The Autobiography of John Parker

"Nearly everything we know about John Parker comes from the autobiography. According to the memoir, Parker was born in 1827 in Norfolk, Virginia. His father was apparently a wealthy white man; his mother a slave like Parker. He spent the first 18 years of his life as a slave, earning himself a reputation as a troublemaker. In 1845 he purchased his freedom. He was married to Miranda Boulden of Cincinnati in 1848 (she is rarely mentioned, never by name, in the autobiography), and moved to Ripley, Ohio the next year. He and Miranda had six children together (two of whom, inheriting their father's intelligence, went on to study at Oberlin College).

It was in Ripley, a hotbed of abolitionist activity, that his work on the Underground Railroad began and flourished. By his own count, he helped over 400 slaves to freedom. By day, however, Parker was a successful businessman; in 1865 he purchased an iron foundry, and he patented several popular inventions.

"A more fearless creature never lived," said the Cincinnati Commercial Tribune shortly after his death. "He gloried in danger. He would go boldly over into the enemy's camp and filch the fugitives to freedom.'' (quoted in "Underground Railroad Museum is real chance for greatness" by Laura Pulfer, The Cincinnati Enquirer, Sunday, March 30, 1997)

A more complete biography can be found in the introduction to His Promised Land. For a superb biography of Parker's life which focuses on his business and inventions, check out his page on the FACES of SCIENCE: African Americans in the Sciences site put together by the Chemistry library at Louisiana State University."

his house

a Cincinnati school named after him

his white neighbor and co-laborer for the abolition of slavery, John Rankin


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