by Louise Fiske
(1741-September 1818) a Presbyterian Minister, was the second
Chaplain of the United States House of Representatives.
A Diligent and eloquent minister, he became pastor of the Old South Church in Boston in 1776.
While traveling to Boston, he survived a shipwreck but became ill and lost his possessions including the sermons he had written. In the spring of 1769, he traveled to Philadelphia and became severely ill, believing he would not recover. Because of his poor health, and conflict with his church members regarding the Half-Way Covenant (form of partial-church membership adopted by the Congregational Churches of Colonial New England in the 1660’s) he resigned and was dismissed on October 10, 1769. During the Revolutionary War, he was a chaplain of the Continental Army from 1775 until June 20, 1780. His rank as an officer made him eligible for membership in the Society of the Cincinnati.
Parker was born in 1714. When he was eleven-years-old, his father died. Parker apprenticed himself on a servant indenture on January 1, 1727 for eight years to William Bradford, the colonial printer in New York City. The agreement terms were that Bradford was to feed and provide for Parker in exchange for labor the boy would do. Bradford was also to train Parker the skills of the printing trade. Parker became a liability instead of an asset for Bradford when there was little printing work available. He decided in April 1733 to sell the remaining 21 months left on Parker’s servant indenture and advertised the sale of his indenture.
Parker ran away on May 17 before Bradford had a chance to sell the remaining indenture. Parker became a “wanted man,” and Bradford advertised a reward for his capture in his New-York Gazette newspaper. The runaway ad described Parker as “an Apprentice lad….by trade a Printer, aged about 19 years; he is of a fresh Completion with short yellowish hair.” A reward was offered, which was doubled a short time later.
Parker ultimately went to Philadelphia and started working for Benjamin Franklin. He worked for Franklin as a journeyman. Franklin persuaded him to return to New York to fulfill his servant indenture agreement with Bradford. After completing his servant indenture agreement (with penalties), Parker returned to Philadelphia, where he lived with Franklin for several years. Franklin saw talent in Parker. In 1741, Franklin financed Parker, as a silent partner, in setting up his own printing business in New York City, with a six-year franchise agreement. Franklin provided printing equipment, a press, an assortment of types,
and a third of the maintenance costs, in exchange for a share of the profits. Franklin saw this as an opportunity to take over the business monopoly of the aging seventy-seven-year-old Bradford in the Province of New York. Parker’s new newspaper was called the New-York Gazette and Weekly Post-Boy.
As the circulation grew, the paper gained a good share of Bradford’s subscribers. Parker eventually became the official printer for both the King of England and the government of New York province.
Sometime in the 1750s Parker decided to go back to Woodbridge to set up a print shop. At the time the colony of New Jersey had two capitals. The capital for what had historically been East Jersey was at Perth Amboy, New Jersey; the capital for West Jersey was Burlington, New Jersey.
When people from Perth Amboy needed to have printing jobs done, they went to New York City, but the people from Burlington went to Philadelphia, since that city was more convenient for them. Parker’s new Woodbridge printing office was close to Perth Amboy, so he offered his printing services to those in the eastern part of New Jersey and western New York. Parker’s Woodbridge printing office became the first permanent print shop in New Jersey.
Parker took over Bradford’s position as the official government “public printer” for New York on December 1, 1743. He was the government “public printer” for New Jersey in 1758. Parker had several controversial issues during the tenure as the government “public printer” of New York and New Jersey. His clients included many of New York City’s elite. Parker even acted as Franklin’s agent in the business of Franklin & Hall when Franklin went to Europe.
Parker’s New York printing business was handed down to his nephew Samuel Parker in February 1759.
In 1770, Parker printed a controversial paper by Sons of Liberty leader Alexander McDougall for which he was arrested, however he died shortly thereafter before the settling of the case.
Parker suffered many years from gout and died at a friend’s house in Burlington, New Jersey, July 2, 1770. Towards the end of Parker’s life, many of his business partners took advantage of his poor health and directed most of the profits of the business into their own pockets without sharing with Parker as they should have.
Holt’s obituary in the New York Journal (July 5, 1770) says that Parker “was eminent in his Profession”, “possessed a sound judgment and extensive knowledge”, “was industrious in Business, upright in his Dealings, charitable to the distressed.” Holt stated his one-time business partner “left a fair Character.” Parker’s will be showed that he bequeathed his three printing press businesses (Burlington, New Haven, Woodbridge) to his son.
In his day Parker was considered a better printer than William Bradford or Benjamin Franklin in the American Thirteen Colonies. . He was the general manager of the first public library in New York city. Parker established the first newspaper in the colony of Connecticut, the Connecticut Gazette (April 12, 1755). He also founded the Constitutional Courant, the first newspaper in New Jersey.