Minnie Orton Sackett

Minnie Orton Sackett

In 1867, Minnie Orton Sackett was a "friendly" and "vivacious" 18-year-old, said to be one of Washington D.C.'s more beautiful belles. She and her mother Anna were prominent members of that city's social whirl, and it is most likely that Minnie met Ely Parker at one of many soirees held at the Sackett house.

Not much is known of Minnie's early years. Her biological parents were Sarah A. Penton, and a Thomas H. Orton, who at some time took a second wife, Anna Sessilberg. After Orton's death, Anna married William Sackett, a Brevet Brigadier General of the Ninth New York Cavalry. In 1864, Sackett was wounded in a Civil War battle in Virginia, and Anna journeyed to General Grant's City Point headquarters, hoping someone there had information about his whereabouts and well being. Mrs. Sackett's request to enter Confederate lines was denied. She returned home and later learned her husband had indeed perished.

Minnie Orton Sackett Parker
Minnie Orton Sackett Parker

Ely Parker once said Minnie Sackett was the love of his life. Their marriage lasted from 1867 to Parker's death in 1895, and was said to be one of mutual happiness. The couple had one child, Maud Theresa, who was born in 1878 when Minnie was 28 and Ely was 50.

Ely Parker's death in 1895 left his wife with few financial resources. As a war veteran's widow, Minnie was eligible to receive only $8.00 a month from a pension fund, so she sold most of Ely's belongings: his personal papers, his library, and even his silver Red Jacket medal (now in the archives of the Buffalo Erie County Historical Society). Salvation of sorts came from the Loyal Legion whose members paid $2,000.00 for Ely's copy of the Appomattox surrender terms, and later Congress stepped in with special action, increasing Minnie's pension payment to $30.00 a month.

In 1897, Mrs. Parker's situation improved dramatically when she agreed to marry James Tallmadge Van Rensselaer. The engagement "caused no end of a flutter of surprise in society," according to a reporter from the New York Press. "No one suspected that the 'confirmed old bachelor' would at last decide to take unto himself a wife. But such is the case, and Mr. Van Rensselaer looks beaming and happy." Unfortunately, two years after that announcement Minnie was again a widow; this time, she was left with considerable financial resources. After her daughter Maud Parker married and moved to Wayland, Massachusetts, Minnie followed, moving in with the newlyweds. Although she often took trips to visit friends in New York and Boston, Minnie was said to be equally at home attending Wayland's sedate tea parties. She died in 1932, at age 82.