John P. Parker was born in 1827 in Norfolk, Virginia. As the introduction to his autobiography states:
He was only eight years old when he was sold and went to Richmond, Virginia, to live. He was chained to an old man, who was later whipped to death. The experience set the boy on fire with hatred and the desire to gain his freedom. Just four months later, he was chained to a gang of 400 slaves. It was customary at the time to sell the slaves as they passed through the country. Parker walked to the end of the slave trail at Mobile, Alabama.
When he was 14, he entered into a contract with a widow, Mrs. Ryder of Mobile. If she would buy his freedom for $1,800, he would pay her back on a weekly installment plan of $10 per week with interest. By this time he had made himself so disagreeable to his old master, he was glad to get rid of Parker at any price. It was 1845 before he had paid Mrs. Ryder and gained his freedom.
Securing his freedom, Parker moved to Cincinnati, then settled in Ripley, Ohio where he founded the Phoenix Foundry. In business, Parker was one of the first african-americans to receive patents for his inventions at the foundry. From his house on the shores of the Ohio River, Parker became an active member of the Underground Railroad in Ripley, that “abolitionist hell hole” as it was known then.
Initially, Parker kept careful records of those slaves he helped. When he became a wanted man however, he destroyed his journal, so as not to leave any evidence for those who would do him harm. Similarly, and sadly for us today, he never permitted his photograph to be taken, so that it would not be used on a wanted poster. It is known that Parker helped hundreds of slaves to escape to freedom, working tirelessly against the
He devoted his life to forays in Kentucky, to scouting on both sides of the Ohio River, to taking care of the helpless slaves who had found their way to Ohio and could not get across, to actual fighting for them and against their pursuing masters.” (Source p.159)
With his wife Miranda, Parker raised 6 children in Ripley- all of whom attended college. Of 3 sons and 3 daughters who survived into adulthood, one became a lawyer, and 3 daughters music teachers.
The John P. Parker Historical Society, Inc was founded in 1996 to recognize, commemorate and preserve the extraordinary legacy of John P. Parker and his remarkable family.
With grants from the Ohio Arts Council, Ohio Humanities Council, National Park Service, National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Trust for Historic Preservation the house was stabilized, public programs were planned and presented, an archaeological investigation of the property was conducted and a well-researched and documented interpretative educational program was conceptualized.
Professionally designed exhibits will depict and communicate the historical context in which Parker and his courageous contemporaries influenced and shaped the history of the mid Ohio Valley.
The society’s mailing address is:
P.O. Box 246, Ripley, Ohio 45167.
Telephone: 937 392 4044; 937 392-4188.
Fax: 937 392-1595.
Email may be addressed to: