Parkman, Francis,1823–93, American historian, b. Boston. In 1846, Parkman started a journey along the Oregon Trail to improve his health and study the Native Americans. On his return to Boston he collapsed physically and moved to Brattleboro, Vt. There Parkman dictated to his cousin The Oregon Trail, published in book form as The California and Oregon Trail (1849); the shorter title was resumed in later editions. Despite ill health, he labored on his History of the Conspiracy of Pontiac (1851) and wrote an unsuccessful novel, Vassall Morton (1856). Following a trip to Paris in 1858 to seek medical aid, he was for several years unable to continue his historical researches. He took up the study of horticulture and became an expert in the field. In 1866, The Book of Roses was published, and from 1871 to 1872 he was professor of horticulture at Harvard. He eventually resumed his studies of the history of Canada and the early Northwest, publishing Pioneers of France in the New World (1865), The Discovery of the Great West (1869; 11th and later editions pub. as La Salle and the Discovery of the Great West), The Old Régime in Canada (1874), Count Frontenac and New France under Louis XIV (1877), Montcalm and Wolfe (1884), and A Half-Century of Conflict (1892). Parkman served for a time as overseer of Harvard and later as a fellow of the Harvard Corp. (1875–88). He was a founder of the Archaeological Institute of America (1879) and was president of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society (1875–78). Parkman's superior literary gifts, combined with his careful historical research, gained him wide contemporary prominence. His work showed both anti-Catholic and antidemocratic prejudices, but it usually managed to combine accuracy and vigor of expression. There are several editions of Parkman's complete works. His journals were edited by Mason Wade (1947) and his letters by Wilbur R. Jacobs (1960).
See biographies and studies by C. H. Farnham (1901, repr. 1969), H. O. Sedgwick (1904), M. Wade (1942), O. A. Pease (1953, repr. 1968), and R. L. Gale (1974).
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Parkman, Francis(1823–93) historian; born in Boston, Mass. Son of a wealthy old Massachusetts family, he graduated from Harvard College (1844) and Law School (1846), but he never intended to practice law. Always one who pursued outdoors experiences, he immediately headed West and set out on the Oregon Trail (1846), getting to know various American Indians and frontier types. His health suffered during the trip and on his return that October it worsened. He published a series of articles in the Knickerbocker Magazine (1847) that came out in a single volume, The California and Oregon Trail (1849), now regarded as an American classic (as simply The Oregon Trail). He then began what would be his life's work: the eight-volume France and England in North America: the first volume was History of the Conspiracy of Pontiac (1848), the last was A Half-Century of Conflict (1892). During many of those years he suffered from poor eyesight and a nervous disability that made it difficult to work on anything for long. During some of those periods, he developed his interest in horticulture, published his Book of Roses (1866), and even taught horticulture at Harvard in 1871. He also wrote a novel, Vassal Morton (1856). His mastery of massive quantities of materials, the polish and resonance of his prose, and his insights into nature, history, and people, all combined to create his enduring reputation as one of the greatest of American historians.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.