A snapshot biography of Ely Parker

Ely Parker

Ha-sa-no-an-da, or Ely Parker as he would be known, learned to bridge worlds from a young age. Born into a Seneca Nation family in 1828 and raised in the tribe, his parents chose the Baptist Mission School for Ely’s education. There he learned English and engaged with people outside of the Native American community of home.

This perspective and learning led Ely to take on important roles within his tribe. The elders selected him to become a translator, interpreter, and scribe for meetings with government leaders. Ely was just fourteen years old at the time.

For a profession, he chose engineering, studying the discipline at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Amongst the many projects he would work on, Ely helped with improvements and maintenance of the Erie Canal and was sent to Galena, Illinois, for government projects there. In Galena, Ely met and befriended Ulysses Grant.

The friendship with Ulysses also blossomed into several working relationships. During the U.S. Civil War, Ely attempted to join the Union Army as an engineer but was rejected for being a Native American. Ely reached out to Ulysses, who helped Ely enlist.

Starting as a captain, Ely would rise to the rank of lieutenant colonel. And as the war came to an end and the surrender terms for the South needed to be drawn up, it was Ely who helped write the documents.

In later years, Ulysses Grant, now President of the U.S., appointed Ely as the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, the first Native American to hold this title.

Ely faced much adversity throughout his life. He preserved through each obstacle, taking any defeats as opportunities for learning and growth. And through it all, he never wanted to talk about his accomplishments.

“A snapshot biography of Ely Parker” sources: Mathew Brady Photographs of Civil War Personalities and Scenes, National Archives / Wikimedia Commons / https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ely_S._Parker