Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Was Lexington's John Parker a Veteran of the French and Indian War?

Captain John Parker was the commanding officer of the American militia at the Battle of Lexington.  Family tradition credits John Parker with considerable military experience prior to the Revolution. It is claimed that he was present at the capture of Louisbourg, served during the French and Indian War, fought in Quebec in 1759, and was a member of  Roger’s Rangers.  

So, did John Parker actually have military combat experience before April 19, 1775?  The answer is a resounding NO.

The first time someone claimed John Parker was a veteran of the French wars was in 1893, one hundred and eighteen years after the Battle of Lexington.  That year two separate publications were released that asserted Parker had combat experience.  The first was written by his grandson, the Reverend Theodore Parker.  In his work Genealogy and Biographical Notes of John Parker of Lexington and His Descendants: Showing His Earlier Ancestry in America from Dea. Thomas Parker of Reading, Mass., from 1635 to 1893, the Reverend Parker states “John Parker was at the capture of Louisburg in 1758 . . .was at the taking of Quebec in 1759 . . . [and was] made a sergeant in this war.”  A second publication by Captain Parker’s great granddaughter Elizabeth S. Parker alleged the militia captain “had served in the French and Indian War.”  

Neither account provided actual documentation to support the argument John Parker served in the French Wars.  Nevertheless, over the next several decades, historians were quick to promote these questionable claims.  Worse, many expanded Parker’s service record to include being present at the 1745 Siege of Louisbourg and patrolling the New York frontier with Roger’s Rangers.

Unfortunately, there are no official records, journals or surviving artifacts to support the proposition John Parker enlisted in the war effort against the French, let alone saw combat.  

One claim occasionally advanced by 20th century historians is that Parker’s father Josiah served at the 1745 Siege of Louisbourg as an officer.  In turn, he must have brought his then fifteen year old son John along as a servant.  This assertion is nothing more than bunk.  There are no records that Josiah Parker enlisted in the Louisbourg expedition.  In fact, town records from the period clearly establish that Josiah Parker was in Lexington and actively serving as a selectman in 1745.

Likewise, a review of marriage, baptismal, personal, town and military records all demonstrate that John Parker was also present in Lexington during the French and Indian War.  On May 25, 1755 Parker married Lydia Moore in Lexington.  In early Spring of 1756, Lydia became pregnant.  She gave birth to a baby girl on November 8th.  According to Parker’s own account book, he was satisfying woodworking orders in Lexington during the month of August, 1757.  In the summer of 1758, Lydia became pregnant for the second time and gave birth to a baby girl on January 11, 1759.  

Each of these events occurred after the commencement of a seasonal military campaign.   If Parker enlisted with a Massachusetts provincial regiment, he would have embarked in April or May with his regiment to either New York or Nova Scotia.  He would not have returned to Lexington until late November.  Thus, John Parker could not have been in two places at once.

Of course, one of the more common claims of Parker’s alleged military service is he was present at the fall of Quebec in 1759.  This is simply not true.  While Provincial and Regular troops were laying siege to Quebec, Parker was in Lexington. In June, 1759, Benjamin Reed noted  that he assembled his militia company and issued bayonets to some of his men.  John Parker was one of them.  “The following names are a full and Just account of those to whom I the Subscriber delivered Bayonets in the company under my command in Lexington, Benjamin Reed, Captain, June 5, 1759… [49 militiamen listed including John Parker].”  

However, the fact that John Parker lacked military experience should not take away from his accomplishments immediately following his defeat at the Battle of Lexington.  Parker successfully rallied his company and mobilized them for war.  Less than twelve hours later, he successfully staged a devastating ambush against a retreating British column.  This action alone should put to rest any doubt regarding the military skills of John Parker.   


  1. Thank you for this. I'm a distant cousin of Captain John Parker and I plan to tuck this correction between the pages of my copy of cousin Theodore's 1893 book.

    1. Hi Paul! Thanks for the comment! It's a shame this myth is still perpetuated as I believe it takes away from the fact he was a very skilled and self taught leader in his own right and was able to successfully train and rally the Lexington militia in 1775.

      BTW....very cool your a distant relative. I'm jealous!