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John Parker Crosses the Ohio River



For fifteen years John P. Parker was a conductor in the thriving riverboat town of Ripley, a main station in the Ohio Underground Railroad network across from the slave state of Kentucky.

A former freedom seeker, iron foundry owner and holder of several patents, Parker was among the few men in the community, who, in his words, "made themselves poor serving the helpless fugitive." Parker's town was the setting of constant tension -- "real warfare" he described it - between those who sought to rescue freedom seekers and those who patrolled nightly in hopes of capturing freedom seekers for the reward offered by their owners.

In most instances, Parker and his network assisted freedom seekers who had made the Ohio River crossing alone, but during many suspense-filled nights, Parker belted on two pistols and a knife, took his boat into Kentucky, and brought out fugitives who were stranded just short of free lands. Parker reported that he assisted 315 freedom seekers during the first five years he was involved in the Ohio Underground Railroad.

Parker's unflagging and often heroic efforts to rescue African Americans from the "borderlands" along the Ohio River underscores the major role played by African Americans not only as freedom seekers, but as rescuers on the Underground Railroad.

Parker was not an outspoken abolitionist and appears never to have joined or participated in antislavery groups. Nevertheless, he repeatedly secreted himself back into slave territory to assist escapees and lead them to freedom across the Ohio River.

Read more about John Parker at the link below.