John Rowe Parker papers
Held at: University of Pennsylvania: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts [Contact Us]3420 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104-6206
This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the University of Pennsylvania: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.
Overview and metadata sections
John Rowe Parker was born October 24, 1777, in Boston. He was the eldest of thirteen children born to Rev. Samuel Parker (1744-1804) and his wife Anne (d. 1844). The Parkers were a prominent family in Boston. John Rowe Parker's grandfather, William, was a Superior Court judge, and his father was the rector of Boston's Trinity Church. Matthew S. Parker (1780-1865), brother of John Rowe Parker, was the first secretary of Boston's Handel and Haydn Society and the president of Oriental Bank in the 1830s. Another brother, Richard Green Parker (1798-1869), was a noted educator and author.
Parker's professional life falls neatly into three parts. His first career was that of a dry goods merchant selling such wares as carpet, buttons, candlesticks, cutlery, and other sundries. By 1802 Parker was partners with Standford Smith in the firm of Smith and Parker. Parker was in London in January 1802 to purchase goods for the company. He returned to Boston in time to be married to Catharine Brigden on June 6, 1802, and then returned to London with his wife. Catharine died on May 4, 1803, two days after the death of her infant son. Sometime after August 1803, Parker returned to Boston.
Parker married Mary Hamilton of Portsmouth, New Hampshire on October 22, 1804. They had three children: Samuel Parker Parker (1805-1880), Jonathan Hamilton Parker (1806-1844), and Mary Hamilton Parker (1808-1821). Parker's partnership with Smith ended, and by the end of 1806 he was partners with Moses Poor in the dry goods firm of Parker and Poor. The partnership was short-lived, ending by October 1807.
Mary Hamilton Parker, John Rowe Parker's second wife, died on March 6, 1809. By late 1812, Parker had relocated to New London, Connecticut, where he developed business contacts with the three Parkin brothers, Richard William (d. 1814), John Still Winthrop, and Thomas. He married their sister, Jane Parkin, on February 8, 1813. The Parkers stayed in New London through 1814 and then moved back to Boston, where Parker continued operating as a general merchant. They had one child together, Jane Winthrop Parker, born in 1818.
The next phase of Parker's professional life began in 1817 when he became the proprietor of the Franklin Music Warehouse in Boston. Parker was joined in this venture by Gottlieb Graupner, one of the most respected musicians and music publishers in Boston at that time. Graupner moved his inventory into Parker's premises in April 1817, but a dispute between the two men caused Graupner to leave by August.
Parker was able to take advantage of the rising demand for secular music in the former colonies to build his business into the largest music distributor in the United States during the years 1817 to 1821. In 1820, Parker published one of the first music dealer's catalogues issued in the United States. The fifty-five page catalogue contained lists of music titles, instruments, and other musical merchandise. The catalogue was also unique for bearing a distinctive, oval trademark stamp that Parker used to identify his publications. This practice was soon adopted by many other dealers. Copies of the catalogue survive in the Houghton Library at Harvard University and at the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester, Massachusetts.
Perhaps Parker's most noted achievement was the publication of the first American journal devoted exclusively to music. Parker had written articles about music for a column titled "The Euterpeiad" printed in the local newspaper, The Boston Intelligencer and Morning and Evening Advertiser, during the years 1817-1820. This experience provided him with the background to begin his own publication, The Euterpeiad, or Musical Intelligencer on April 1, 1820.
The Euterpeiad was sold through a network of more than forty agents encompassing an area from Montreal to Augusta, Georgia. Parker tried to expand his subscription base by appealing to the female market with the addition of a Ladie's Gazette component, beginning with the issue of March 31, 1821. Despite the widespread geographic distribution of The Euterpeiad and its largely favorable critical success, the number of subscribers remained too low to support continued operations. The journal ended publication with its final issue of March 30, 1823.
In 1824, Parker compiled a collection of his articles from The Euterpeiad and had the reprints published by Stone and Fovell under the title Musical Biography, or Sketches of the Lives and Writings of Eminent Musical Characters. The collection is significant for being the first biographical music dictionary published in the United States. It contains thirty-three biographical sketches of such European composers as Handel, Haydn, Mozart, Purcell, and Beethoven, as well as American composers George K. Jackson and Raynor Taylor. There are also eight articles on such topics as church music, vocal music, anthems, and organs.
The final phase of Parker's professional life concerned his efforts to develop a nation-wide communication system for marine vessels. Parker attempted to revise a system of semaphore signals developed by James M. Elford (d. 1826) of Charleston, South Carolina. Parker wrote several texts on the system, including The Marine Telegraph (1827), The United States Telegraph Vocabulary (1832), A Treatise upon the Telegraphic Science (1835), The New Semaphoric Signal Book (1836), A History of Telegraphs (1836), The Semaphoric Telegraph (1837), A Treatise upon the Semaphoric System of Telegraphs (1838), The Boston Harbor Signal Book (1841), and A Treatise upon Telegraphs (1842).
