James W. Parker, the first of the Parker family to come to Texas, son of John and Sarah (White) Parker, was born in northeast Georgia, probably in Franklin or Elbert County, on July 4, 1797. He moved with his family to Dickson County, Tennessee, in the summer of 1803, and to the Territory of Illinois in 1815, where he married Martha (Patsy) Duty on July 14, 1816. In 1830 he and his family moved to Conway County, Arkansas, from whence he made several exploratory trips into Texas. In 1832 he proposed to Stephen F. Austin that he be permitted to settle fifty families "in the new colony above the mouth of the Little Brazos River." Austin did not reply to his offer. In 1833 James, along with his brother, Silas M. Parker, and their families, returned to Texas. James registered at Tenoxtitlán on January 29, 1834, for admission to Robertson's colony and registered on May 22, 1834, for admission to the Austin and Williams colony. He was granted a league of land north of site of present Groesbeck on April 1, 1835. Parker claims to have been one of the party that found Josiah P. Wilbarger in 1833, after he had been scalped and left for dead. James and Silas founded Fort Parker in the spring of 1835 and were joined in the fall by their father, John Parker, and brother, Benjamin. In February 1835 James Parker and Sterling C. Robertson met with hostile Indian chiefs to sign a treaty of friendship. Parker was one of six representatives from Viesca elected to the Consultation to meet in San Felipe, and his name appears on November 7, 1835, on the Declaration of the People of Texas in General Convention Assembled.
Parker left the Consultation early, as he was concerned about the Indian activity around Fort Parker, and enrolled as a ranger on November 17, 1835. He was working in his field, a mile from Fort Parker on May 19, 1836, when the fort was attacked by Indians. He arrived in the midst of the attack and hid seventeen of the fort's inhabitants; he later led them for six days through the underbrush, south to Tinnin's settlement, near the crossing of the Navasota River and the Old San Antonio Road. His father and his brothers Silas and Benjamin were killed; five family members were captured. After insuring the safety of his family, he began efforts for the return of captives taken at Fort Parker: his daughter, Rachel Parker Plummer; his grandson, James Pratt Plummer; his niece, Cynthia Ann Parker; his nephew, John Parker; and his sister-in-law, Elizabeth (Duty) Kellogg. James's initial efforts at raising a company of men for pursuit was foiled by the threat of the return of the Mexican army. He returned to Fort Parker in June to bury the dead; in July he met with Sam Houston in San Augustine to secure his help in the return of the prisoners. Parker disagreed with Houston's remedy-a treaty with the Indians. In August 1836 James again approached Houston, now in Nacogdoches, to persuade him to order an expedition against the Comanches. Houston again refused. While in Nacogdoches James was reunited with Mrs. Kellogg, who had been returned by Delaware Indians, who had purchased her. James returned her to his family in Walker County.
In June 1837 Parker wrote to President Houston for permission to raise 2,000 men to "act against the Indians." Houston commissioned Parker to raise 120 men to "flog those Indians." The force was disbanded by Houston in late July before it had departed. James's daughter Rachel was returned in February 1838 and died in February 1839 in Houston. On November 21, 1840, James petitioned the Texas House to raise a force against the prairie Indians. The petition was denied. Two boys, thought to be John Parker and James Pratt Plummer, were recovered from Fort Gibson in January 16, 1843, by James Parker. There is some doubt as to the identity of the child, John Parker. The Texas Congress, in 1845, passed a joint resolution for payment by Isaac Parker for redemption of John Parker from the Keechi Indians. In 1844 James published Narrative of the Perilous Adventures, Miraculous Escapes and Sufferings of Rev. James W. Parker (Morning Courier Office, Louisville, Kentucky, 1844), later republished (missing several pages) in 1926 by family members in Anderson County and entitled Rachel Plummer's Narrative. Both publications include an appended second edition of the Narrative plus a geographical description of Texas for settlers and include a description of James's efforts to return his family from captivity. Cynthia Ann Parker was recovered by Lawrence Sullivan (Sul) Ross in 1860. James Parker lived for a number of years in Walker County and later in Houston and Anderson counties. In May 1845 he joined the Pilgrim Baptist Church in Houston County. In 1852 he was elected justice of the peace for Houston County. After the death of his first wife on October 3, 1846, he married Lavina E. Chaffin on April 26, 1847. He died in 1864 in extreme northern Houston County and is buried in Pilgrim Cemetery in Anderson County, near Elkhart.