Ohio History Journal

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John P. Parker:

Black Abolitionist Entrepreneur,







As historians attempt to set the record straight--to recite for Americans the involve-

ment of black people in all aspects of our national life--they will, since the recovery

of his "Autobiography," now be able to include more on the contributions of yet

another outstanding Negro, John P. Parker of Ripley, Ohio.1

To be sure, a few students of American history have already mentioned Parker.

Henry E. Baker of the United States Patent Office included him in the study, "The

Negro in the Field of Invention," which appeared in the Journal of Negro History

in 1917. According to Baker, several inventions by Parker resulted in the establish-

ment of the Ripley Foundry and Machinery Company, a prosperous business:


He [Parker] obtained several patents on his inventions, one being a "screw for Tobacco

Presses," patented in September, 1884, and another for a similar device patented in May,

1885. Mr. Parker set up shop in Ripley for the manufacture of his presses, and the business

proved successful from the first. The small shop grew into a large foundry where upwards

of 25 men were constantly employed. It was owned and managed by Mr. Parker till his

death. The factory is still being operated, and on the business lines originated by the founder,

but the ownership has passed from the Parker family.2

Parker numbered among the few Negroes who obtained patents in America

before 1900. Only fifty-five black inventors held more than one patent in the year

1901, according to W. E. B. DuBois. Moreover, Parker had obtained at least three,

perhaps more, of the seventy-seven patents issued to Negroes before 1886. Despite

immense opposition, he proved himself capable of inventing new machinery, carry-

ing through the patenting process, and then capitalizing upon his ideas.3

While working in southern Ohio, John Parker also found time to be an impor-

tant conductor on the Underground Railroad. A specialized study, The Mysteries of


1. See Randolph C. Downes, "On Negro History," Ohio History, LXXVIII (1969), 213-214, for one

call to recite participation by blacks in the making of the state; "Autobiography by a slave, John Parker,

Brown County, Ohio, circa, 1880," Duke University Library.

2. Henry E. Baker; "The Negro in the Field of Invention," Journal of Negro History, II (1917),

29-31. In 1871 the establishment was known as the Phoenix Foundry with Parker and William Hood,

proprietors. Carl N. Thompson, comp., Historical Collections of Brown County, Ohio (n.p., 1969), 162,

165, 167, 190.

Mr. Weeks is assistant professor of Christian Thought and History at the Louisville Presbyterian

Theological Seminary.