Francis Parkman

Francis Parkman Jr. (September 16, 1823 – November 8, 1893) was an American historian, best known as author of The Oregon Trail: Sketches of Prairie and Rocky-Mountain Life and his monumental seven-volume France and England in North America. These works are still valued as historical sources and as literature. He was also a leading horticulturist, briefly a professor of Horticulture at Harvard University and author of several books on the topic. Parkman was a trustee of the Boston Athenæum from 1858 until his death in 1893.[1]

Francis Parkman
Francis Parkman Jr.
Francis Parkman Jr.
BornSeptember 16, 1823
Boston, Massachusetts
DiedNovember 8, 1893 (aged 70)
Jamaica Plain, Boston, Massachusetts
Resting placeMount Auburn Cemetery
OccupationHistorian, writer
Alma materHarvard College; class of 1844
SpouseCatherine Scollay Bigelow

Appletons' Parkman Ehenezer - Francis signature


Early life

Parkman was born in Boston, Massachusetts to the Reverend Francis Parkman Sr. (1788–1853), a member of a distinguished Boston family, and Caroline (Hall) Parkman. The senior Parkman was minister of the Unitarian New North Church in Boston from 1813 to 1849. As a young boy, "Frank" Parkman was found to be of poor health, and was sent to live with his maternal grandfather, who owned a 3,000-acre (12 km²) tract of wilderness in nearby Medford, Massachusetts, in the hopes that a more rustic lifestyle would make him more sturdy. In the four years he stayed there, Parkman developed his love of the forests, which would animate his historical research. Indeed, he would later summarize his books as "the history of the American forest." He learned how to sleep and hunt, and could survive in the wilderness like a true pioneer. He later even learned to ride bareback, a skill that would come in handy when he found himself living with the Sioux.[2]

Education and career

Parkman enrolled at Harvard College at age 16. In his second year he conceived the plan that would become his life's work. In 1843, at the age of 20, he traveled to Europe for eight months in the fashion of the Grand Tour. Parkman made expeditions through the Alps and the Apennine mountains, climbed Vesuvius, and lived for a time in Rome, where he befriended Passionist monks who tried, unsuccessfully, to convert him to Catholicism.

Upon graduation in 1844, he was persuaded to get a law degree, his father hoping such study would rid Parkman of his desire to write his history of the forests. It did no such thing, and after finishing law school Parkman proceeded to fulfill his great plan. His family was somewhat appalled at Parkman's choice of life work, since at the time writing histories of the American wilderness was considered ungentlemanly. Serious historians would study ancient history, or after the fashion of the time, the Spanish Empire. Parkman's works became so well-received that by the end of his lifetime histories of early America had become the fashion. Theodore Roosevelt dedicated his four-volume history of the frontier, The Winning of the West (1889–1896), to Parkman.

In 1846, Parkman travelled west on a hunting expedition, where he spent a number of weeks living with the Sioux tribe, at a time when they were struggling with some of the effects of contact with Europeans, such as epidemic disease and alcoholism. This experience led Parkman to write about American Indians with a much different tone from earlier, more sympathetic portrayals represented by the "noble savage" stereotype. Writing in the era of manifest destiny, Parkman believed that the conquest and displacement of American Indians represented progress, a triumph of "civilization" over "savagery", a common view at the time.[3] He was elected a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1855,[4] and in 1865 was elected a member of the American Antiquarian Society.[5]

With the Civil War concluding, Parkman, along with Boston Athenæum librarian William F. Poole and fellow trustees Donald McKay Frost and Raymond Sanger Wilkins, saw the importance of securing, for the benefit of future historians, newspapers, broadsides, books, and pamphlets printed in the Confederate States of America. Thanks to Parkman's foresight, the Boston Athenæum is home to one of the most extensive collections of Confederate imprints in the world.[1]

Personal life

A scion of a wealthy Boston family, Parkman had enough money to pursue his research without having to worry too much about finances. His financial stability was enhanced by his modest lifestyle, and later, by the royalties from his book sales. He was thus able to commit much of his time to research, as well as to travel. He travelled across North America, visiting most of the historical locations he wrote about, and made frequent trips to Europe seeking original documents with which to further his research.[2]

Parkman's accomplishments are all the more impressive in light of the fact that he suffered from a debilitating neurological illness, which plagued him his entire life, and which was never properly diagnosed. He was often unable to walk, and for long periods he was effectively blind, being unable to see but the slightest amount of light. Much of his research involved having people read documents to him, and much of his writing was written in the dark, or dictated to others.

