Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

William Parker (b. 1822  - d. ?)
MSA SC 5496-13477
Fled from Slavery, Anne Arundel County, Maryland, 1839

Biography:

William Parker was born a slave on the Roedown Plantation in Anne Arundel County, Maryland in 1822. Most of the information that still exists about Parker comes from his narrative, The Freedman's Story1, though some information is still available from primary sources.  Parker’s owner was Major William Brogden. As a child Parker lived in the slave quarters that housed single slaves and those who were orphaned.

In his narrative, Parker does not mention his father. Parker’s mother, Louisa Simms died when he was very young. He did have two brothers John and Charles and he mentions the presence of an aunt, cousins and a man he refers to as “Uncle Sammy”. The closest tie he may have had though, may have been with his grandmother who served as the cook at the “great house,” which still stands today. He states that life as a cook kept his grandmother very busy and that she was not always able to spend more than an hour with him each day.

Parker states that as a youngster he was basically on his own, and had to fend for himself. He speaks of abuse he and others often endured at the hands of the older, much stronger slave children. Within the quarters where he lived there were only two fireplaces, the older children took charge of these spaces and would physically threaten the younger ones if they objected. Parker stated that, he knew that if he had complained that he would be beaten up. And because, his grandmother was not often present she would not be there to protect him.

As a child on the plantation, Parker was very conscious of the instability of life as a slave. He witnessed many slave sales by his master David Brogden. Parker knew that he too could be sold away, separated from friends and the only place he knew as a home. Parker and his boyhood friend Levi often hid in nearby woods when  all of the slaves were called to the master's house for sales. In these instances, Parker and Levi often planned a way to escape from slavery. Unfortunately, the two  were not able to runaway together. Levi was sold away, which fueled Parker's desire to be free. In 1839, at age seventeen, Parker and his older brother Charles decided to flee from Maryland.

Upon arriving in Baltimore the two brothers stayed in an abandoned warehouse building where, they dirtied up their clothes to make it look as if they had been working. The two fugitives would remain hidden amongst the free black population of Baltimore City for about a week before continuing northward to Pennsylvania.

Parker arrived in Columbia, Pennsylvania in the summer of 1839 and eventually settled in the area of Christiana, Lancaster County. For Parker, life as a freeman was not as easy as he had envisioned while on the Brogden plantation. He quickly realized that although he stood upon free land, his freedom was not guaranteed. Slave catchers were very active in the area, returning fugitives to their owners in Maryland and throughout the south. In spite of the danger of living life as a runaway, Parker resolved to not be returned to slavery. He pooled a group of fugitive and free blacks in the community and formed an orginization to prevent the return of any fugitive slave. According to Parker, the group prevented many people in the area to stand up to the "kidnappers" looking to collect their finder's fees. For nearly ten years, Parker remained a leader in the Christiana community, helping those in need. On September 11, 1851, the community was able to repay Parker when he found himself, his house, and his freedom under siege.

The Resistance at Christiana became a national headline in the fall of 1851. On September 10, 1851, a Maryland slave owner named Edward Gorsuch, of Baltimore County, Maryland, arrived in Philadelphia with intentions of recapturing his four runaway slaves, Noah Buley, Nelson Ford, George Hammond and Joshua Hammond. Gorsuch received word that his slaves were spotted in the area of Christiana and arrived in town on the morning of the 11th. Spotting one of his slaves, Gorsuch and his posse of five family members and friends followed the fugitive to the house of William Parker.

Parker, continuing his mission of preventing slaves from being returned to slavery, held his ground against Gorsuch, refusing to hand over two of the slaves Gorsuch made the trip from Maryland to reclaim. As the morning wore on, and more people gathered to help Parker defned his home, the situation turned violent, resulting in the death of Gorsuch, and some injuries to the men in his party.

Parker fled to Canada as the fallout from the resistance ended with a number of people being rounded up and charged, and eventually aquitted, for treason against the United States.
 

1. The Freedman's Story, published in The Atlantic Monthly, Volume 17, Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1866.  Available from the University of North Carolina's Documenting the American South project at  http://docsouth.unc.edu/parker/parker.html
 

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