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Who was William Parker?

The most historically significant person of whom you have probably never heard

William Parker was a Freedom Seeker who made his way from Roedown Plantation in Maryland through York (with the help of Station Master William Goodridge) to Christiana

where he worked as a farm laborer, eventually marrying and having children. 

After finding that a life of freedom was what everyone should have,

he vowed to help anyone seeking freedom.

Sounds like an ordinary person, right? But, there's so much more to discover.

Really cool black and white pic Riot House-enhanced.jpeg

Parker House

William Parker was born around 1822 on Roedown Plantation.  The plantation belonged to the Brogden Family.  By 1830, William was the property of David McCulloch Brogden (Master Mack).

1839 Parker and his brother ran away.  They escaped through Baltimore and made their way to York, Pa.  The area was filled with slave catchers, so they crossed the Susquehanna into Columbia.


Available jobs were few and consisted of menial labor.  The Irish immigrants competed for the same jobs.

Parker lived for about a year with a doctor who was an abolitionist.  During that time he attended a speech by anti-slavery speakers William Lloyd Garrison and Frederick Douglass.

Fun Fact: Parker had met Frederick Douglass when they were both slaves in Maryland.

Douglass' speech resonated with William and inspired William to share in their vision of ending slavery.

Lancaster County was still subject to kidnappers since they were so close to Maryland.  Parker, along with several other black men, decided to band together and protect the community against kidnappers.

Over the next 12 years William became a respected member of the community.  Many white people in the region were abolitionists but most were non-violent Quakers.

William put himself in danger many times.  One of the local Quaker Underground Railroad stationmasters described Parker 'as bold as a lion, the kindest of men, and the warmest and most steadfast of friends'.

1845 Parker married Eliza Ann Howard who was also an escaped slave from Maryland.  They had 3 children while in Pennsylvania.

1850 Parker was living in a two-story home outside of Christiana.  The home was rented from a Quaker Levi Pownall.


Fun Fact:  Zooey Deschanel is a descendant of the the Pownalls and visited the farm to do an episode of the show 'Who do you think you are'.  Season 4 Episode 4 of the show aired August 13, 2013.
'Actress Zooey Deschanel searches for rumored abilitionists in her father's Quaker family background.  Her journey takes her around Pennsylvania where she uncovers, and follows, the story of a remarkable ancestor who sacrificed everything for her beliefs.'

Back to William Parker.  Also living with the Parkers were Eliza's sister Hannah, her husband Alexander Pinckney and a fellow runaway Abraham Johnson.

1850 the Fugitive Slave Law was passed which made it legal to capture and return runaway slaves who escaped from one state into another.

Sept. 11, 1851 William Parker and the residents of his home protected runaway slaves and stood their ground against slave owners coming to 're-claim their property'.  This incident is known as the Christiana Resistance.

After the resistance, Parker realized that he had to leave and go to Canada in order to escape a prison cell or the gallows.  Parker, Pinckney and Johnson headed toward Canada leaving their wives and children behind.  The women were arrested but later released.​

Nine days later the group was in Rochester, NY ready to cross Lake Ontario to Canada.  They were helped by Frederick Douglass, an Underground Railroad agent.  It was the third time Parker and Douglass' paths crossed.  This time Frederick Douglass was moved by Parker's bravery.​

They made it to Canada.  Eliza and Hannah joined their husbands in Buxton, Ontario 2 months later.​

1866 the Atlantic Magazine published Parker's biography.
The Freedman's Story.
An escaped slave tells his story - including his account of his violent showdown with slave-catchers in Pennsylvania.​

It was published as a two part series, the first part printed in the February 1866 issue.  Part two appeared in the March 1866 issue.

Download and read both parts of William Parkers' biography

By 1871 the Parkers had 10 children.

1872 William Parker returned to Christiana for the first time to visit old friends.  Parker was guest of honor at commencement at Lincoln University, a college situated about 15 miles south of Christiana. 


Fun Fact: Lincoln University was founded in 1854, inspired by the Christiana Resistance.

While in Christiana, Parker became reacquainted with Martha Simms and the two ran off together and settled in Kenton, Ohio.  Parker never returned to Canada.

1891 Parker died at age 70 in Ohio.

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