Grave of Francis Parkman

Parkman married Catherine Scollay Bigelow on May 13, 1850; they had three children. A son died in childhood, and shortly afterwards, his wife died. He successfully raised two daughters, introducing them into Boston society and seeing them both wed, with families of their own. Parkman died at age 70 in Jamaica Plain. He is buried at Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Parkman also is known for being one of the founders, in 1879, and first president of Boston's St.Botolph Club, a social club which focuses on arts and literature.


Parkman is one of the most notable nationalist historians. In recognition of his talent and accomplishments, the Society for American Historians annually awards the Francis Parkman Prize for the best book on American history. His work has been praised by historians who have published essays in new editions of his work by such Pulitzer Prize winners as C. Vann Woodward, Allan Nevins, and Samuel Eliot Morison as well as by other notable historians including Wilbur R. Jacobs, John Keegan, William Taylor, Mark Van Doren, and David Levin. Famous artists such as Thomas Hart Benton and Frederic Remington have illustrated Parkman's books. Numerous translations have been published worldwide.

In 1865 Parkman built a house at 50 Chestnut Street on Beacon Hill in Boston, which has since become a National Historic Landmark.[1] The Francis Parkman School in Forest Hills bears his name, as does Parkman Drive and the granite Francis Parkman Memorial at the site of his last home in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts (now a neighborhood of Boston). On September 16, 1967, the United States Postal Service honored Parkman with a Prominent Americans series 3¢ postage stamp with the wording, "FRANCIS PARKMAN AMERICAN HISTORIAN U.S. POSTAGE".[6]


Parkman's work regarding nationality, race, and especially Native Americans has generated criticism. C. Vann Woodward wrote that Parkman permitted his bias to control his judgment, employed the trope of "national character" to colour sketches of French and English, and drew a distinction between Indian "savagery" and settler "civilization", for Parkman found the Indian practice of scalping appalling, and made sure to underscore his aversion. The French-trained historian W. J. Eccles harshly criticized what he perceived as Parkman's bias against France and Roman Catholic policies, as well as what he considered Parkman's misuse of French language sources, although he gives scant evidence of this last.[7] Noted Eccles, "Francis Parkman's epic work La Salle and the Discovery of the Great West (Boston, 1869) is doubtless a great literary work, but, as history, it is, to say the least of dubious merit."[8] However, other Canadian contemporaries laud Parkman's work as "a veritable mine of brilliantly comprehensive history of early Canadian events and personages."[9]

Parkman Memorial
Parkman Memorial near Jamaica Pond

Unlike Eccles, many modern historians have found much to praise in Parkman's work, even while recognizing his limitations. The historian Robert S. Allen has said that Parkman's history of France and England in North America "remains a rich mixture of history and literature which few contemporary scholars can hope to emulate".[10] The historian Michael N. McConnell, while acknowledging the historical errors and racial prejudice in Parkman's book The Conspiracy of Pontiac, has said: would be easy to dismiss Pontiac as a curious—perhaps embarrassing—artifact of another time and place. Yet Parkman's work represents a pioneering effort; in several ways he anticipated the kind of frontier history now taken for granted.... Parkman's masterful and evocative use of language remains his most enduring and instructive legacy.[11]

The American literary critic Edmund Wilson, in his book O Canada, described Parkman's France and England in North America in these terms: "The clarity, the momentum and the color of the first volumes of Parkman's narrative are among the most brilliant achievements of the writing of history as an art."[12]


