Residents of Concord from 1840 until their deaths in 1898, Parker and Sarah Pillsbury were key figures in the local anti-slavery movement. As an “agent” of the abolition movement, Parker traveled widely and steadily for years as one of the major lecturers for the wing of the abolition movement associated with William Lloyd Garrison.
Born in Hamilton MA in 1809, Parker moved with his family in 1814 to Henniker, where he grew up accustomed to the life of a rural farmer. In 1829, he moved to Lynn, MA, where he fell in with radical abolitionists. After attending seminaries in Gilmanton, NH, and Andover, MA, Parker accepted a position at a church in Loudon, NH, where he met Sarah Sargent. They wed in 1840, the same year Parker and the Loudon Congregational Church parted ways due to his radical views.
Sarah was born in Loudon, daughter of Sarah Wilkins and John Sargent, a physician. As a member of the Concord Female Anti-Slavery Society, Sarah was active in fundraising activities. Moreover, as Stacey Robertson recounts in her biography of Parker, “Sarah became a popular host for these abolitionists who visited and spoke in Concord, including such luminaries as Antoinette Brown, William Lloyd Garrison, Theodore Parker, Wendell Phillips, and Lucy Stone. While Parker boarded in homes of abolitionists across the North, Sarah offered to house, feed, and entertain dozens of antislavery guests, in an informal extension of her reform efforts… Many abolitionists commented on h Sarah’s kindness and hospitality, and she became well known in antislavery circles.”
As a writer and speaker, Parker traveled extensively and directed much of his outrage at the complicity of Christianity with slavery. “While many abolitionists stayed within the church,” writes Stacey Robertson, “the radicals insisted that as long as Northern churches continued their fellowship with Southern slaveholders and remained opposed to immediate emancipation, membership in such institutions constituted support for slavery.” For that reason, Parker was known as a “come outer,” a biblical phrase which implied true Christians must leave churches that were complicit with slavery.
Like others in the Garrisonian wing of the movement, Parker called for immediate abolition with no compensation to slaveholders, scorned voting in a system whose Constitution upheld slavery, and advocated social and legal equality between the races. “I am not an American citizen, for the reason that I would not be voluntarily recognized as properly associated with a crew of pirates,” he said on a lecture tour in England.
Initially associated with “non-resistance,” a pacifist ideology common among radicals of his day, Parker’s commitment to nonviolence slipped with John Brown’s raid and the outbreak of a war which promised to end slavery.
In the period after the Civil War, Parker became actively involved in the movement for women’s suffrage, working alongside Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony in the Equal Rights Association.
In addition to the lecture circuit, Parker was a prolific writer, placing articles in many abolitionist publications of the day and at times serving as an editor. His book, “Acts of the Anti-Slavery Apostles,” serves as a memoir but also describes the lives and roles of comrades such as Stephen Symonds Foster.
Parker and Sarah died within four months of each other in 1898. They are buried at Blossom Hill Cemetery in Concord.
For more information, read Parker Pillsbury: Radical Abolitionist, Male Feminist, by Stacey Robertson (Cornell University Press, 2000).