Published on March 7, 2011 by Alice
Ely Samuel Parker (1828 – August 31, 1895), (born Hasanoanda, later known as Donehogawa) was a Native American of the Seneca nation who was an attorney, engineer, and tribal diplomat. He was commissioned a lieutenant colonel during the American Civil War, where he served as adjutant to General Ulysses S. Grant. He wrote the final draft of the Confederate surrender terms at Appomattox. Later in his career Parker rose to the rank of Brevet Brigadier General. President Grant appointed him Commissioner of Indian Affairs, the first Native American to hold that post.
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Ely Parker was born in 1828 as the sixth of seven children to William and Elizabeth Parker, of prominent Seneca families, at Indian Falls, New York (then part of the Tonawanda Reservation). William was a miller and a Baptist minister. The Seneca were one of the six nations of the Iroquois Confederacy. Ely had a classical education at a missionary school, was fully bilingual, and went on to college. He spent his life bridging his identities as Seneca and a resident of the United States.
The parents strongly supported education for all the children, who included Spencer Houghton Cone, Nicholson Henry, Levi, Caroline (Carrie), Newton, and Solomon. Nicholson also became a prominent Seneca leader as he was a powerful orator. Beginning in the 1840s, the Parker home became a meeting place of non-Indian scholars who were interested in the people, such as Lewis Henry Morgan, Henry Rowe Schoolcraft and John Wesley Powell; they were connected to the discussions and studies that formed anthropology as a discipline.
Parker worked in a legal firm reading law for the customary three years in Ellicottville, New York and then applied to take the bar examination. He was not permitted because, as a Seneca, he was not considered a United States citizen at that time. It was not until 1924 that all American Indians were considered citizens under the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924. Brown’s Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee stated Parker was refused because he was not a white man.
In the late 1840s, Parker met Lewis Henry Morgan at his parents’ home. Morgan was an independent scholar who was studying the kinship structure and culture of the Iroquois. Parker became Morgan’s main source of information and entrée to others in the Seneca and Iroquois nations. Morgan dedicated his book on the Iroquois to Parker, noting their joint collaboration on the project.
With Morgan’s help, Parker gained admission to study engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York. He worked as a civil engineer until the start of the American Civil War.
Parker married Minnie Orton Sackett (1849–1932) in 1867. They had one daughter, Maud Theresa (1878–1956).