Parker, William

Full name
William Parker
Place of Birth
Gender
Male
Race
Black
Sectional choice
North
Origins
Slave State
Family
Louisa Simms (mother), Eliza Parker (wife)
Relation to Slavery
Slave or Former Slave

William Parker (Bordewich, 2006)

Scholarship
Slave hunters also had to contend with a secret black militia led by William Parker, which mobilized on short notice to fend off slave hunters, and recovered kidnap victims, by force if necessary.  Parker, twenty-nine years old in 1851, was born a slave in Anne Arundel County, Maryland, and had escaped to Pennsylvania in 1842 by following the railway tracks from Baltimore to York.  He had spent the intervening years working on farms in Lancaster County.  In 1843, he underwent a transformative experience at an abolitionist rally where he listened raptly to an oration by Frederick Douglass, whom he had known years earlier in Maryland as the simple slave Frederick Bailey.  "I was therefore not prepared for the progress he then showed," Parker later wrote.  "I listened with the intense satisfaction that only a refugee could feel."  Parker became a fighter in the tradition of Denmark Vesey and Nat Turner, although unlike them he operated in a free state and was supported by an interracial underground that recognized both his personal courage and his strategic skill.  He acknowledged no federal law. When a Quaker neighbor urged him and the other fugitives to quietly head for Canada, he replied that if the laws protected black men as they did whites, he too would be a pacifist.  "If a fight occurs, I want the whites to keep away," He told her.  "They have a country and may obey the laws.  But we have no country."
Fegrus M. Bordewich, Bound for Canaan: The Epic Story of the Underground Railroad, America's First Civil Rights Movement (New York: Amistad, 2006), 327.

William Parker (Smedley, 1883)

Scholarship
Nearly all the laboring class around Christiana at that time were negroes, many of whom had formerly been slaves. Some of these were occasionally betrayed and informed upon by persons who received a pecuniary reward for the same, kidnapped, and carried back, bound or hand-cuffed, to their masters.

There was a band of "Land Pirates" known under the familiar name of the "Gap Gang," scattered throughout a section of that country, who frequently gave descriptions of these colored people to southerners which led to their capture; and when opportunity offered, they assisted in kidnapping free negroes, and carrying them into the Border States to be sold. This exasperated the colored people against all slave-hunters, and they held meetings, assisted by their white friends, to consider and adopt means for self-protection. The man who stood prominent among their race in that vicinity as one of acknowledged intelligence and indomitable will, was William Parker. He possessed a strong social nature, and would at any time put his own body in danger to protect a friend. These qualities gained for him the respect of a very large class in that community for:
"Kindness by secret sympathy is tied;
And noble souls in nature are allied."

He had repeatedly foiled the kidnappers in their undertakings, rushed upon them in defiance of their weapons, beaten and driven them before him out of the neighborhood, as one man may put a herd of buffaloes to flight. He was therefore the one above all others whom they wished to get rid of.
R.C. Smedley, History of the Underground Railroad in Chester and the Neighboring Counties of Pennsylvania (Lancaster, PA: John A Hiestand, 1883), 107-108.
Chicago Style Entry Link
Forbes, David R. A True Story of the Christiana Riot. Quarryville, PA: Sun Printing House, 1898.
view record
Forbes, Ella. "'By My Own Right Arm': Redemptive Violence and the 1851 Christiana, Pennsylvania Resistance." Journal of Negro History 83, no. 3 (1998): 159-167. view record
Nash, Roderick W. "William Parker and the Christiana Riot." Journal of Negro History 46, no. 1 (January 1961): 24-31. view record
Parker, William. "The Freedman's Story: In Two Parts." The Atlantic Monthly 17 (1866): 152-166; 276-295. view record
Slaughter, Thomas P. Bloody Dawn: The Christiana Riot and Racial Violence in the Antebellum North. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991. view record
How to Cite This Page: "Parker, William," House Divided: The Civil War Research Engine at Dickinson College, https://hd.housedivided.dickinson.edu/node/6352.