Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Parker, Alexander

PARKER, ALEXANDER (1628–1689), quaker, a son of well-to-do parents, was born near Bentham, in the dales on the borders of Yorkshire and Lancashire, in 1628. He received a good education, and carried on business as a merchant in London. He became a quaker when quite young. In 1654 he joined George Fox at Swannington, Leicestershire, and was present with him at a large meeting at Whetstone in the same county. They were both arrested by Colonel Hacker, and escorted by Captain Drury, of the Protector's lifeguards, to London, where they were ‘lodged at the Mermaid, near Charing Cross.’ They were allowed some liberty, and on the following Sunday Parker and William Caton [q. v.] held a meeting at Moorfields (Fox, Journal, pp. 125–9). On 4 Feb. 1655 Parker was holding a meeting at Lichfield (Letters of Early Friends, p. 20). He proceeded to Yorkshire, Lancashire, and Cheshire, and, after a public dispute with the clergy of Manchester, was carried to prison, but dismissed next morning. At the Bull Inn at Preston, early in March, eleven quakers, including Parker, Thomas Lawson [q. v.], and Anthony Pearson [q. v.], held a disputation with the clergy and commissioners, or triers. Major-general Worsley presided, and read the paper of indictment against the quakers. Parker says (Letter to Fox, Swarthmore MSS.) that he and his friends satisfactorily answered every charge, and then requested leave to question their opponents. ‘We made a gallant charge upon them, and got the victory.’ Parker now became Fox's almost constant companion. They spent a fortnight at the house of John Crook [q. v.] in Bedfordshire; and Parker preached in the neighbouring villages. In May they were in Kent, in September in Lincolnshire, and the following year in the fen country—at Crowland and Boston. At Easter 1656 Parker was preaching in his native dales.

From May to November 1656 Parker was in Cornwall, and there wrote two books; the second, ‘A Testimony of the Light Within,’ addressed chiefly to the inhabitants of St. Austell, whose vicar, William Upcott, he roundly attacked. In August he wrote to Mrs. Fell from St. Austell: ‘There is not a Friend in the ministry’ (meaning a preacher) ‘within three or four score miles that is at liberty but myself.’ July and September 1657 found Fox and Parker again in Cornwall, whence they proceeded through Wales, Lancashire, and Cumberland to Scotland. Parker preached at Forfar, and at Dundee, where he was arrested, but was soon released. At Coupar he found some resolute quakers who were in the army, ‘members of Captain Watkinson's troop’ (Swarthmore MSS.) At Glasgow he attempted to preach in the cathedral, but the people ‘tore him out like dogs,’ and he was imprisoned for twelve hours. In June 1658 Parker was back in London, and visited James Nayler [q. v.] in prison (Letters of Early Friends, p. 57). In 1659 he was one of the 164 who offered to ‘lie body for body’ in prison as substitutes.

Upon the attempt to suppress meetings, Parker redoubled his energy in holding them. In 1660 he was sixteen weeks in Nantwich gaol, Cheshire, for holding a meeting at Northwich (Letter from R. Hubberthorn, 29 May 1660, ib. p. 81). From prison he wrote a letter, dated 10 June, to Charles II, printed in the ‘Copies of several Letters which were delivered to the King,’ &c., London, 1660. At Knutsford assizes in September or October following he was tendered the oath of allegiance, and was again sent to prison, this time to Chester gaol, where he remained until May 1661. He wrote thence on 13 Oct. 1660 a document addressed to Friends, encouraging them to maintain their meetings in defiance of the king's proclamation (ib. 361–73).

On 17 July 1663 he was arrested while preaching at Mile End Green, London, and committed, with thirty-one others, to Newgate for three months. On 18 May 1665, while preaching at Gracechurch Street meeting, the city marshal seized him and George Whitehead [q. v.] They were shortly released, a fine of 20l. being imposed on Parker. They afterwards wrote an epistle dated London, 19 Aug. 1665. Parker and Whitehead remained together in London during the plague, and, with Gilbert Latey [q. v.], worked unceasingly at relieving the sick and poor among their fellow-members. In October 1675 Parker was appointed by the meeting for sufferings (the standing executive of the society, still so called) to go into Westmoreland and heal differences that had arisen through the action of John Story and John Wilkinson [q. v.] Between July and November 1676 he undertook a long journey through the west of England with Whitehead. On 8 Aug. 1683 they and Gilbert Latey presented an address to the king at Windsor, recounting the unlawful persecution of quakers.