The multi-faceted life of John Rowe Parker ended in Boston on November 1, 1845 (Boston Index Deaths, 1810-1848, Vol. P-Z).
The collection consists primarily of correspondence and financial information regarding the businesses of John Rowe Parker. The folders in Series I are arranged alphabetically by correspondent, with letters written by John Rowe Parker filed under the name of the recipient of the letter. Items from unidentifiable sources are filed at the end of series I. The additional material acquired in Series II was left in the order in which is was received, and is filed chronologically. Undated material is filed at the end of the series II. Some undated material was roughly datable due to topic and is filed at the end that particular time frame.
Although relatively small in number, personal letters provide some measure of insight into Parker's relationships with family members, including his wife Jane, mother, sister Rebecca Edsen, brothers James and William, and sons Samuel and Hamilton. A sequence of letters from 1824 to 1825 between Parker and his brother-in-law, Joshua Haven, in Philadelphia are particularly interesting. They provide a description of the work Parker's son Hamilton was performing in Haven's counting house and the resulting clamor when Hamilton fled to Norfolk, Virginia with $700 from his uncle's business.
The letters from the years during which Parker was a dry goods merchant, 1802-1817, reflect a period of unstable trade relations with Great Britain. It is a time that encompasses the Embargo Act of 1807, Macon's Bill No. 2, the War of 1812, and the Treaty of Ghent in 1814. All of these political actions greatly affected the ability of merchants in the United States to operate their businesses. This was especially true for merchants in the New England states, and several letters express concerns regarding these matters.
The correspondence from the years 1817 to 1824 contains the majority of music-related materials in the collection. The letters from prominent composers, performers, and music publishers provide a portrait of musical practice and taste in early nineteenth-century America as well as offering details concerning the operations of the growing music industry. Publishers from Philadelphia, New York, and Baltimore represented in the collection include George E. Blake, George Willig, Bacon and Hart, Benjamin Carr, Edward Riley, William DuBois, Joseph Willson, John, Adam, and William Geib, and John Cole. Correspondence from composers and performers includes Anthony Philip Heinrich, Christopher Meinecke, Richard Willis, James Finlayson, Samuel Dyer, Oliver Shaw, Thomas Philipps, Samuel P. Taylor, James Hewitt, and James H. Swindells.
As part of his business at the Franklin Music Warehouse, Parker also acted as a distributor or representative for instrument manufacturers, including makers of pianos and organs. There are approximately twenty letters in the collection pertaining to inquiries about pianos, including letters from such manufacturers as John Loud, J. A. and W. Geib, John Mackay, and the firm of Gibson and Davis. More than a dozen letters concern requests for information about organs. Although the organ builders responsible for building the organs sold by Parker are not referred to by name, they are most likely William Goodrich and Thomas Appleton, two local builders.
Over one hundred letters in the collection are concerned with Parker's publication, The Euterpeiad. The letters contain comments regarding the contents of the journal, requests for subscriptions, statements of satisfaction with the journal, and complaints about delivery. Many of the letters are addressed to the original printer of the journal, Thomas Badger, Jr. (1794?-1825). The collection also includes Badger's letter of agreement (circa 1820) to print the journal and a letter from December 24, 1821, in which Badger terminates the agreement after finding out that Parker was talking to other printers about taking over the job. The firm of True and Greene assumed responsibility for printing The Euterpeiad beginning with the issue of March 1822, and continued printing the journal through the end of its run in March 1823.
The last twenty years of Parker's life were primarily devoted to developing and marketing a marine telegraph system. This activity is well documented by correspondence to and from telegraph operators in the Eastern United States and especially by the more than two dozen letters to and from the patent holder of the system, James M. Elford and Son of Charleston, South Carolina.
Note: Series I of the collection was originally in rough chronological order, with additional arrangement by such categories as personal letters, letters related to The Euterpeiad music publishers, James M . Elford, and letters from John Rowe Parker. The original order is reflected in the index prepared by Patricia M. Gallo as part of her thesis, The John Rowe Parker Letter Collection: An Index to Early Nineteenth-Century American Musical Taste (1985). Gallo's index includes brief commentary regarding noteworthy contents of individual letters. Series II of this collection was acquired separately, and the original chronological order of the letters was maintained.
Series I sold by Symnachus Trading Company (Boston), 1955. Series II sold by Swann Auction Galleries (New York), 27 September 2018, Lot 307.
- University of Pennsylvania: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts
- Finding Aid Author
- John Bewley
- Finding Aid Date
- Access Restrictions
This collection is open for research use.
- Use Restrictions
Copyright restrictions may exist. For most library holdings, the Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania do not hold copyright. It is the responsibility of the requester to seek permission from the holder of the copyright to reproduce material from the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts.