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History: Adair County 'Son' Parker Hardin French

Author Joe Goodbody showcases the story of an Adair County “son” from the mid-nineteenth century: "KENTUCKY BARRACUDA: PARKER HARDIN FRENCH (1826-1878)"

"The Notorious Scoundrel & Delightful Rogue of Antebellum and Civil War America."

After his mother died when he was six, Parker Hardin French spent much of his young formative years in Adair County under the tutelage of his maternal uncle and namesake Parker Calhoun Hardin (1800-1876). Hardin was a prominent lawyer and politician of the period.

The book has been described as a quirky history and a pathologically intriguing profile off one of the most colorful characters of the 19th Century. It has also been compared to the Frank Abagnale story “Catch Me If You Can”. What intrigued Joe Goodbody? His great grandfather was swindled by the Barracuda.



Though an infamous rascal in his time, notably from 1850 to 1862, French has been relegated to a minor footnote in antebellum and Civil War history.

This biography reveals that the crafty, charismatic and charming Machiavellian contributed more to period history then previously documented. On October 9 the book was featured on the premier podcast Civil War Talk Radio hosted by Dr. Gerald Prokopowicz of East Carolina University.

It was also nominated for the annual literary award for non-fiction by the Library of Virginia Association.

Parker Hardin French infamously tormented political leaders, government officials, military officers, frontier toughs, foreign leaders, business tycoons and common citizens alike.

He also fascinated both newspaper editors and casual newspaper readers with his grand exploits, foreign intrigue, subversive activities, frauds and scams. And some of his capers were downright funny.

After his mother died when he was six, Parker Hardin French spent much of his young formative years in Adair County under the tutelage of his maternal uncle and namesake Parker Calhoun Hardin (1800-1876). Hardin was a prominent lawyer and politician of the period.

As an early teen, French ran away, joined the British Navy as a cabin boy/powder monkey and fought in the 1st Opium War in China. When he returned as a “prodigal son” and mature beyond his years, Uncle Parker Hardin continued to foster his development, education, and lifelong connections.

After leaving Adair County, and belying his solid upbringing, French engaged in a mostly disreputable career of fraudulent exploits, transcontinental (mis)adventures, illegal or quasi-legal foreign intrigue, and minor scams. In the era of steam, sail and horse, the rapidity of movement and breadth of his adventures is almost mind-numbing.

When he was just 22 years old, he was a commission merchant in St Louis. A year later he built the first ocean going ship on the upper Mississippi. He then absconded leaving investors and partners in the lurch with a loss of over $90,000 (about $3M today).

Before he was 30, he was an infamous and fraudulent gold rush expedition leader; implicated in an irregular invasion of Cuba; jailed bandit and then paramilitary hero in Mexico; lawyer, district attorney, legislator, journalist, and political enforcer in California; part of an American cabal which governed Nicaragua; and, appointed but rejected Nicaraguan ambassador to the United States.

He didn’t slow down in his 30s: he was a real estate developer; lawyer; journalist; and part of a conspiracy to invade Mexico. His last national notoriety was his arrest as a suspected seditionist agitator and Confederate agent.

He was jailed as a political prisoner in Fort Warren, Boston Harbor. After being released subject to a loyalty oath, remarkably and perhaps bizarrely he was allowed to support the Union Army as both a lawyer and purveyor of supplies. The rest of his life he spent in relative obscurity while still engaging in escapades and scams that garnered regional, and occasionally national, notice.

French frequently and proudly declared that he was from Adair County.

The book is available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and independent book stores.


This story was posted on 2019-10-19 06:50:52
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