Captain Sir Peter Parker

Oil painting of a young man, looking left, in a military uniform.
Captain Peter Parker, commander of the British feint to the Upper Chesapeake

Captain Peter Parker, 1785-1814, John Hoppner, circa 1808-10
© National Maritime Museum Collections

“And gallant PARKER! Thus enshrin’d,
Thy life, thy fall, thy fame, shall be;
And early Valour, glowing find
a model in thy memory.”

--Lord Byron eulogizes his cousin, Captain Sir Peter Parker, 1814

Second Baronet Captain Sir Peter Parker (1785-1814) inherited a family tradition that put him in harm’s way. He was the fourth generation of a distinguished Irish family that was dedicated to naval service during the age of fighting sail. It was well known that the Parker “pride was to bleed for their country.” A doting Admiral Peter Parker said about his grandson and namesake, “His heart is in the right place, he is made of fine stuff. These are the sure prognostics of future distinction, if he lives . . . ”

In the British fleet by age thirteen, the handsome and capable Parker rose quickly in the service, both because of his grandfather’s friendship with Admiral Lord Nelson and because he was perfectly suited to the rough-and-ready world of sea service. By age twenty, he commanded a brig and was the first to discover the French and Spanish fleet leaving Cadiz, setting in motion events that led to the 1805 Battle of Trafalgar. During fifteen years of active, dangerous, and exhausting service, the young captain faced death many times. He briefly served in Parliament, married and sired three sons, and toyed with the idea of resigning his commission. But, as the Napoleonic Wars wound down, he was ordered to America in 1814 with his frigate, H.M. Menelaus.

Actively, heartlessly, almost recklessly, 29-year-old Captain Parker pursued his assigned raids on Chesapeake Bay targets. His appointment with fate did not occur on the bridge of a square-rigger, trading cannonballs with an enemy on the high seas. He died bleeding in the arms of his men during a self-styled “frolic” in a moonlit field, miles from the water. Far from much-celebrated glory, it was a tragic and needless death on a little-known battlefield.

excerpt from "In Full Glory Reflected: Discovering the War of 1812 in the Chesapeake" by Ralph E. Eshelman and Burton K. Kummerow

Last updated: May 21, 2020

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