Parker Pillsbury, a veteran of the anti-slavery movement, one of the few survivors of the earnest, intrepid band of philanthropists and reformers who for Concord, N.H. Son of Deacon Oliver and Anna (Smith) Pillsbury, and the eldest of a family of eleven children, Mr. Pillsbury was born in Hamilton, Essex County, Mass., September 22, 1809.
His father, a native of Newbury, Mass., son of Parker, first, and Sarah (Dickinson) Pillsbury, was of the sixth generation in descent from William Pillsbury, who married Deborah Crosby in Dorchester, Mass., in 1641, and afterward settled in Newbury, the line being continued as follows: William’s son Moses, his grandson, Moses, Jr., and his great-grandson, Moses, third, who married Mary Parker, and was the father of Parker Pillsbury, first, Oliver Pillsbury, when four years old, was taken by his parents to West Boscawen, now Webster, N.H., and there grew to manhood. At nineteen years of age he returned to Newbury, Mass., where he learned the blacksmith’s trade; and after that he completed his schooling at Dummer Academy. While there he made the acquaintance of his future wife, Anna Smith, daughter of Philemon Smith. They were married December 8, 1808, and settled in Hamilton, Mass., he working at his trade till 1814, when the hard times caused by the war with England led him to remove to a farm in Henniker, N.H., to buy which he incurred a debt of fifteen hundred dollars. With the conclusion of peace the price of farm produce fell, and to free himself from this burden cost many years of severe toil. Public-spirited and religious, a Deacon in the church, active in Sunday-school, he was earnestly interested in temperance and the abolition of slavery, and was ever ready to lend a hand to local benevolent enterprises. He died in 1857, his wife, a most estimable woman, of strong character, outliving him about twelve years, retaining her faculties to a remarkable degree at the advanced age of ninety-four. They had been bereft of three children, and were survived by eight, namely: Parker; Josiah W., father of Albert E., ex-Attorney General of Massachusetts; Gilbert; Oliver, Jr.; Eliza A.; Harriet; Mary S.; and Moses D.
Parker, the special subject of this sketch, acquired such education in his boyhood as was afforded by the district schools of Henniker, and at an early age began to help in the work of the home farm. When about twenty years old he went to live in Lynn, Mass., and was for some time thereafter employed in driving an express wagon from Lynn to Boston. Returning to Henniker, he again devoted himself to farming. Uniting with the church a year or two later, he engaged zealously in religious work; and, being urged to prepare himself for the ministry, he pursued a course of study at Gilmanton, N.H., and at the Andover Theological Seminary, “in less than four years from the reaper and the plough” was licensed to preach, and for a year, 1839-40, had charge of a parish at Loudon, N.H. In the mean time his sympathies and his strong sense of justice had been aroused in behalf of the Southern slaves, and in the spring of 1839, undertaking a short lecturing and financial agency for the Massachusetts Anti-slavery Society, he delivered his first lecture on the subject of slavery in Fitchburg, Mass. Leaving the Congregational church and pulpit in 1840, he began his “anti-slavery apostleship” in New Hampshire, his first work being to conduct Nathaniel P. Rogers. In the autumn he entered “the lecture field with the full resolve,” as he says, “to see the overthrow of the Southern slave system or perish in the conflict.” An esteemed associate of Garrison and Phillips, of Rogers and Foster, of Douglass and others, he engaged heart and soul in the greatest missionary movement of the age, denouncing the “sum of all villanies,” and fearlessly reasoning of truth, righteousness, and judgment to come. A book written by Mr. Pillsbury, published in 1883, entitled “Acts of the Anti-slavery Apostles,” presents a graphic series of pen pictures of a character sufficiently indicated by its title, and is a valuable contribution to the history of that thirty years of stress and storm.
The work of Mr. Pillsbury himself and the esteem in which he was held by his fellowlaborers, who knew him best, may be judged from a few citations that follow, the first from the pen of Nathaniel P. Rogers in the Herald of Frecdom in October, 1842; the second and third from the “Life of William Lloyd Garrison ,” vol. 3.
“The abolitionists of the country ought to know Parker Pillsbury better than they do. I know him for all that is noble in soul and powerful in talent and eloquence. He is one of the strong men of our age.”
“Could you know him and his history,” wrote Wendell Phillips to Elizabeth Pease in 1853, “you would value him. Originally a wagoner, he earned enough to get educated. When just ready to be settled, the faculty of Andover Theological Seminary threatened him that they would never recommend him to a parish unless he gave up speaking in antislavery meetings. He chose us, and sacrificed all the benefits (worldly and pecuniary) of his hard-earned education. His course since has been worthy of this beginning.”