I have long been interested in genealogy and have spent many hours researching my VanVeghten ancestors from the Hudson Valley “Knickerbocker” region of New York. Although I had not looked too deeply into the ancestors of my mother, born Ruth Parker, July 28, 1918, in Manchester, Vt., I do own a genealogy volume of the Parker family.
Four years ago this past August, I relocated from New Hampshire to a home near the Nonacoicus Brook in Ayer, and shortly after that I served a spell as an evening freelance writer for the Groton Landmark. To become better acquainted with the town I was writing about, I spent a mild afternoon early in 2002 on a walking tour through downtown. During that walk-about, I snapped a picture of the historic landmark sign on Main Street denoting the home and garrison house of Capt. James Parker, one of the town’s first settlers.
Cheryl, my wife, asked facetiously if I was related, through my mother’s family, to the namesake of the sign. I laughed and told her it was not likely as Parker is such a common name throughout New England and the United States.
Last summer, no longer working for the Landmark due to growing time constraints, I again started to pick up some of the previous threads of my genealogy studies. As I was browsing through a database of names, I noted there were several Parkers born in Groton. I remembered my wife’s question from a couple of years earlier, and dug through my research materials to find that book about the Parker family. To my surprise and amusement, there was a picture of Groton’s James Parker historic sign featured within the volume titled “Some Descendants of Capt. James Parker.”
What follows is a capsule of what I have found out about one of Groton’s — and one of my family’s — founding fathers.
As Capt. James Parker rode his best horse along the old road to Boston, he could not help but reflect on the course of his life. It was 1693, and Groton voters had elected him on Oct. 30 as their representative to the November session of the Massachusetts Great and General Assembly. It was a different type of public service for this 76-year-old town leader who had more often served as a selectman, going all the way back to Groton’s first recorded town meeting in 1665.
Riding along the Chelmsford Road, he passed through the Forge Pond/Stony Brook area, later set off from Groton as part of Westford. Here the dwindling tribes of native Indians had once lived, hunted and fished peacefully alongside the English immigrants, unlike the more bellicose tribes to the west.
Crossing into Chelmsford, where he had lived a few years, Parker headed for the home of his nephew Abraham Jr., whose father had been a leading figure of that town. Perhaps spending the night there, he continued the next day across the Billerica Bridge into the third town that, along with Groton and Chelmsford, had received its charter in 1655.
From Billerica, the road continued southeast into Woburn, the town where he had lived in 1642 when it was set off from Charlestown. Here he had wed his beloved Elizabeth in 1643. Here his older children were born.
Then it was on to Charlestown, where as a young man of 18 or 20, Parker had first stepped off the ship as part of the Great Migration of “godly” people from old England coming to the theocratic “city on the hill,” as the late Gov. John Winthrop had called it.
Finally, nearing the end of his journey, he rode the ferry across the Charles River to the peninsula of Boston. Perhaps he took lodgings near the hill that once carried a beacon; it was a signal designed to alert Boston residents in the event Anglican emissaries came from England to shut down the cult they mockingly called “puritans.” Beacon Hill, of course, is the present day home of the Massachusetts General Court.
The narrow roads Parker had followed over some 40 miles were a reverse capsule of his productive life — from the founding and/or early settlement of half a dozen towns, to surviving a destructive Indian war, to fathering a large and publicly active family. In the context of the official seal adopted by Groton in a later day, the life he reflected upon was one filled with much faith and much labor.
But if Parker thought his service to the town he helped build and nurture was coming to an end, he was wrong. There was still much to do. There were joys left to experience. There were hardships yet to face.
Copyright © 2005 by Rudy VanVeghten. Used by permission.