Francis Parkman

Historical Biographies

Francis Parkman

Francis Parkman at age 20. Published in Arnoldia 33(3), May/June 1973.

Francis Parkman (1823-1893)

Francis Parkman was born in Boston, Massachusetts to Reverend Francis Parkman Sr. (1788-1852), and Caroline (Hall) Parkman. A scion of a wealthy Boston family, Parkman had enough money to pursue his research without much worry about finances. His financial stability was enhanced by his modest lifestyle, and later, by the royalties from his book sales. He was thus able to commit much of his time to research, as well as to travel. He traveled across North America, visiting most of the historical locations he wrote about, and made frequent trips to Europe seeking original documents for his research.

A neighbor of the Sargents, Parkman’s estate, called “Sunnyside,” was on the northwest shore of Jamaica Pond. A granite memorial featuring a formal bench with central shaft, from which emerges a forest Indian was erected by friends of Francis Parkman in 1906 at the approximate site.

Parkman has been hailed as one of America’s first great historians and a master of narrative history. However, he was also a horticulturalist, author of The Book of Roses (1866) and the first professor of horticulture in the United States. After a year as Professor of Horticulture at the Bussey Institute Francis Parkman – never healthy – resigned and very well may have suggested his young neighbor as not only his successor at the Bussey Institution, but a candidate for director at the newly created Arnold Arboretum.

Whitehill, Walter Muir. “Francis Parkman as Horticulturist.” Arnoldia 33(3), May/June 1973 [pdf].