William Parker


William Parker (Perth Amboy, Middlesex, New Jersey, United States; July 18, 1807 - Colon, Panama; September 24, 1868) was an American engineer, recognized as one of the first builders of railroads in Boston and roads in Massachusetts.


William Parker was the son of Penelope Butler (1785-1823) and James Parker II (1776-1868), a prominent United States Congressman and member of the General Assembly of the State of New Jersey (1806-10, 1812-13, 1815 -16, 1818, 1827). His parents were married on January 5, 1803 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and together they had 9 children.

William Parker was the second son in birth order and one of his sons, Scollay Meade Parker (1839-1909), was a veteran in the American Civil War of 1861-1865. One of his brothers, James Parker III (1805-1861) was a prominent Cincinnati judge in Ohio and married Anna Forbes Foster (1808-1891), who in turn was the daughter of Captain Cleaveland Alexander Forbes (1780-1857) and Susanna Foster (1756-1816).

He married Lucy Cushing Whitwell (1811-1909) in 1836 in Boston and together they had 6 children: Scollay Meade Parker (1839-1909), Arthur Cortlandt Parker (1840-1863), Gertrude Parker (1842-1889), Lucy Whitwell Parker (1845-1940), Francis Greenwood Parker (1848-1880) and Euphemia Morris Parker (1852- 1936).


William Parker was associated with the construction of the Boston & Worcester Railroad, one of the first railroads to enter Boston in 1830, and was later involved in the construction and management of many highways in Massachusetts and the East Coast.

At the age of 15 he was sent to Captain Alden Partridge's Military Academy (1785-1854) in Norwich, Vermont, where he studied Civil Engineering and Surveying. After a few years, he went to work in Pennsylvania.

While working on a railroad near Germantown, he met a young Boston civil engineer, William Scollay Whitwell (1809-1899), only two years younger than Parker (and who in 1836 would become his brother-in-law). "They soon became close friends," his widow told his sons, "and when Boston & Worcester R.R. were to be built, his uncle secured him the appointment of First Aide, under Colonel Fessenden."

The two engineers continued a close partnership and were hired in 1835 to study a route for the East Florida Railroad.

In 1860, Parker was hired as superintendent of the Panama Railroad at Aspinwall (now Colon), the Caribbean terminus of the line. The railway was completed in 1855 at great cost to speed up travelers seeking their fortune in the gold fields.


William Parker died in 1868 at the age of 61 in Colon, Panama. According to newspaper reports, Parker was "assassinated" on September 24, 1868, by an engineer working for him, who feared that Parker was impeding his advancement in the company.

Parker was buried, with all honors, in the Foreign Cemetery of Panama.


  • The Diary of Lucy C. Whitwell Parker. October 1890.