John Parker was an active participant in the Underground Railroad in Ohio and helped fugitive slaves escape to freedom in the years before the American Civil War.
John Parker was born on Feb. 2, 1827 in Norfolk, Virginia. His mother was a slave, but his father was a free white man. When Parker was eight years old, his owner sold him to a doctor who resided in Mobile, Alabama. In Mobile, Parker's new owner taught him to read and write. Many states had laws prohibiting the education of slaves.
Many slave owners believed that education would encourage slaves to run away as they became more knowledgeable about the world around them. An educated slave also removed a primary justification by slave owners for slavery -- that African Americans supposedly were incapable of becoming educated.
Nevertheless, Parker's owner allowed his slave to become educated. His owner even allowed Parker to become an apprentice at a local iron foundry. Parker later was owned by one of the doctor's patients, When he was 18 years old, he purchased his freedom with money that he earned while working at the foundry.
Parker eventually moved to the North. He briefly worked in Indiana and in Cincinnati, Ohio, at several iron foundries. In 1848, Parker established a general store at Beachwood Factory, Ohio.
In 1850, Parker settled in Ripley, Ohio, along the Ohio River. Here, he opened his own foundry. He also became active in the Underground Railroad. Parker commonly traveled across the Ohio River and helped fugitive slaves from Kentucky escape to the North.
Parker routinely took the fugitives to John Rankin, another abolitionist who resided in Ripley. Rankin hid the fugitive slaves and assisted them in their journey. During the American Civil War, Parker served as a recruiter for the 27th Regiment, U.S. Colored Troops.
With the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution and the end of slavery in 1865, Parker devoted his energies to his foundry business. Over the course of his life, Parker was the owner or president of the Ripley Foundry and Machine Company and the Phoenix Foundry. Parker died on Jan. 30, 1900.