Young Francis Parkman
Parkman, Jr
Portrait of Francis Parkman
Francis Parkman, Jr
Francis Parkman School, Forest Hill, Massachusetts (ca. 1907)

Francis Parkman School in Forest Hills, circa 1907

Selected works

  • The Oregon Trail (1847)
  • The Conspiracy of Pontiac and the Indian War After the Conquest of Canada[13] (2 vols.) (1851)
  • Vassall Morton (1856), a novel
  • The Book of Roses[14] (1866). Horticulture of roses.
  • France and England in North America (1865–1892):
  • The Journals of Francis Parkman. 2 vols. Edited by Mason Wade. New York: Harper, 1947.
  • The Letters of Francis Parkman. 2 vols. Edited by Wilbur R. Jacobs. Norman: U of Oklahoma P, 1960.
  • The Battle for North America. A 1-vol. abridgement of France and England in North America, edited by John Tebbel. Doubleday 1948.


  • "The Ancien Régime in Canada, 1663–1763" (PDF). The North American Review. 118 (243): 225–255. April 1874. JSTOR 25109812.
  • "Reviewed Work(s): The Native Races of the Pacific States of North America" (PDF). The North American Review. 120 (246): 34–47. January 1875. JSTOR 25109883..
  • "Cavelier de la Salle" (PDF). The North American Review. 125 (259): 427–438. November 1877. JSTOR 25110131.
  • "The Failure of Universal Suffrage" (PDF). The North American Review. 127 (263): 1–20. July 1878. JSTOR 25100650..
  • "The Woman Question" (PDF). The North American Review. 129 (275): 303–321. October 1879. JSTOR 25100797.
  • "The Woman Question Again" (PDF). The North American Review. 130 (278): 16–30. January 1880. JSTOR 25100823.
  • Albert Benedict Wolfe, ed. (1916). "Some of the Reasons Against Woman Suffrage". Readings in Social Problems. Ginn and Company. p. 478–481.

See also



  1. ^ a b c Sheola, Noah. "Francis Parkman". Boston Athenaeum. Retrieved 3 March 2016.
  2. ^ a b Mason Wade, Francis Parkman, Heroic Historian (1942)
  3. ^ McConnell, Michael N. (1994). "Introduction to the Bison Book Edition." In: The Conspiracy of Pontiac, by Francis Parkman. Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, pp. ix–x.
  4. ^ "Book of Members, 1780–2010: Chapter P" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved April 13, 2011.
  5. ^ American Antiquarian Society Members Directory
  6. ^ U.S. Stamp Gallery: Francis Parkman.
  7. ^ Eccles, W.J. (1990). "Parkman, Francis". In Halpenny, Francess G. Dictionary of Canadian Biography. XII (1891–1900) (online ed.). University of Toronto Press.
  8. ^ Eccles, W.J. (1983). The Canadian Frontier 1534–1760. Rev. ed. University of New Mexico Press, p. 200 (footnote 12).
  9. ^ Hopkins, J. Castell (1898). An Historical Sketch of Canadian Literature and Journalism. Toronto: Lincott. p. 118. ISBN 0665080484.
  10. ^ Allen, Robert S. (1992). His Majesty's Indian Allies: British Indian Policy in the Defence of Canada, 1774–1815. Toronto: Dundum, p. 235.
  11. ^ McConnell (1994), pp. xv–xvi.
  12. ^ Wilson, Edmund (1965). O Canada: An American's Notes on Canadian Culture. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, p. 54.
  13. ^ The Conspiracy of Pontiac and the Indian War after the Conquest of Canada
  14. ^ The Book of Roses
  15. ^ Historic Handbook of the Northern Tour


Further reading

External links

Apollo Club of Boston

The Apollo Club of Boston, founded in 1871, is the second-oldest continuously active men’s singing group in the United States.

