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In Boston, Massachusetts, Francis Parkman, eldest son of the Reverend Francis Parkman, was born September 16, 1823. The father, pastor of the New North Church in Boston, was a wise and genial humorist, with much scholarly knowledge, but very conservative in feelings and opinions. “He still survives in traditions of an abundant and exquisite humor," says Lowell, “provoked to wilder hazards and set in stronger relief (as in Sterne) by the decorum of his cloth.” The mother was an example of the best type of New England woman. With her, devotion to her husband and children was a sacred duty. Parkman derived more traits from his mother than from any other of his ancestors.
From eight to thirteen years of age Parkman lived on his grandfather's farm at Medford, just out of Boston, and attended Chauncy Hall School, where he was a serious student. In 1840 he entered Harvard College in the class of '44, and after graduation he attended the Law School. During his college course he devoted himself chiefly to the study of rhetoric and history, to the acquirement of a well-developed body through physical training, and to gaining a knowledge of America lying west of the Mississippi River. For the greater part of his four years at Harvard he roomed by himself—a condition which shows his reserved and studious nature.
During his college vacations he began explorations and accumulated experiences that were to fit him for his work as
a writer on American history. In 1841 he passed through the New England states and penetrated into Canada as far as the junction of the Magalloway and the Little Magalloway rivers; and in 1842 he made a second trip to the Magalloway, this time visiting places in New York State made memorable in the Revolutionary War. In 1843, on another trip to Canada for historical material, he visited Quebec, and returned to Boston by way of Lake Memphremagog and the Connecticut River. In 1844, with his rifle as his sole companion, he walked over the hills of western Massachusetts, to inform himself of the routes followed by the French and the Indians in their wars against that region.
Parkman now began to crystallize the impressions gathered during these four vacation trips into a definite work, The Conspiracy of Pontiac. In April, 1845, he went as far west as St. Louis, and spent the summer collecting material for this book. In 1846 came his most adventurous and important journey, the trip described in The Oregon Trail.
Finding his health in a wretched condition at the close of his Oregon Trail expedition, he spent the greater part of the two succeeding years (1847–48) in New York City and at West New Brighton, Staten Island, in the care of an oculist, and at Brattleboro, Vermont, to better his health in general. But illness and failing eyesight could not discourage him. In the autumn of 1846, like Milton composing Paradise Lost, he dictated The Oregon Trail and then took up Pontiac. He went back to Boston in 1849, having gained little good from the treatment of the “medical faculty.” There, with the help of his friend Charles Eliot Norton in revising proof, he was able to prepare The Oregon Trail for publication in book form.
In 1850 he was married to Miss Catherine Bigelow, a daughter of Dr. Jacob Bigelow. They settled in a small cottage at Milton Lower Falls, where with a small income he found some difficulty in meeting the expenses of a domestic establishment. Afterward he resided for a year or two in a