Henrietta Chamberlain King Biography

Henrietta Chamberlain King

Born: 7/21/1832
Birthplace: Boonville, Mo.

Henrietta Maria Morse Chamberlain was an only child whose mother died when she was three. Her father, a Presbyterian missionary in Missouri and Tennessee, was often away from home, leaving his daughter to become self-reliant at an early age. After attending the Female Institute in Holly Springs, Miss., for two years, Henrietta moved to Brownsville, Tex., in 1849, where her father soon established a Presbyterian mission. She taught briefly at the Rio Grande Female Institute before marrying Richard King in 1854. The couple lived in a hut on the cattle ranch King and a partner had established in 1852 on the Santa Gertrudis Creek. The ranch soon grew to 53,000 acres.

During the Civil War, the ranch received cotton from the Confederacy bound for Mexico, where it was loaded onto ships for England. After Union troops captured the ranch in 1863, and King fled to avoid capture, Henrietta and her five children moved to San Antonio for a time. In 1868 King became sole owner of the ranch and raised cattle, horses, sheep, and goats. At the time of King's death in 1885, the King Ranch comprised 500,000 acres between Corpus Christi and Brownsville. It was also $500,000 in debt. Through careful management and experimental cattle breeding programs, Henrietta and her son-in-law, Robert Justus Kleberg, made the ranch profitable in several years. The ranch developed the Santa Gertrudis cattle variety, which became popular across Texas. By 1895, the King Ranch had increased to 650,000 acres; by 1925 it had grown to 1,173,000 acres, larger than the state of Rhode Island. As time went on, Henrietta became a leading philanthropist, building a Presbyterian church and a public high school as well as donating land to build the towns of Kingsville and Raymondville. She also gave land to build Methodist, Baptist, Episcopal, and Catholic churches, and she supported local colleges and hospitals.

Died: 3/31/1925