Before the advent of radio, the club was a major source of entertainment for well-to-do Bostonians. In 1874, the Apollo Club sang at the funeral services of Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner and received a note of appreciation from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. In 1901, the club sang at President William McKinley's memorial service at Faneuil Hall. And in 1924, when the George Francis Parkman Memorial Bandstand was dedicated on the Boston Common, 79 Apollo members sang to the accompaniment of the Boston Municipal Band. In the 1940s, the club had a regular radio show. In 2009 the club performed at the Boston Public Library in conjunction with an exhibit on the club's history.

Today, the club has approximately 25 members and performs a varied repertoire of show tunes, sea chanties, patriotic, love and folk songs at venues around the Boston area. The club is directed by Steven Lipsitt, former leader of the Yale Russian Chorus and Pitchpipe of the Whiffenpoofs. He currently also serves as music director of the Boston Classical Orchestra. The club is accompanied by Rob Humphreville.

Barthélemy (explorer)

Barthélemy, (fl. 1687), a young man from France, was part of René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle's final expedition in 1687.

Barthélemy's rather dubious claim to a place in written history occurred after the murder of La Salle on the Trinity River in present-day Texas. La Salle's companion, Joutel, led a group who were returning to New France, Barthélemy being among them. He ended up at Henri Tonty's post at the mouth of the Arkansas River, later known as Arkansas Post. There he made any number of defamatory statements about La Salle which were recorded by the post commander, Jean Couture. At least one historian and author, Francis Parkman, dismissed these statements as a "ridiculous defamation".

Boston Athenæum

The Boston Athenæum is one of the oldest independent libraries in the United States. It is also one of a number of membership libraries, for which patrons pay a yearly subscription fee to use Athenæum services. The institution was founded in 1807 by the Anthology Club of Boston, Massachusetts. It is located at 10 1/2 Beacon Street on Beacon Hill.

Resources of the Boston Athenæum include a large circulating book collection; a public gallery; a rare books collection of over 100,000 volumes; an art collection of 100,000 paintings, sculptures, prints, drawings, photographs, and decorative arts; research collections including one of the world's most important collections of primary materials on the American Civil War; and a public forum offering lectures, readings, concerts, and other events. Special treasures include the largest portion of President George Washington's library from Mount Vernon; Houdon busts of Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and Lafayette once owned by Thomas Jefferson; a first edition copy of Audubon's The Birds of America; a 1799 set of Goya's Los caprichos; portraits by Gilbert Stuart, Chester Harding, and John Singer Sargent; and one of the most extensive collections of contemporary artists' books in the United States.The Boston Athenæum is also known for the many prominent writers, scholars, and politicians who have been members, including Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Louisa May Alcott, Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr., Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., John Quincy Adams, Margaret Fuller, Francis Parkman, Amy Lowell, John F. Kennedy, and Edward M. Kennedy.

David McCullough

David Gaub McCullough (; born July 7, 1933) is an American author, narrator, historian, and lecturer. He is a two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award and a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the United States' highest civilian award.Born and raised in Pittsburgh, McCullough earned a degree in English literature from Yale University. His first book was The Johnstown Flood (1968); and he has since written nine more on such topics as Harry S. Truman, John Adams, the Brooklyn Bridge, and the Wright brothers. McCullough has also narrated numerous documentaries, such as The Civil War by Ken Burns, as well as the 2003 film Seabiscuit; and he hosted American Experience for twelve years.

McCullough's two Pulitzer Prize-winning books, Truman and John Adams, have been adapted by HBO into a TV film and a miniseries, respectively.

Francis Parkman Coffin

Francis Parkman Coffin (April 5, 1880 – August 19, 1956) was an American electrical engineering pioneer. He was a leader in research and development for the General Electric Corporation.

Francis Parkman House

The Francis Parkman House is a National Historic Landmark at 50 Chestnut Street, on Beacon Hill in Boston, Massachusetts. Probably designed by Cornelius Coolidge and built in 1824, it is one of a series of fine brick townhouses on Beacon Hill. Its significance lies in its ownership and occupancy by noted historian and horticulturalist Francis Parkman (1823–1893) from 1865 until his death. While living here, Parkman produced a significant portion of his landmark work, France and England in North America, a multi-volume epic history recounting the conflict for control of North America in the 17th and 18th centuries.

