On August 21st, 1872, William L. Parker signed over a small patch of land on the northern end of his farm to the small congregation that would make up what was then called Oakland Church. He not only donated the land, he was also listed as one of the chief contributors to the building fund. Who was William L. Parker? Does this man appear anywhere in the history of Boone County?
One of the first surprises was to discover that William L. Parker was photographed! Finding photographs of “ordinary” folks from this time period is quite rare. But a scan of the Boone County cemetery records produced a photograph of a man that went by that name. So the question was whether the photograph was of the same man who owned the farm on which the church would eventually be built. Census and land records would piece together the story of a man who was born in 1827 in Fayette County, Kentucky, arriving in Boone County with his father in 1836. His father, Gabriel Parker, purchased “a farm five miles from Columbia” in 1846. What makes it rather confusing was that Gabriel received a grant of land from the US government in 1852 for his service in the war of 1812. The location of the farm in the government records placed him on the border with Randolph County in the northwest corner of Boone County (Township 51, Range 13, Section 4). The atlas of 1852 provided by the US Land Patent office showed the farm with Parker’s name. This particular atlas only showed landowners granted land. But a deed was located verifying Gabriel Parker’s purchased of the land that contained the site of Oakland Church in 1846.
The farm was transferred to William L. Parker on March 8th, 1869. What is most peculiar about the recording is that it contains the phrase “Excepting and reserving one quarter (¼) acre including the graveyard.” So between 1846 and 1869 a cemetery appeared adjacent to where the church would be constructed. Oral history hints that this site may have contained the graves of the slaves that worked the Parker farm (and probably other slaves from nearby farms). One peculiarity of the atlas of 1875 was that no where to be found were the cabins where slaves resided. So it is quite possible that the land on which the church currently sits may have had slave quarters on the site.
So who was William L. Parker? The connection between “William L” and “William Lewis” was confirmed through the cemetery records which show William Lewis Parker as being the son of Gabriel. He was a traveler, adventurer and forever a bachelor. He was known to be a quiet man. He was, evidently, quite successful. He went digging for gold during the California gold rush. In apparent modesty he never boasted of being a successful gold miner, but he returned home with a handsome amount of gold. He was known to invest in property, the raising of livestock, and livestock trading. He was frequently involved in civic affairs, being one of the chief contributors to the Atlas project of 1875.
But what was quite surprising was that “William L. Parker” may be none other than “William Lewis Parker” who helped found Columbia’s first major hospital, beginning a process that would eventually evolve to the founding of Boone County Hospital. His legacy was Parker Hall that was located on the University of Missouri campus, the very same building that was recently demolished. His contribution to the hospital in late 1880’s would be a staggering $15,000, resulting in the opening of Parker Hall in 1902.
Records show that he was a member of Oakland Church. But it may be debatable how long that lasted. His biography notes he was Presbyterian, likely associated with the Presbyterian church in downtown Columbia.
William Parker would pass away in 1904. Eighteen years old when he fought in the Mexican War, he would be 34 at the time of the Civil War. He was 45 when he donated the land.
Interesting note: His brother James is noted as being on the farm in the 1850 census, age 28. William was recorded as age 23. Judging from the names that precede and follow the census records, it is evident that this was the farm adjacent to Oakland Church. So the family resided there in 1850. By 1860 the large family would be reduced to Gabriel and his two sons (William and John). James is no longer listed. There is no record of his death or grave site. What is sobering to look at is the census of slaves, recorded on a different schedule. It provides a picture of life in Boone County in 1860 on this 180 acre farm. Fourteen slaves. Four males. Eight children under the age of 11, including 3 one year old children and 3 four years old. He had only two male adult slaves to assist him on the farm. Four adult women. They would all be listed nameless in the census.
“William Lewis Parker,” Find a Grave
“General Land Office Records,” Bureau of Land Management, US Department of Interior
“United States Census Slave Schedule,” FamilySearch
“MU in Brick and Mortar: Parker Hall,” University Archives
© Copyright 2023 to Eric Niewoehner