Last updated: November 25, 2016
His Promised Land, by John P. Parker. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1996.
John Parker's autobiography, His Promised Land, is an engrossing and often surprising account of the activities of the Underground Railroad. Parker was born and lived as a slave until buying his freedom and moving to Ripley, Ohio. There he joined forces with Rev. John Rankin in helping slaves cross the Ohio River and escape to Canada. After the Civil War, Parker told his dramatic story to Frank Gregg, a newspaper man he knew from Ripley, Ohio. The account could not be published at the time.
In his original introduction, Gregg says: “Parker was born into slavery in Norfolk, Virginia, in 1827, the son of a black woman and a white man. At the age of eight, Parker was bound to another slave and forced to walk from Norfolk to Richmond, where he was then sold and marched in chains to Mobile, Alabama. In his oral history, Parker recounts his memories of this brutal journey to Mobile: his hatred of captivity, and the solace he found in helping another slave weaker than him.”
Parker’s rage and resourcefulness served him well when he later became a conductor on the Underground Railroad, helping countless slaves escape to freedom.
Gregg continues: “He devoted his life to forays into Kentucky, to scouting on both sides of the Ohio river, to taking care of the helpless slaves who found their way to the Ohio and could not get across, to actual fighting for them as against their pursuing masters. These dangers did not hold him back. Almost nightly he was on the lookout for his fugitive brothers.”
Parker’s courage and generosity made him one of the small group of Americans who helped pull other people out of slavery, even at the risk of their lives. At his death in 1900, he left a valuable legacy for both his family and his country.