John Sumpter King

John Sumpter King (1843–1921) Medical doctor, distinguished writer, psychical researcher, founder of the Canadian Society for Psychical Research, and an active participant in a large number of fraternal organizations, including the Freemasons and Odd Fellows.

John Sumpter King was born at Georgetown, Ontario, Canada, on April 26, 1843, the son of Stephen King and Margaret Hess. His mother was of United Empire Loyalist descent. From 1869–1870, King worked on the editorial staff of the Toronto Globe and also was the Canadian correspondent for the Chicago Tribune and various Canadian newspapers. King attended Victoria College, qualifying as a doctor in 1876. Victoria University granted him an honorary doctor of medicine (MD) degree in 1889.

King became a prominent physician and surgeon in Toronto. King devoted much time to research work and was a frequent contributor to magazines and weekly papers. He published histories of the Knights of Pythias and the Sons of England Benevolent Society in 1890 and 1891.

King became interested in Spiritualism, especially after his dead mother allegedly made an appearance at a Séance in London, Ontario, in 1894, to prove her Survival After Death. Margaret King died in 1886. The Séance was conducted by American Materialization medium Effie Moss.

King’s second wife, May, did not approve of her husband’s interest in spiritualism for years, but finally accepted mediumship in 1905. As a result, King increased his involvement in Psychical Research. In 1908, he became president of the Toronto-based Canadian Society for Psychical Research, which lasted until 1916.

In Dawn of the Awakened Mind (1920), King details his personal experience of postmortem communication with departed family members in addition to his mother, including May (d. September 29, 1911), first wife Martha (d. 1874), father Stephen King (d. 1894), son George Herbert (d. 1916), and daughter Donna who died at birth. He also received communications from SPIRIT GUIDES and well-known psychical researchers. King had complete faith in his main spirit Control, the Neoplatonic philosopher Hypatia (370–415).

From 1911–12, King researched material for a book. Among the sensitives he consulted were the TRUMPET medium Etta Wriedt of Detroit, the Automatic Writing medium Maud Venice Gates of New York State, the materialization medium J. B. Jonson of Ohio, and the Bangs sisters of Chicago, who produced precipitation paintings.

In August 1917, King researched the Slate-Writing Medium Pierre L. O. A. Keeler at Lily Dale Assembly SPIRitualIST CAMP. King’s former employer George Brown and prominent spiritualists and psychical researchers Reverend William Stainton Moses, WILLIAM T. STEAD, and Frederic W.H. Myers were among those on King’s private list of invited spirit communicators. Some researchers suspected that Keeler was a clever trickster, and in 1921 Walter Franklin Prince claimed to have exposed his slate-writing as fraudulent.

King was convinced he communicated with May in a Séance with Wriedt in Detroit. During her last illness prior to her death, May arranged with King to attempt to communicate a code after she died (see After-Death Communications). During the years that she was ill, May King arranged a post-mortem code with her husband. In a Séance with Wriedt in Detroit, the spirit of May King used the code words.

King died in Toronto on February 14, 1921.

Further Reading:

  • King, John S. Dawn of the Awakened Mind. New York: The James A. McCann Company, 1920.
  • McMullin, Stan. Anatomy of a Séance: A History of Spirit Communication in Central Canada. Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2004, pp. 85–106.
  • Prince, Walter F. “A Survey of American Slate Writing Mediumship.” Proceedings of the American Society for Psychical Research (SPR)15 (1921).


The Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits – Written by Rosemary Ellen Guiley – September 1, 2007