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Henry Parker, b. 1835
Autobiography of Henry Parker
s. l.: s. n., 186?.


Little information has been published on the life of Henry Parker, which makes the autobiographical details contained in his own Autobiography of Henry Parker—an eight-page document published sometime in the 1860s—difficult to verify. According to his own account, Parker was born in West Virginia in 1835 and "lived there as the slave of Benjamin Cooper" (p. 1). Parker had an unnamed number of brothers whom Cooper sold away at an early age, and the trauma of those separations caused Parker to vow that if he reached manhood he would "take [his] mother and sisters and find a home where we would be free" (p. 1). In October 1859, Parker—along with his mother and two sisters—made their escape, aided by members of the Underground Railroad. The family eventually settled in Franklin, Michigan, but after several years in Franklin, Parker moved his mother and sisters to Pontiac, Michigan, where he joined the African Methodist Episcopal Church. On "the morning of the 12th of June, 1862," Parker was beset by an eye disease that—along with the "extreme ignorance" of the doctor who originally treated the disease—eventually cost Parker his eyesight (p. 5, p. 6). Seeking a cure for his blindness, Parker traveled to Cincinnati, Ohio, where he was treated by "the great eye doctor, Taliaferro" (p. 7). After "nearly three years" of treatment, Dr. Taliaferro "restored [Parker's] eyes to a healthy condition" but could not cure his blindness (p. 8). The date and circumstances of Parker's death are unknown.

The majority of Parker's short Autobiography is dedicated to a description of his escape from slavery. Parker provides the names of several Underground Railroad "conductors" who help him and his family, and he identifies by name some of the locations where they stayed, including Putnam, Ohio. He also discusses the role that his Christian faith played in his family's escape; for example, when Parker's mother and sister tire during their trek northwards, Parker urges them onwards by saying "Travel on, believers! we will get to heaven by and by" (p. 2). Perhaps the hardest leg of their journey comes when they must cross the "Big Hocking and . .  . Little Hocking" rivers (p. 1). If the family is to make it to freedom, Parker has to wade across these rivers and carry his "mother and sisters across on my back" in shifts (p. 1). After Parker carries his mother and one sister over in this manner, he is exhausted and wants to stop, but resolves himself "for freedom or death" and finds the strength to carry his second sister across (p. 2).

Parker does not write in much detail of his life as a free man in Michigan. Instead, discussion of his eye disease and ensuing blindness becomes his focus. Parker even closes his Autobiography by explaining that sales of the text are "one of the means" he has "to support" himself and that those who buy it will receive "the blessings of a BLIND MAN" (p. 8).

Harry Thomas

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