Ely (or Eli) Perkins was the eldest of three sons of Francis and Elizabeth (Peck) Perkins. He was born around 1762 in either Lyme CT or Nova Scotia, living in Horton NS as an infant as part of the contingent of New England Planters. Around 1789 he married Sarah DeWolf, daughter of Nathan and Anna (Prentice) DeWolf, another Planter family from Saybrook, CT. They had a least six children, possibly up to 13 with many dying young. Once again we can look at the book “The Descendants of Edward Perkins of New Haven, Conn” by Caroline Perkins, 1911 for a nice summary of the lives of Ely and Sarah:
“ELY, born in Lyme about ; married, 1788 or ’89, Sarah, youngest daughter of Nathan and (Prentice) DeWolfe of Horton, Nova Scotia, who was born about 1773. He was a large man and a farmer by occupation. His father settled him on part of his farm, which Ely afterwards sold and he removed to Aylesford, Nova Scotia. Being very easy-going in business matters, he managed to let most of his property slip through his fingers. He died suddenly of apoplexy Jan. 10, 1825, and is buried in the Randal burying ground in Aylesford. His widow married for her second husband Joel Farnsworth, and after his death she lived in Clarence, Annapolis County, N. S., for many years. Her death was on Christmas day, 1865, when she was nearly 93.”
An oral history also survives from Cyrus A Varnum who visited Canada in 1895, where he wrote the following in his diary:
“Eli and Sarah Perkins had 13 Children. Raised five: Mary Ilsly (Sophia Jay’s Mother); Lucilla Coggswell – still living at a great age in Kentville, Nova Scotia; Betsy Clark; Cyrus a teacher, who married and had issue; and William F., our grandfather. Sarah was an educated lady, some relation to Gov. at Halifax (probably his chambermaid’s daughter) and never worked much – but was a great mother. Eli Perkins has 2 bros., one a physician, the other a Church of England Minister said to have been Court Preacher to one of the Georges.”
As we look to verify these accounts, a couple of intriguing mysteries emerge. Did Ely really “let most of his property slip through his fingers”? Was Sarah Dewolf somehow related to the Governor of Halifax? Let us see what the evidence shows.
Ely and Sarah started in Horton NS. Their farm is described in “The History of Kings County Nova Scotia Heart of the Acadian Land” by Arthur Wentworth Easton, 1910
“In the first two decades of the 19th century the following were the chief houses in and near the present town [Kentville]. On the “[George] Roy farm”, between Kentville and New Minas, which was originally the grant of Eli Perkins, stood the Perkins grantee house. Half a mile to the west, on the high road, stood the Benjamin Peck House, afterward enlarged and completely rebuilt, by Capt. Joseph Barss, who married Olivia, daughter of Judge Elisha DeWolf. A few rods further west still, on a knoll from, which a charming view of the dykes could be had, stood the grantee house of Benjamin Peck’s younger brother, Cyrus Peck.”
Since we know that the Benjamin Peck donated land for the Oak Grove Cemetery, then Ely and Sarah lived about 1/2 mile east of the cemetery. The Kings County index of land records becomes useful here. Not only does it describe the location of various properties, but it shows the land transactions that occurred. Around 1809 Francis gifted three lots totaling 110 acres to his son Ely. Then around 1816 Ely acquired property in Aylesford as the heirs of Darius Brown quit claims (called a “Q.C.D.” for quit claim deed) for their land. Ely sold his land in Horton this same year, presumably to move to Aylesford. In 1821, Ely and Sarah Perkins passed property to their oldest living son William Francis Perkins. None of these transactions stands out to show bad business acumen, although one wonders if Ely found the land in Aylesford less suitable for farming compared to the fertile dykeland in Horton. Also, Ely & Sarah borrowed money in 1819 with a stated maturation in three payments by 1828. The impact of this loan of remains unclear. Yet, maybe Caroline Perkins’ account over-criticizes Ely, because father Francis and son William sell more of their land than Ely.
