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This work appears in Anarchy Archives with permission of International Publishers Co. 239 W 23rd Street - New York, NY and located on the web at:

Labor agitator: The story of Albert R. Parsons

Alan Calmer

New York, International publishers, 1937.


ALBERT PARSONS' ancestors fought for religious liberty in England and were among the pilgrim fathers of Massachusetts. In the seventeenth century, five brothers of the family name landed on the shores of Narragansett Bay. In the centuries that followed, their descendants helped to establish and build the American nation.

The first Parsons to attain renown was "Uncle Jonathan," he was reverently, and affectionately, called. He was an old Puritan, strong-minded and passionate, second only to his friend, George Whitefield, among the revivalist ministers of the day. Like Albert Parsons of Haymarket fame, old Jonathan was something of a traveling agitator: his preaching tour, on which he delivered sermons to eager audiences, horrified the conservativ-minded clergymen of New England.

Liberty-loving Jonathan could not endure British tyranny. According to one story, he denounced the English oppressors from his pulpit and, in the very aisles of his church, mustered a company which marched to Bunker Hill where another Parsons lost his arm in the famous battle of the Revolution.

Jonathan's son was Major-General Samuel Parsons, the first members of the Patriot party and the revolutionary Committee of Correspondence in Connecticut. As early as 1773 the General despatched a letter to Agitator Sam Adams, urging that a continental be held. 'The idea of inalienable allegiance to any prince or state," he wrote, "is an idea to me inadmissible; and I cannot but see that our ancestors, when they first landed in America, were as independent of crown or king of Great Britain, as if they never had been its subjects."

General Parsons fought in a number of Revolutionary battles. He helped plan the expedition which led to the capture of Fort Ticonderoga by Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain boys. He saw heavy fighting at Long Island, and then at Harlem Heights and White Plains. He served under General Washington in New Jersey. Later the commander-in-chief placed him in charge of the entire Connecticut front, depending upon him for the defense of the state. He gave battle to the British at Norwalk, forcing them to retire in confusion.

After the war, General Parsons was appointed first judge of the Northwest Territory. Although he was past fifty, he became a frontiersman, traveling back and forth. One day his canoe overturned in the rapids of the Big Beaver river and he was drowned.

Samuel Parsons, a namesake of the Revolutionary general, left New England early in 1830. He married Elizabeth Tompkins, and together they trekked down the coast to Alabama. They set up a shoe and leather factory in Montgomery. Here Albert R. Parsons was born June 20, 1848, just after the Mexican war. His father was one of the outstanding figures in the community and was highly respected as a public-spirited citizen; he led the temperance movement in the state.

Albert's mother also came of pioneer stock. One of her ancestors had been a trooper in General Washington's bodyguard, serving under him at Trenton and Brandywine, weathering the privations of Valley Forge, and helping to drive the Hessians out of New Jersey. Like her husband, she was a devoutly religious person, loved by her neighbors as well as by her ten children.

At least this was the picture which Albert's eldest brother, William, gave him of his parents. He retained only the flicker of an impression of his mother, who died when he was still a baby. And before Albert was five his father followed.

Albert went to live with his brother's family, whose home was on the Texan frontier. In later years he treasured the remembrances of his boyhood, spent near the border. Life on the Texas range during the eighteen- fifties was an adventurous affair. Indian raids and out-law attacks were things of the present. Buffalo and antelope ran over the plains. While still a boy, Albert became an expert rifle-shot; he always remembered the praise he had won for his marksmanship and hunting, as well as his skill in riding the fiery Mexican mustangs. He thought often, too, of days spent on his brother's farm in the valley of the Brazos river, so far from the next house that he couldn't hear the barking of their neighbor's dog or the crowing of the cock.

When he was eleven, Albert was sent to Waco, city, to live with his sister's family and to get some schooling. He was soon apprenticed to the Galveston Daily News. It was an honor to be employed by the biggest and most influential paper in the state, his brother wrote to him; espicially, he added, when it was edited by Mr. Willard Richardson. His brother, who had run a small paper of his own in Tyler city, always spoke with reverence of Richardson, the leading Texan editor of the time.

Albert worked on the paper as a printer's devil and as carrier. Running through the streets of the town, making new friends and acquaintances every day, he changed from a frontier boy into a city youngster.

To Chapter 2

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