Elizabeth Otterson and Thomas Parker 
  Sunderland, Durham, England - Indiana and Kentucky, USA 

Elizabeth was the first daughter of 11 children to be born to Nicholas Otterson and Jane Middlemas between 1813 and 1836. We know nothing of her early life other than the fact that she moved with the large family from Sunderland to Jarrow as her father followed the most promising work opportunities in the coal mines of northeastern England or at sea.

Index and Links to Otterson families on this site

For reasons of privacy, only deceased persons are featured on this site in any detail.

Thomas Otterson and Ann Spraggon - 1720s - 1780s
Nicholas Otterson and Jane Middlemas - 1783-1870
Elizabeth Otterson and Thomas Parker - 1817-1855
Elizabeth Otterson and George Blake - 1855-1898 Nicholas Otterson and Hannah Calvert - 1826-1880
John Otterson and Isabella Kane - 1828-1904
John Otterson and Jane Storey - 1845-1919
Robert Otterson and Lizzie Abernethy - 1881-1970
James Otterson and Jessie Abernethy - 1884-1960
Mary Otterson and William Smith - 1907-
Thomas Otterson and Cecilia Allen - 1909-1995
Robert Otterson and Doris Dix - 1911-1977
Doris Otterson - 1913-1999
William Otterson and Doris Hill - 1916-1993
Michael Otterson and Catherine Berry - 1948-otterson_thomas_and_ann_1728.htmlotterson_nicholas_and_jane_1783.htmlotterson_elizabeth_and_george_blake_from_1855.htmlotterson__nicholas_and_hannah_1825.htmlotterson__john_and_isabella_1828.htmlotterson__john_and_jane_1845.htmlotterson_robert_and_abernethy_lizzie.htmlotterson_robert_and_james_army_1.htmlotterson_robert_and_doris_1911_p1.htmlotterson_michael_catherine_index.htmlshapeimage_4_link_0shapeimage_4_link_1shapeimage_4_link_2shapeimage_4_link_3shapeimage_4_link_4shapeimage_4_link_5shapeimage_4_link_6shapeimage_4_link_7shapeimage_4_link_8shapeimage_4_link_9shapeimage_4_link_10
Children of
Thomas Parker and Elizabeth Otterson
Thomas Parker - Born 1813 Sunderland, Durham
Elizabeth Jane Parker - Born 1815 Sunderland, Durham
Parents of
Thomas Parker
Father: James Parker 
Mother: Unknown
Elizabeth Otterson
Father: Nicholas Otterson
Mother: Jane Middlemas
Thomas Parker: 
Born 1813 Sunderland, Durham, England
Elizabeth Otterson: 
Born 1817 Sunderland, Durham, England

The Otterson Families of Northeast England and related lines                                  To share information or comment on this site, contact the webmaster: Michael Otterson

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Elizabeth Otterson’s life story steps right out of the pages of history. It is impossible to reflect on her 81 years and not be struck by the courage and tenacity that took her from an English coal mining town to the unpredictable and precarious life of a pioneer farmer in the United States. The North American Continent in the 1840s looked very unlike the United States today. The country was opening up, and its vastness presented opportunities for the adventurous and brave-hearted. Elizabeth’s story, along with those of the two husbands she lost and the two children she bore, are the quintessential stories of English immigrants of the mid-19th century.

When England’s first name-by-name census was taken in 1841, Thomas and Elizabeth were still childless. Possibly they had one or two children who died in infancy before then. The infant mortality rate was high, and children born in industrial towns had only about a 50% chance of reaching marriageable age. But in October of 1842, Elizabeth bore a son whom they named Thomas after his father.

It is likely that Elizabeth and Thomas knew from the start they would not stay in England. Even though the industrialization of Britain was gradually raising living standards, the rigid class system and low wages of the times made it almost impossible to break out of the economic straightjacket into which one was born. Elizabeth must have realized that her own new son’s likely future would play out in much the same way as that of her younger brother, John. He was just 15 years old at this time, and had already been working long hours underground in the mines since the age of 8.

When they had accumulated enough to pay the passage to America, Thomas Sr. left. We do not know exactly when - he has not been found on the scanty shipping records of the time - but he located a place to live in Indiana, and his wife and three-year-old son joined him there in 1845.







Elizabeth was married at Heworth Parish Church on 2 September, 1837 - a Saturday. It was one of the first marriages to be registered in England under the new civil registration laws which made registering a birth, marriage or death compulsory. Her husband was Thomas Parker, who worked as a brakeman at the local coal pit - a miner like her father and his, and like so many others in Jarrow, Hebburn, Heworth and surrounding towns and villages.

Above: Hebburn Colliery, close to where the Parkers lived in 1841. Thomas was a brakeman on wagons like these.

Right: The United States at the time Thomas arrived some time between 1841 and 1845.

Indiana in the 1840s

Indiana Territory, so named because of the early trading of land from the Indians, had just 6,650 people in 1800.  By 1809 a congressional act gave it roughly its present boundaries and it became a state in 1816. Issues of land speculation, the intractable issue of slavery, the hard-scrabble life that attempted to establish agriculture with no readily accessible markets, and additional treaties with Indian tribes all marked the period between 1800 and 1840. At times, land was selling for between $1.50 and $2 an acre.

There was little industry at that time. Farms were primitive and required hard labor in turning wilderness into productive fields. But from about 1840 things began to change rapidly.  The development of the Wabash and Erie Canal was

Above: US Federal Census of 1850 for District No. 1 of Breckinridge County, Kentucky, shows family of Thomas and Elizabeth Parker, ages 39 and 33, with children Thomas, 8, and Elizabeth, 6. Young Elizabeth’s age here is in question and conflicts with other evidence that she was about three years old. All were shown as born in England, except daughter Elizabeth who was born in Indiana (abbreviated “Ia” on the census). Thomas describes his occupation as “engineer.” The family owned no real estate.

opening up the state. Immigrants began to arrive in larger numbers, land values increased, agriculture found its markets and improved farm machinery began to appear. Soon huge quantities of wheat, flour and corn were being shipped to distant towns in the east, and returning boats brought imports of manufactured goods of all kinds. This was the Indiana that Elizabeth Otterson Parker and her three-year-old son found when they joined their husband and father in 1845.

In June of 1847, a sister to 5-year-old Thomas was born. The Parkers conformed to convention by naming her after her mother (Elizabeth) and her grandmother (Jane), though she would be known in life as Jane or Jannie. Some time between her birth and the summer of 1850, the Parkers moved south across the Ohio River to northern Kentucky, where they set up in Breckinridge County. In the 1850 census, Thomas describes himself as an engineer, so it was unlikely he had taken to farming. Later documentary evidence indicates that in 1852, son Thomas was driving mules pulling coal cars in the Kentucky mines at the age of 10. In fact, familiar work in the Kentucky coal mines may have been a reason for the family’s move from Indiana.

Then, some time still to be discovered between 1850 and 1855, Thomas, Elizabeth’s husband, died, and she was left a widow in her thirties with two children to raise. Elizabeth’s life was about to change again.



For details of the family tree of Thomas Parker and Elizabeth Otterson, click on the WorldConnect icon below. This will open a window for these individuals in the Otterson-Berry family tree at RootsWeb.com, a free site.