Overlooking the Ohio River in Ripley, OH, the John P. Parker House is a small museum devoted to sharing the story of Parker’s life and the abolitionist movement.
Born into slavery in Norfolk, VA in 1827, John P. Parker was sold at age 8 to an Alabama family that, though it was illegal, taught him to read and write, and allowed him to apprentice in an iron foundry, where he was compensated and permitted to keep some of his earnings. At 18, he used this money to purchase his freedom.
Parker settled in Ripley, where he built and operated the Phoenix Foundry and Machine Company. Patenting a number of inventions, Parker was one of only a few 19th century African Americans to obtain a US patent.
Though busy with his business, Parker was also active in the Underground Railroad and is believed to have helped many slaves to escape from the Kentucky side of the Ohio River. Well-known by regional slave-catchers, he risked his own life when he secreted himself back into slave territory to lead fugitive slaves to safety in Ripley.
Once the slaves were in Ripley, Parker would deliver them to Underground Railroad conductors in the town, such as Presbyterian minister John Rankin, who would harbor the fugitive slaves and help them to the next depot on the network.
In the 1880s, Parker recounted his life as an Underground Railroad conductor in a series of interviews with journalist Frank M. Gregg. These interviews have recently been edited by Stuart Seely Sprague and published as His Promised Land: The Autobiography of John P. Parker Former Slave and Conductor on the Underground Railroad. Parker died in 1900.
The John P. Parker House, built circa 1853 and recently restored, is on the National Register of Historic Places. It is located at 300 Front St. in Ripley, less than an hour from Cincinnati.