Ely Samuel Parker career

Published on March 7, 2011 by Alice

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Ely Samuel Parker

Parker began his career in public service by working as a translator and diplomat to the Seneca chiefs in their dealings with government agencies. In recognition of his important contributions to their negotiations about land and treaty rights, in 1852 Parker was made sachem of the Seneca, the nation known as the Donehogawa, Keeper of the Western Door.

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Before this he had met and worked with Morgan, an independent scholar in the field of ethnology and anthropology. Morgan was so indebted to Parker that he dedicated his book League of the Iroquois (1851) to him, with “the materials are the fruit of our joint researches.” Morgan also helped Parker gain entry to Rensselaer Polytechnic, because he recognized the man’s abilities.

As an engineer, Parker contributed to upgrades and maintenance of the Erie Canal, among other projects. He was a supervisor of government projects in Galena, Illinois, where he first met and befriended Ulysses S. Grant. Their strong collegial relationship was useful later.
Near the start of the Civil War, Parker tried to raise a regiment of Iroquois volunteers to fight for the Union, but was turned down by New York Governor Edwin D. Morgan. He then sought to join the Union Army as an engineer, but was told by Secretary of War Simon Cameron that as an Indian, he could not join. Parker contacted his colleague and friend Ulysses S. Grant, who intervened. His forces suffered from a shortage of engineers, and Parker was commissioned a captain in May, 1863 and ordered to report to Brig. Gen. John Eugene Smith. General Smith appointed Parker as the chief engineer of his 7th Division during the siege of Vicksburg. Smith said Parker was a “good engineer”.

When Ulysses S. Grant became commander of the Military Division of the Mississippi, Parker became his adjutant during the Chattanooga Campaign. He was subsequently transferred with Grant as the adjutant of the U.S. Army headquarters and served Grant through the Overland Campaign and the Siege of Petersburg. At Petersburg, Parker was appointed as the military secretary to Grant, with the rank of lieutenant colonel. He wrote much of Grant’s correspondence.

Parker was present when Confederate general Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox Courthouse in April 1865. He helped draft the surrender documents, which are in his handwriting. At the time of surrender, General Lee mistook Parker for a black man, but apologized saying, “I am glad to see one real American here.” Parker was said to respond, “We are all Americans, sir.” Parker was brevetted brigadier general of volunteers on April 9, 1865.

After the Civil War, Parker was commissioned as an officer in the 2nd United States Cavalry on July 1, 1866. He again became the military secretary to Grant as he finished out his time as general in chief. Parker resigned from the army with the brevet rank of brigadier general of Regulars on April 26, 1869.

Grant appointed Parker as Commissioner of Indian Affairs from 1869 to 1871. He was the first Native American to hold the office. Parker became the chief architect of President Grant’s Peace Policy in relation to the Native Americans in the West.

After leaving government service, Parker involved himself in the stock market. At first he did well, but eventually lost the fortune he had accumulated.

He lived his last years in poverty, dying in Fairfield, Connecticut on August 31, 1895, where he was buried. On January 20, 1897, his body was exhumed and moved to Forest Lawn Cemetery in Buffalo, New York.{{!}} He was reinterred next to his ancestor Red Jacket, a famous Seneca orator, and other notables of western New York.

Parker’s career and impact on contemporary Native Americans is described in Chapter 8 of Dee Brown’s Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee.

He is said to have helped found the town of Parker, Arizona. Another individual with the surname of Parker is credited with this distinction as well.
Source: wikipedia.org

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