He was born in Bertie County in 1834, the son of John A. Robbins and a woman whose name is not known. Apparently Parker was a mulatto with Chowan Indian ancestors. Even though antebellum North Carolina law forbade the education of blacks, Parker was a literate man. He owned a 102-acre farm and supported himself as a successful carpenter and mechanic. Despite having his freedom and holding property, Robbins faced rigid social and legal restrictions as an African American. But events would soon present the opportunity for him to use his knowledge and talents in both war and peace.
Like many other North Carolina African American men, Parker D. Robbins enlisted in the Union army to help end slavery and win equal rights for his kinsmen. In 1863 he went to Norfolk, Virginia, and enlisted in the Second United States Colored Cavalry. Apparently a natural leader, Robbins reached the rank of sergeant major. Little else is known about his military career. Robbins was discharged from service in 1866 because of illness.
Following his discharge from the Second United States Colored Cavalry in 1866, Parker D. Robbins returned home to Bertie County. In 1868 he became one of fifteen African Americans elected to the constitutional convention to write a new state constitution. A year later, he was elected to serve in the state house of representatives for the 1869-1870 session. The 1870 census gave Robbins's occupation as farmer. During Reconstruction he served as postmaster for the town of Harrellsville, Hertford County, and obtained several agriculture-related patents. In 1877, with the end of Reconstruction, Robbins resigned as postmaster and moved to Duplin County, where he owned a sawmill and cotton gin. There he built and operated the steamboat Saint Peter on the Cape Fear River. He also used his building skills to construct homes in the community of Magnolia. He died on November 1, 1917, and was buried in Duplin County. Recently, individuals there have worked to bring state and national recognition to Robbins.