September 1: Ely Samuel Parker (1895)

In 1869, President Ulysses Grant appointed Ely S. Parker as Commissioner of Indian Affairs, the first Native American to hold that post. Parker was a Seneca attorney, engineer and tribal diplomat. He was commissioned a lieutenant colonel during the Civil War and rose to the rank of brevet brigadier general. As an adjutant to General Grant, Parker wrote the Confederate surrender terms that were signed by Robert E. Lee at Appomattox. Ely Samuel Parker was his Anglicized name, but his real name was Ha-sa-no-an-da. As a youth on the Tonawanda reservation in western New York, he quickly learned that the owner of an Indian name was not taken seriously in the world of white men. For almost half a century, Parker battled racial prejudice.

As a youth, he entered a missionary school to improve his poor English. After graduation, he felt he could do the most good for his people by becoming a lawyer. After studying for three years, he was denied admission to the bar because of the color of his skin. Parker began his career in public service by working as an interpreter and diplomat to the Seneca chiefs in their negotiations about land and treaty rights. Parker studied engineering and found employment working on the Erie Canal. The U.S. government then sought him out to supervise construction of levees and buildings. In 1860 his duties took him to Galena, Illinois where he met and made friends with a clerk in a harness store, a former Army captain named Ulysses S. Grant. On December 23, 1867, Ely S. Parker married Minnie O. Sackett at the Church of the Epiphany. His old friend, U.S. Grant, gave the bride away and served as Parker’s best man.

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