Parker was once more Fox's companion in 1684, when they attended the Dutch yearly meeting in Amsterdam, and visited meetings in Friesland and elsewhere. In the winter of 1684–5 Parker and Whitehead had an audience with the king at Whitehall, and presented another petition on behalf of their imprisoned Friends, who at that time numbered about four thousand; but, ‘although the king said something must be done, nothing ever was’ (Whitehead, Christian Progress, pp. 546, 547). Parker was soon in prison again, and a warrant was issued (Besse, Sufferings, i. 480) on 20 March 1684–5, releasing him and others from the king's bench prison, in obedience to the mandate of James II.

Parker died of fever in the parish of St. Edmund, Lombard Street, London, on 9 March 1688–9, and was buried at Bunhill Fields. He married, on 8 April 1669, Prudence, daughter of William Goodson, and widow of Charles Wager (d. 24 Feb. 1665–6), commander of H.M.S. Crown; she died on 9 July 1688, at George Yard, London. They had four sons and four daughters. Parker resided successively at White Hart Court in Gracechurch Street, Enfield, Hoxton, Crown Court in Gracechurch Street, Clement's Lane, and Eastcheap. Prudence Wager's son by her first husband became Admiral Sir Charles Wager [q. v.] Three of Parker's daughters married clergymen, one of them George Stanhope [q. v.], dean of Canterbury.

Whiting says of Parker that he had a ‘gentlemanlike carriage and deportment as well as person, for I knew him well.’ His letters, preserved in the Swarthmore MSS., show a practical acquaintance with men and affairs, very different from the mystic utterances of some of his contemporaries. Parker's chief works were: 1. ‘A Testimony of God, and His Way, and Worship against all the False Wayes and Worships of the World. London, printed for Giles Calvert, 1656,’ containing ‘An Answer to some False Doctrine held by Vavasour Powel’ [see Powell, Vavasor], and ‘An Answer to some Queries by Richard Stephens, an Anabaptist of Shrewsbury.’ 2. ‘A Call out of Egypt (where Death and Darkness is) into the Glorious Light and Liberty of the Sons of God (where Life and Peace is). London, Giles Calvert, 1656.’ The preface is dated ‘Cornwall 31. of 5th mo’ (July); reprinted 1659, 4to. 3. ‘A Testimony of the Light Within,’ London, Giles Calvert, 1657. Samuel Grevill, minister of the gospel near Banbury, replied in ‘A Discourse,’ which was answered by William Penn in ‘Urim and Thummim,’ 1674. ‘A Brief Discovery of the Erronious Tenets of those who are Distinguished from other Men by the Name of Quakers,’ was also written by William Bownd against Parker's ‘Testimony’ (cf. The Sun Outshining the Moon … 1658, 4to, by John Price). 4. ‘A Discoverie of Satan's Wiles,’ London, 1657; a reply, written at Leith, November 1657, to ‘Antichrist (in Spirit) Unmasked,’ by James Brown. 5. ‘A Testimony of the Appearance of God in the Spirit of Power, and the True Light, making Manifest the Deceipts of the Serpent. With some Reasons why Margaret Hambleton doth deny the Presbyterians of Scotland, they being found in the steps of the False Prophets,’ n.d. This also was probably written in Scotland. 6. ‘A Tryall of a Christian,’ London, 1658. 7. ‘A Testimony of Truth, given forth at Reading,’ London, 1659. He also wrote an ‘Address to the Mayor and Aldermen’ of London, broadside, 1665; other epistles (undated) and testimonies to Isaac Pennington (1616–1679) [q. v.] and Josiah Coale; as well as a preface to the ‘Works’ of James Nayler [q. v.], and some portions of ‘The Principles of Truth; being a Declaration of our Faith who are called Quakers,’ by Edward Burrough [q. v.] and others (1st edit. London, 1657), London; printed for Robert Wilson, 4to, n.d., probably 1659.

[Besse's Sufferings, i. 393, 408, 480; Fox's Journal, 1765 edit. pp. 125, 129, 138, 209, 260, 262, 336, 395, 420, 578, 579; Sewel's History of Friends, i. 129, 176, ii. 358; Janney's History of Friends, i. 184, ii. 129, 437; Crisp and his Correspondents, p. 45; Whiting's Memoirs, p. 184; Letters of Early Friends, forming vol. vii. of Barclay's Select Series, passim; Registers at Devonshire House, and Swarthmore MSS., where many of his letters are preserved.]

C. F. S.