Perkins Land Transactions in Kings County
|1809||Francis Perkins||Ely Perkins||H6-14||New Minas||deed|
|1811||Francis Perkins||Ebenezer Fitch||H6-165||Horton||deed|
|1816||heirs of Darius Brown||Eli Perkins||H7-43||Aylesford||Q.C.D.|
|1816||Ely & Francis Perkins||Henry Magee||H6-529||Horton||deed|
|1817||Francis Perkins et ux||Dr Isaac Webster||H7-135||Horton||deed|
|1819||Ely & Sarah Perkins||Kings County Loan Officers||H7-459||Aylesford||mortgage|
|1820||Francis Perkins||Rev Cyrus Perkins||H7-494||Horton||deed|
|1821||Ely Perkins et ux||William Perkins||A1-73||Aylesford||deed|
|1823||William Perkins||Stephen B DeWolfe||A1-72||Aylesford||deed|
|1824||William F Perkins et ux||James Illsley||A1-137||Aylesford||deed|
Their residence in Aylesford was brief since Francis died in 1821 and Ely in 1825. Both father and son are reported to be buried in Randall Burying Ground. This cemetery barely survives today, described as “3 vandalized gravestones with depressions suggesting 15-20 additional graves”. No Perkins headstones survive.
Sarah then remarried Joel Farnsworth, of Clarence N.S. who died in 1843. Sarah apparently went to live with her daughter, Lucilla (Perkins) Cogswell, since she is buried at the same Billtown Baptist church cemetery. Her gravestone inscription reads, “Sarah, wife of Joel Farnsworth, died 25 Dec 1865, aged 92 yrs”. Notice that she chose a Baptist Church burial which suggests that she and Ely might have had leaning to the Baptist church as opposed to his brothers, described below, who sided with the Church of England.
The Family of Sarah (DeWolf) Perkins
The DeWolf name is another old famous Lyme name. They can be traced back to Balthazar DeWolf who arrived in the US around 1660. Sarah was the only surviving child of Nathan and Anna (Prentice) DeWolf, but she had many step brothers and sisters as both her parents had been widowed previously. Anna Prentice had married Samuel Witter, while Nathan DeWolf married Lydia Kirtland. All these individuals were born in New London County CT. It gets confusing because the Planters, as they shared a common set of values, tended to marry within their own community. No connection to the British Governor of Halifax or the Chambermaid could be establish.
However, the idea that Sarah may be related to a high government official may have some validity. Her father, Nathan, graduated from Yale College, class of 1743. Nathan traveled with his cousins, Simeon and Jehiel, to Horton in 1761. He had trained to be a lawyer and did much of the legal paperwork required in Horton including deeds, wills and serving as Justice of the Peace. He was also a successful farmer. According to Arthur Wentworth Eaton in “The History of Kings County, Nova Scotia” , his house was located “on the east side of the main post-road, opposite to the present (1887) Baptist church, at Wolfville.” His son, Elisha, who was Sarah’s half brother, carried on Nathan’s work, becoming sheriff, member of Parliament, postmaster and tax collector of Horton, whose name had morphed to “Mud Creek”. Eventually, the local townspeople objected to this unflattering characterization of their town, so in 1830 Mudville was renamed to Wolfville to honor the importance of the DeWolf name. Sarah, therefore, did come from a very educated family that participated in the local government.
The Brothers of Ely Perkins
Ely had two famous brothers. “The Descendants of Edward Perkins of New Haven, Conn” again gives very clear, concise biographies of their lives. The first brother, William Francis Perkins, became a doctor and eventually settled in another British colony, Jamaica.
“WILLIAM FRANCIS, born in Horton, N. S., about 1769, was educated at Kings College, Windsor, Nova Scotia, and in London, where he graduated as surgeon and physician; married an English lady, went to the Island of Jamaica, and settled at Falmouth. Having received an excellent education, he could adapt himself to any company. He was a fine-looking man, six feet, four inches, well built, and very neat in his appearance. His wife died in 1827, while he was on a visit to his relatives in Nova Scotia. The date of his death has not been learned. His sons were noted for their scholastic attainments, and it is believed they continued to reside at Jamaica.”
