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A Real Companion and Friend:
The diary of William Lyon Mackenzie King

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Behind the Diary

Mackenzie King Slept Here: The Residences of Mackenzie King

Newport, Rhode Island

In the summer of 1899, Mackenzie King was employed by the Elbridge T. Gerry family of Newport, Rhode Island, as a tutor to their sons, Peter and Robert. The Gerrys were a wealthy and well-connected family. The boys' great-grandfather, Elbridge Gerry, had been the Governor of Massachusetts, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, and fifth Vice-President of the United States, and had given his name to the political tactic known as "gerrymandering."

King spent six weeks with the family. Although he claimed to dislike the lifestyle of the very rich, he greatly enjoyed this summer. "I had my first swim in the ocean, enjoyed it very much found it refreshing & exhilarating, have felt like a lord all day." (Diary, August 16, 1899) He learned horse jumping, had one fall, but persevered and succeeded in jumping several walls. "I never enjoyed a sport more, & believe that nothing compares in its manliness with this sort of exercise." (Diary, September 12, 1899) He also enjoyed the social life on Newport and he tasted champagne for the first time.

One of the people he met that summer was Julia Grant, granddaughter of the former American President, Ulysses S. Grant. He maintained a friendship and a detailed correspondence with Julia Grant for the rest of his life.

The money King earned as a tutor to the Gerry boys made it possible for him to take a trip to Europe. This journey was in connection with his scholarship from Harvard. From Newport he travelled to Boston, sailed out of Boston on September 27, 1899, and arrived in Liverpool on October 5. He studied and travelled in England and Europe until the following summer.

King kept in touch with Peter and Robert Gerry. Years later, when, as Prime Minister, he visited Washington with the royal tour, he presented Peter Gerry and Mrs. Gerry to King George VI. (Diary, June 8, 1939)

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