BACK IN THE DAY

With will, Johnston man left lasting legacy

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On Sept. 3, 1907, William Borden King wrote out his last will and testament. The 77-year-old was the son of John King and Lucretia (Paine), and the nephew of Samuel Ward King, the 15th governor of Rhode Island.

William had spent a lifetime living in Johnston, in the same home with his older brother Henry, older sisters Mary and Ann, and younger sister Abbie. None of the siblings had ever married. Henry and William earned a livelihood by farming while Mary and Ann worked as dressmakers and Abbie as a milliner.

William’s death occurred 13 days after his will was written. Confusion and mystery settled in the moment it was read. The beneficiary of the will was a woman identified as Louise B. Blackenburg, who stood to inherit over $50,000. Stranger still was the fact that William had referred to her in the document as “my intended wife.”

Thirty-three-year-old Dr. Alvah Henry Barnes and 27-year-old private nurse Frank Sweeney, who both attended to William during his final sickness, were the witnesses to the document. Still, people seemed mystified at the notion of William having planned a marriage to someone they knew nothing about.

A search of old records shows that although there was no woman by that name residing in Rhode Island at the time of William’s death, there was a woman by the name of Louise Emilie Blankenburg living in Providence. A private nurse and housekeeper who had never married, she was only 33 years old.

Although an unlikely prospect to be the woman mentioned in the will, it is confirmed to be the correct person by her address following William’s death – 899 Plainfield St. in Providence, the old King family homestead.

Upon William’s death, there was only one King sibling surviving – 75-year-old Abbie. In 1913, she wrote out her own will. In it, she mentioned the 16-acre family homestead, which the Kings had purchased from the Borden family in 1829. Upon her death in 1915, the will was read, stipulating that a life interest on the property was being left to Louise Blankenburg and that, after Louise’s death, the land was to become the property of the city of Providence so long as no development ever took place upon it.

Louise died in 1954, never having married. That same decade, the remaining structures on the homestead were either demolished or burned.

The mystery remains as to what relationship, if any, William King had to Louise Blankenburg. A secret engagement with a woman half his age whose surname was not even correctly known were the perfect ingredients for a lasting mystery.

Kelly Sullivan is a Rhode Island columnist, lecturer and author.

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