John Parrish (1729-1807) was a Quaker missionary who, at the time he wrote these journals, was involved in several negotiations between the United States government and the Six Nations of the Iroquois, who lived in the territories east of the Mississippi River. Because he has been poorly documented as a historical figure, very little information exists on his personal life. In his adult years, he lived with his wife and daughter in Philadelphia, although as a young man he resided in Maryland. It is also known that he suffered from a stroke in 1807 while in Philadelphia, and is thought to have died as a result. Even in his journals, Parrish writes little about personal matters, chronicling instead his travels, his observations of Native Americans, his missionary work, the issue of slavery, and the treaties in which he was involved.
The events about which Parrish writes provide tremendous insight into the political strife characteristic of the time. Following the 1783 Treaty of Paris, which ended the American Revolutionary War (1775-1783), the newly established United States government was interested in utilizing the influence of Quakers to create peaceful relations with Native Americans, whose territories were gradually being usurped. Many tribes retaliated, and the U.S. Congress was compelled to appoint commissioners to end these hostilities. Colonel Timothy Pickering (1745-1829), one of the commissioners with whom Parrish worked closely, was appointed to assuage conflicts over land in the Ohio Valley, particularly to quell Native American hostilities and to reassure them of the government’s peaceful intentions. After several attempts to form treaties, for which Parrish was present, Pickering was finally successful in negotiating the Treaty of Canandaigua in 1794.
Parrish, like many Quakers, was on friendly terms with the tribes he documents in his journals. Indeed, he was given the name “Bland and Pleasant” or “Level” by the Seneca. As one of many representatives of Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson, Parrish traveled on horseback through the territories of Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, and Michigan, sometimes accompanied by a native guide or by other commissioners. He was not only interested in promoting peace for the sake of the U.S. government, but also in creating a more hospitable atmosphere for these tribes. The grievances and injustices the Native Americans suffered at the hands of U.S. government was a great concern for Parrish. He writes in his 1791 journal, “How happens it that the Indians who ran the greatest losses by the war in attempting to support the British Government has not their losses repaired as well as the white people.”
In addition to the issue of Native American relations and grievances, Parrish also discusses the problem of slavery in his journals, especially the mutual enslavement of white people and Native Americans, one of many tactics employed by both groups during this period of hostilities. Parrish also laments the situation of African slaves, which he discusses mostly in the second of his 1793 journals as well as in passing in his other journals. The issue proved to be of great importance to him, and indeed he wrote a book published in 1806 entitled Remarks on the Slavery of the Black People. Thus, as a missionary and early abolitionist, Parrish can be considered an exemplary historical figure whose writings provide a plethora of information worthy of further study.