The Early Years (1810-1841)
Theodore Parker was born on August 24, 1810, in Lexington, Massachusetts, not far from that place where the "shots heard round the world" were fired. Theodore Parker's grandfather, Captain John Parker, was an important part of that first battle of the American Revolution, for it was he who commanded the company of Lexington minutemen. Early in the morning of April 19, 1775, as a squadron of British troops approached, some of Parker's men began to waver; whereupon the captain ordered them to stand their ground and threatened to shoot any man who left his post. As the British drew near, the captain called out, "Don't fire unless fired upon; but if they mean to have war, let it begin here!" 1 And so it began. Captain John Parker's courage, determination, and a passion to achieve what he thought was right, regardless of the cost involved, were characteristics passed on to his famous grandson, Theodore.
The town of Lexington in which Theodore Parker spent his early years was in a rural setting. The wonders and beauty of nature were everywhere; expansive fields, woods, flowers, unpolluted skies, streams and ponds, domestic and wild animals, along with the fish of the waters -- all to be found within the changing settings of the four seasons. The young Parker sensed the presence of God in nature, and later sermons and addresses would be filled with references to the joy and spirituality found in the creation.
He was the youngest of eleven children, the only one in the family to achieve eminence. His mother Hannah and his father John both made significant contributions to the formulation of their eleventh offspring. Though Hannah died when Theodore was only thirteen, she lived long enough to impart concepts and values that would become vitally important to her son in later years. In the following paragraph, from an autobiographical fragment written near the end of his life, Parker described his mother's religion, characteristics of which would all find their way into his own theology.