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David Bigelow Parker letterbook


Held at: University of Delaware Library Special Collections [Contact Us]181 South College Avenue, Newark, DE 19717-5267

This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the University of Delaware Library Special Collections. 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

David Bigelow Parker was born in 1842 in Ashville, New York, and died in 1910 in Ellicottville, New York. His father was Dr. Charles Parker, a Jamestown physician, and his mother was one of the Sinclair family, for whom Sinclairville was named. Parker married Miss Victoria Howe, the daughter of Judge Chester Howe. They had two sons, Sinclair and Torrance; Torrance was a member of the Boston law firm Southard & Parker.

At eighteen, Parker entered the army as a member of the 72nd New York Volunteers. Quickly achieving the rank of lieutenant, he served throughout the Civil War. General Hooker placed Parker in charge of the postal service in the Army of the Potomac. Commended by Grant for his ability, Parker personally carried dispatches between Grant and Lincoln after the Battle of the Wilderness. In 1863, he introduced the money order system in the Army. On the day of Richmond's fall, Parker took over the post office of that city and re-established its service.

After the war, Parker remained in Richmond to reconstruct the mail service in Virginia. Riding horseback into every county, Parker established new post offices and postal routes, while investigating offenses against the mails and prosecuting the offenders. Presidents Johnson and Grant appointed Parker as United States Marshal for Virginia. Governor Wells of Virginia made Parker a member of his staff, with the honorary title of "colonel."

Parker resigned in 1874 to go into private business, but was called back to the postal service by President Grant, who asked Parker to investigate a corruption case in Louisiana involving Grant's brother-in-law. After exposing the corruption and clearing Grant's relative, Parker was sent to reorganize the postal service of California, Oregon, and Washington, while handling numerous depredation complaints. In 1876, Parker accepted the position of Chief Post Office Inspector in the Department of Mail Depredations, a unit of postal detectives. While in this position, Parker was one of a group of men who worked to initiate and perfect the railway mail service, rural free delivery, the use of registered letters, and the money order service.

In 1883, President Arthur offered Parker the position as Postmaster at Washington, D.C., but Parker decided to join the Bell Telephone Company, an infant enterprise at that time. Parker started with the New England Telephone Company in Boston. He then became general manager of the New York Telephone Company. Because of deteriorating health, he next moved to the position of vice-president and general manager of the Bell Telephone Company of Buffalo, near his home. Suffering from severe rheumatism, Parker retired in the summer of 1898. After receiving extended treatment at Virginia Hot Springs, Parker returned to Ellicottville for the last ten years of his life, during which he lived as an invalid.

In the last years of his life, Parker dictated his reminiscences, published by the Boston firm of Small, Maynard and Company in 1912 as A Chautauqua boy in 61 and afterward, with an introduction by Albert Bushnell Hart. Parker's life story was recently augmented by Patricia Appleyard Parker in A Chautauqua family: 1800-1996 (Jamestown, NY: The author, 1996). This account is largely based on the research of Ronald L. Brake, Sr., who has also initiated a campaign to have Parker represented by a United States Postal Stamp. Further information may be obtained from the Harmony Historical Society in Lakewood, New York.

Cutter, William Richard, Editor. Genealogical and Family History of Western New York. New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Company, 1912. Obituaries of David Bigelow Parker. For information about the obituaries, please ask Manuscript Librarian for assistance with the Collection Folder.

The letterbook of David Bigelow Parker consists of 494 pages of correspondence with two letters laid in covering the years 1876 to 1879. These letters were written by Parker in his capacity as Chief Special Agent, Division of Mail Depredations at the Post Office Department in Washington, D.C. The letterpress book contains little information about Parker's private life. Many of the letters concern assigning agents to deal with cases of fraud and theft. The cases themselves, however, are discussed only in the most general of terms; very few details are included.

Box 1: Shelved in SPEC MSS manuscript boxes (1 inch)

Purchase, 1998

Finding aid encoded by Lauren Connolly, April 2016. Further encoding by Tiffany Saulter, May 2016.

University of Delaware Library Special Collections
Finding Aid Author
University of Delaware Library, Special Collections
Finding Aid Date
2016 April 6
Access Restrictions

The collection is open for research

Use Restrictions

Use of materials from this collection beyond the exceptions provided for in the Fair Use and Educational Use clauses of the U.S. Copyright Law may violate federal law. Permission to publish or reproduce is required from the copyright holder. Please contact Special Collections, University of Delaware Library,

Collection Inventory

David Bigelow Parker letterbook.
Box 1

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