Francis Parkman Prize

The Francis Parkman Prize, named after Francis Parkman, is awarded by the Society of American Historians for the best book in American history each year. Its purpose is to promote literary distinction in historical writing. The Society of American Historians is an affiliate of the American Historical Association.

James F. Brooks

James F. Brooks (born 1955) is an American historian whose work on slavery, captivity and kinship in the Southwest Borderlands was honored with major national history awards: the Bancroft Prize, Francis Parkman Prize, the Frederick Jackson Turner Award and the Frederick Douglass Prize (second prize). He is Professor of History and Anthropology at the University of California, Santa Barbara and editor of the journal The Public Historian

Jared Farmer

Jared Farmer (born 1974) is a history professor at Stony Brook University. He specializes in environmental history, landscape studies, and the American West.

Farmer's book On Zion's Mount won the Francis Parkman Prize from the Society of American Historians. His book Trees in Paradise won the Ray Allen Billington Prize from the Organization of American Historians. In 2014 Farmer received the Hiett Prize from the Dallas Institute. In 2017 he was named an Andrew Carnegie Fellow by the Carnegie Corporation of New York. In 2018 the American Academy in Berlin awarded him a Berlin Prize.

Jean Edward Smith

Jean Edward Smith (born October 13, 1932) is a biographer and the John Marshall Professor of Political Science at Marshall University. He is also professor emeritus at the University of Toronto after having served as professor of political economy there for thirty-five years. Smith is also on the faculty of the Master of American History and Government program at Ashland University.The winner of the 2008 Francis Parkman Prize and the 2002 finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography, Smith has been called "today’s foremost biographer of formidable figures in American history."

John Putnam Demos

John Putnam Demos is an American author and historian. He has written two books that discuss witch hunts and has discovered that one of his ancestors was John Putnam Senior, a member of the Putnam family that was prominent in the Salem witch trials.Demos was awarded the prestigious Bancroft Prize for his book Entertaining Satan. He was awarded the 1995 Francis Parkman Prize for his book The Unredeemed Captive: A Family Story From Early America.

He retired in December 2008 as the Samuel Knight Professor of History at Yale University.Demos lives in Tyringham, Massachusetts. He graduated from Harvard University.

Leon Litwack

Leon F. Litwack (born December 2, 1929) is an American historian whose scholarship focuses on slavery, the Reconstruction Era of the United States, and its aftermath into the 20th century. He won a National Book Award, the Pulitzer Prize for History, and the Francis Parkman Prize for his 1979 book Been In the Storm So Long: The Aftermath of Slavery. He also received a Guggenheim Fellowship.

After the spring 2007 semester he retired to emeritus status at the University of California Berkeley, where he received the Golden Apple Award for Outstanding Teaching that year. Then he went on a lecture tour that led to his latest book, How Free Is Free?: The Long Death of Jim Crow (2009).

Little brown brother

The slang term little brown brother was used by Americans to refer to Filipinos during the period of U.S. colonial rule over the Philippines, following the Treaty of Paris between Spain and the United States, and the Philippine–American War. The term was coined by William Howard Taft, the first American Governor-General of the Philippines (1901–1904) and later the 27th President of the United States. U.S. military men in the Philippines greeted the term with scorn. The book Benevolent Assimilation recounts that Taft "assured President McKinley that 'our little brown brothers' would need 'fifty or one hundred years' of close supervision 'to develop anything resembling Anglo-Saxon political principles and skills.'", and reports that the military greeted Taft's assertion, "that 'Filipinos are moved by similar considerations to those which move other men' with utter scorn."A 1961 book titled Little Brown Brother and subtitled "how the United States purchased and pacified the Philippine Islands at the century's turn", was awarded the 1962 Francis Parkman Prize by the American Historical Association as the best book in American history that year. A reissued 2001 edition of that book contains accounts of numerous atrocities committed by U.S. soldiers during the Philippine–American War.The term was not originally intended to be derogatory, nor an ethnic slur; instead, it is a reflection of paternalist racism, shared also by Theodore Roosevelt.

