Born enslaved in Virginia, Parker was sold away from his mother at age eight and forced to walk in a line of chained slaves from Virginia to Alabama. After several unsuccessful attempts, he finally bought his freedom with the money he earned doing extra work as a skilled craftsman.
Parker moved to Cincinnati and then to Ripley, where he became one of the most daring slave rescuers of the period. Not content to wait for runaways to make their way to the Ohio side of the river, Parker actually "invaded" Kentucky farms at night and brought over to Ripley hundreds of slaves. He kept records of those he had guided towards freedom, but he destroyed the notes in 1850 after realizing how the Fugitive Slave Law threatened his home, his business and his family's future.