her two children and committing various other crimes. She said she had returned to try and expiate her sins, and attached herself mainly to Florence Cook for that purpose.
Like her father, Katie first appeared to the Davenport Brothers. A sitter at one of the Davenports’ Séances, Robert Cooper, described Katie as a person of low social station who talked too much and had little wit. She next surfaced in London at the Herne-Williams gatherings but was believed to be a Negro after a black hand materialized during a Séance. As such, Katie’s true parentage is cloudy. Some called Katie John’s sister. Florence Cook, Katie’s most famous medium, met her at a Herne-Williams sitting and appropriated Katie as her own thereafter. Cook’s Katie possessed much more charm and beauty than the woman at the Davenports’ sittings.
Katie also guided the Nelson Holmeses in Philadelphia, but after a scandal in which a local woman, Eliza White, claimed to have impersonated Katie, she no longer served as their control.
John King’s true identity was no less obscure than Katie’s. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle described King as tall and swarthy with a full black beard. He had a deep voice and a distinctive rap, and was a master of many languages, even Georgian. Doyle had a picture of the historical Sir Henry Morgan from a book on pirates and found the likeness to be completely different from the materialized King. In King’s defense, however, Doyle said that King had revealed knowledge of Morgan’s will during a Séance with a lady from Jamaica, calling the document his. Doyle also commented that men who pursued rude, open-air occupations in life seemed to be drawn to spirit activity after death. Both John and Katie appeared for the last time in February 1930 at a Séance conducted by Thomas Glendenning Hamilton in Winnipeg.
Why would a 17th-century pirate and his daughter be the ones to promote spirit communication? In his book Mind Over Space, Nandor Fodor speculated that the Kings were not Reincarnations of anybody, but were archetypes of psychic manifestation, able to appear at any Séance and produce phenomena under the leadership of a master medium. Author Ruth Brandon postulated a simpler explanation: once the Kings had reestablished contact with the human world, they acquired a taste for it.
- Brandon, Ruth. The Spiritualists. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1983.
- Brown, Slater. The Heyday of Spiritualism. New York: Hawthorn Books, 1970.
- Doyle, Sir Arthur Conan. The History of Spiritualism, Vol. I and II. New York: Arno Press, 1975 (originally published by George H. Doran Co., 1926).
- Fodor, Nandor. Mind Over Space. New York: The Citadel Press, 1962.
- Somerlott, Robert. “Here, Mr. Splitfoot”: An Informal Exploration into Modern Occultism. New York: The Viking Press, 1971.