Continued research reveals additional facts. William Francis was trained as a physician in England. Then he served on a least four voyages transporting slaves from Africa to Jamaica to work the sugar fields. Four voyages was considered many as the job was quite dangerous. He eventually settled in Trelawny Jamaica as a doctor. He married Harriet Harcorne, a daughter of a military man, and their children were born in the local Anglican church. His sons remained in Jamaica, and descendants reside there to this day. The two daughters, much younger, returned to Canada to live with their uncle after their mother died. Some of the more notable descendants:
- Cyrus Francis Perkins, printer and author of “Busha’s Mistress”, a series of newspapers articles that describes slavery in Jamaica. Later it was compiled into a single book. A Busha is a Jamaican term for an overseer of a slave plantation. It was not uncommon that they fathered children through one or more black concubines. The book represents early fictional writings about these relationships.
- Lilly Perkins (1891 – 1991) – spinster, naturalist and academic. Butterfly “Miss Perkin’s Skipper”, Phocides (lincea) perkinsi, named after her
- Wilmont “Motty” Perkins (1931-2012) – well known Jamaican radio talk show personality
A few comments here about the Perkins family and slavery seem in order. Canadians are considered generally anti-slavery, and no other Perkins family member is known to have owned slaves. However, William F Perkins appears no better or worse than any other white inhabitant of Falmouth. You could argue that his ship position was to keep everyone healthy regardless of race, but his attitude to black and white on board was not known. He did own 2-3 slaves in Falmouth, probably as housekeepers. His children held titles like Penkeeper, Pewkeeper and Overseer, but the significance of these titles is not yet clear. Eventually, one finds the natural intermarriage of cultures within the community including white, black and, even, Chinese. Jamaican genealogy poses difficult unique challenges for research since records remain illusive. So there is much to learn about the Jamaican branch of the Perkins family.
The second brother, Cyrus Peck Perkins, joined the Church of England. This branch remained in Nova Scotia, settling in Annapolis Royal. Per Caroline Perkins:
“CYRUS PECK, born at Horton, N. S., about 1776. There were just seven years between the ages of the first and second son, and between the second and the third son. He was educated at Kings College, Windsor, Nova Scotia, and was ordained a clergyman of the Church of England by the first Bishop Ingles, and was appointed rector of St. Luke’s Parish in Annapolis County and chaplain to His Majesty’s forces at Annapolis Royal. He married, January 11, 1810, Phebe, youngest daughter of Henry Rutherford of Digby, Nova Scotia, formerly of New York, and a member of the firm of Nash & Rutherford, brokers to the British Army. Shortly after the death of his wife, which occurred about 18??, he removed to England, where a good parish was offered to and accepted by him at Brixham, Devon. He was drowned in Tor Bay while yachting, with two of his men whose bodies were recovered, while his own was not, although every effort was made to recover it and a reward of £500 offered.”
Henry Rutherford, Cyrus’s father-in-law, was a true loyalist who left NY at the beginning of the war which suggests strong Loyalist political and religious sentiment. So now one sees the religious fractures of the Perkins family from grandfather, Abraham, of Lyme CT, a deacon of the Congregational church, to Cyrus who became a Anglican minister to Ely Perkins whose wife was buried in the Baptist church. Here are a few notable descendants of Cyrus and Phebe Perkins
- Mary Ann Alicia Perkins, daughter of Cyrus, “was highly accomplished and when young was sent to France and Italy to complete her education. She mastered several languages, but her too close application to study affected her health and in consequence she died.” according to Caroline Perkins. In reality, documents have been uncovered that show the young woman committed for lunacy at Grove Place Asylum in Southampton England.
- Cyrus Alexander Perkins, grandson of Cyrus Peck Perkins, become a well know innkeeper. First he ran the Queen Hotel. Then the family purchased and operated Hillsdale house which still operates to this day. These establishments were considered high-end where the visiting dignitaries would sleep on their visits to Annapolis.
- Charlotte Isabel Perkins – great granddaughter of Cyrus and famous locally for writing pamphlets about life in Annapolis Royal, including “The Romance of Old Annapolis Royal”. Said to be a spinster. Or was she? Some additional research suggest that she may have been mother to James Perkins Sanford, who lived with Perkins family household.
Ely and Sarah Perkins offer important lessons today in the permanence of ones’ written past. Both were born over 250 years ago, and they lived in relative obscurity in rural Nova Scotia. Yet, fairly or not, their history endures and has judged Ely Perkins (“very easy-going in business matters, he managed to let most of his property slip through his fingers”) and Sarah DeWolf (“never worked much – but was a great mother”) as decent individuals, but a little spoiled and pampered for their own good.