Biography of Rev. Samuel Parker
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REV. SAMUEL PARKER. – Mr. Parker was not a pioneer to settle in this country, nor to engage in missionary work, but was a pioneer of pioneers, a “John The Baptist,” to prepare the way for missionaries and emigrants. He was born at Ashfield, Massachusetts, April 23, 1779, and was the son of Elisha and Thankful M. Parker.
In 1806 he graduated from Williams College, and from Andover Theological Seminary in the first class that left that institution. He immediately went west to New York, and engaged in home missionary work. He was ordained as a Congregational minister at Danby, New York, November 12, 1812, and was married first to Miss H. Sears shortly afterwards. But she soon died; and in 1815 he was married to Miss Jerusha Lord, who was the mother of his three children, – Mrs. J. Van Kirk and Doctor S.J. Parker of Ithaca, New York, and Professor H.W. Parker of Grinnell College, Iowa. He labored most of the time at Danby, Ithaca and Apulia, New York, and Middlefield, Massachusetts until 1833.
At that time the request of the four Nez Perces who went to St. Louis in search of the white man’s bible was made public; and on April 10, 1833, he offered himself to the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions as an explorer or missionary. Having begun life as a home missionary, he had often looked farther west, but dreaded the malaria of Ohio, and feared the American desert, but said, “Over the Rocky Mountains must be a land worth possessing.” Mr. Parker’s offer was not at first accepted; and nothing more was done until the next January, when he roused the church of Ithaca, New York, which agreed in the main to support him, provided the American board would superintend the work. This was finally agreed to; and May 5, 1834, he started with two young men, Messrs. Samuel Allis and John Dunbar, as missionary companions. They reached St. Louis too late, however, for the caravan of the American Fur Company, without whose protection it was unsafe to travel; hence Messrs. Allis and Dunbar entered upon missionary work among the Pawnees, and Mr. Parker returned home. He spent the next winter in interesting the churches in behalf of his work, found Doctor Marcus Whitman, and the next year started with the Doctor.
They left St. Louis April 8, 1835, and on the 12th of August reached Green river, the rendezvous of the fur company. From all the information which could there be gathered from traders, trappers and Indians, it was decided that it was best for Doctor Whitman to return East for more laborers, while Mr. Parker should proceed on his journey, explore, and gain what information could for his successors. He did so, traveling with none but Indians most of the way, passing over the Salmon River Mountains, down the Clearwater, suffering much from sickness, and doctoring himself by bleeding; but on October 6th he reached old Fort Walla Walla, and a few days later Fort Vancouver, where he accepted a kind invitation from Doctor J. McLoughlin to spend the winter. He visited Astoria and the Willamette valley, and gained what information he could about the country. The next spring he made a tour among the Nez Perces, Spokanes, and to Colville, then came back to Vancouver, and, starting June 21st, returned East by ship via the Sandwich Society and Tahiti Islands and Cape Horn, and reached home May 25, 1837.
As soon as practicable afterwards, he published a book entitled, “Parker’s Exploring Tour beyond the Rocky Mountains,” with a map. This gave a description of the journey, of the Indians on his route, and in Oregon, of the plants, animals, geology, meteorology and geography of the country, and spoke of the practicability of a transcontinental railroad. As an observer he was very close; and his was intelligent, educated observation. This book passed through six editions, comprising sixteen thousand copies, spread broadcast much information about Oregon, and was highly commended by eminent men. After this he constantly kept interested in Oregon, lectured about it, and used his influence with Honorable Caleb Cushing to prevent its being lost to the United States. He supplied various pulpits until 1847, when he was struck with paralysis, but, partially recovering from it, lived until March 21, 1866, when he died at Ithaca, New York at the age of nearly eighty-seven years.