Michael Kammen

Michael Gedaliah Kammen (October 25, 1936 – November 29, 2013) was an American professor of American cultural history in the Department of History at Cornell University. At the time of his death, he held the title "Newton C. Farr professor emeritus of American history and culture".

Kammen was born in 1936 in Rochester, New York, grew up in the Washington, DC area, and was educated at the George Washington University and Harvard University, where he received his Ph.D. in 1964 after studying under Bernard Bailyn. He began teaching at Cornell upon completion his graduate studies at Harvard and taught until retiring to emeritus status in 2008. He won his first renown as a scholar of the colonial period of American history, yet his scholarship and teaching interests eventually broadened to include legal, cultural and social issues of American history of the 19th and 20th centuries as well.

One of his first major books, People of Paradox: An Inquiry Concerning the Origins of American Civilization, won the Pulitzer Prize for History in 1973. A later work, A Machine That Would Go of Itself: The Constitution in American Culture (1986), won the Francis Parkman Prize and the Henry Adams Prize. In this work, Kammen describes the American people's evolving conceptions of the U.S. Constitution and of constitutional governance, stressing both mechanical and organic conceptions of constitutional development over time.

Kammen was active in organizations advancing the study of history, and served as president of the Organization of American Historians for the 1995-96 year.

He was the father of UC Berkeley professor Daniel Kammen.

Rogers' Rangers

Rogers' Rangers was initially a provincial company from the colony of New Hampshire, attached to the British Army during the Seven Years' War, also known for its conflict in North America as the French and Indian War. The unit was quickly adopted into the British army as an independent ranger company. Major Robert Rogers trained the rapidly deployed light infantry force tasked mainly with reconnaissance as well as conducting special operations against distant targets. Their tactics were built on earlier colonial precedents and were codified for the first time by Rogers. The tactics proved remarkably effective, so much so that the initial company was expanded into a ranging corps of more than a dozen companies (containing as many as 1,200–1,400 men at its peak). The ranger corps became the chief scouting arm of British Crown forces by the late 1750s. The British valued Rogers' Rangers for their ability to gather intelligence about the enemy. They were disbanded in 1761.

Later, the company was revived as a Loyalist force during the American Revolutionary War. Nonetheless, a number of former ranger officers defected to fight against the British Army as Rebel (Patriot) commanders. Some ex-rangers participated as Rebel (Patriot) militiamen at the Battle of Concord Bridge.

The Queen's York Rangers (1st American Regiment) of the Canadian Army, formed by Rogers and Loyalist veterans of Rogers' Rangers, claims descent from Rogers' Rangers.

Russia Leaves the War

Russia Leaves the War (1956) is a Pulitzer Prize-winning book by George F. Kennan, which won the 1957 Pulitzer Prize for History, the 1957 National Book Award for Nonfiction,the 1957 George Bancroft Prize, and the 1957 Francis Parkman Prize. The first of two volumes discussing Soviet-American relations from 1917-1920, it covers the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the departure of Russia from World War I in 1918. The second volume, The Decision to Intervene (1958) explores U.S. involvement in Siberia.

Suzanne Lebsock

Suzanne Lebsock (born Dec. 1,1949 at Williston, ND ) is an award-winning author and historian. Her works include her first book The Free Women of Petersburg: Status and Culture in a Southern Town, 1784-1860 which was published in 1984 and won the Bancroft Prize, and A Murder in Virginia: Southern Justice on Trial. She has won the Francis Parkman Prize for her writing, and is currently a Board of Governors Professor of History at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey. She specializes in women's history.

Lebsock has held fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial and MacArthur foundations.

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