John & Judith Perkins to America

The story of John and Judith (Gater) Perkins has been reported frequently over the years. John Perkins was born in Hillmorton, Warwickshire, UK in 1583 to Henry and Elizabeth (Sawbridge) Perkins. In 1608 he married Judith Gater, daughter to Michael and Isabel (Bailey) Gater.  There is very little published information about the Gater family, either her parents or their nine children. Five of the children died young. The remaining children remained in England. The following chronology shows what happened

Chronology of John and Judith Perkins
Date (DDMMYYY)Event
8 Oct 1608Marriage of John Perkins and Judith Gater
June 1629Reverends Higginson, Skelton & Bright arrived in Salem MA with 200
May 1630Winthrop arrives to America with 700
Feb 1631Perkins family arrives on ship Lyons
18 May 1631John takes oath of Freeman
2 April 1632Per Court of Assistants “It was ordered that no person whatsoever shall shoot at fowl upon Pullen Point or Noddles Iseland, but that the said places shall be reserved for John Perkins to take fowl with nets”
3 Jun 1632Birth of youngest child Lydia
7 Nov 1632Committee to set the bounds of Roxbury and Dorchester
1 Apr 1633On list of men authorized by to the court to begin the settlement of Ipswich
1634-1639In 1634 he was given 40 acres and in 1635, 3 acres of upland and 10 acres of meadow lying toward the head of Chebacco creek, also a little island of about 50 acres called More’s point on the south side of the town river. 1635 he had 10 acres on part whereof he hath built a house and 6 acres of meadow and 6 acres of upland adjoining the house lot. In 1636 he was granted 40 acres at Chebacco which he sold to Thomas Howlett in 1637, and in 1639 planting ground of 6 acres on the south side of the river.
25 May 1636Deputy to General Court for Ipswich
1641 – 1652On Essex Grand Jury: 28 Dec 1641, 26 Sep 1648, 28 Sep 1652
26 Mar 1650Being above sixty years old, is freed from ordinary training
28 Mar 1654Will of John Perkins is proved

John and Judith Perkins on board the ship “Lyon”
By the year 1624 John and Judith Perkins were living in Hillmorton with five children: John, Elizabeth, Mary, Thomas and Jacob. It is not known the exact political and religious pressure that prompted the family to emigrate to America. In his essay Dow Perkins makes a unique claim that John Perkins actually arrived at Massachusetts as part of an advanced team. There is a certain appeal to this idea. Francis Higginson, who was the gentleman preaching Puritianism only 12 miles from Hillmorton, headed the advance team. Also, it would explain how the Perkins family ended on a supply ship. If this account is true, it casts John Perkins in a very interesting light. He becomes a forebearer for the Puritan cause, willing to leave his wife and children to explore a new land. He also knew the dangers that Massachusetts presented before introducing his family to this new land.

Whatever the reasons, John Perkins boarded the ship Lyon on 1631 with his wife and their five children. The ship carried an assortment of other travelers, many of whom left their own mark on America. Two surviving written accounts form the basis of our knowledge of this trip. First comes from the famous dairy of John Winthrop. Second is a 1631 letter from Thomas Dudley back home to England.

From “The Journal of John Winthrop, 1630-1649”
Feb 5
The ship Lyon, with Mr. Wm. Pierce master, arrived at Nantasket.  She brought Mr. Williams (a godly minister) with his wife, Mr. Throgmorton, ___ Perkins,  ___ Ong, and others with their wives and children, about 20 passengers and about 200 tons of goods. She set sail from Bistow December 1. She had a very tempestuous passage, yet throu God’s mercy all her people came safe, except for ___ Waye, his son, who fell from the spritsail and could not be recovered though he kept in sight near 1/4 of an hour. Her goods also came in good condition.
Feb 10
The poorer sort of people (who lay long in tents, etc.) were much afflicted with the scurvy and may died, especially at Boston and Charlestown, but when the ship cam and brought store of juice of lemons many recovered speedily. It hath been always observed here that such fell into discontent and lingered after their former conditions in England fell into the scurvy and died.
Feb 18
Of those which went back in the ships this summer for fear of death and famine, etc., many died by the way and after they were landed, and others fell very sick and low, etc….The provisions which came to us this year came at excessive rates, in regard of the dearness of corn in England, so as every bushel of wheat meal stood us in 14s., pears (8)11s., etc.
Feb 22
We held a day of thanksgiving for this ship’s arrival by order from the Governor and Council directed to all the plantations

Letter from Deputy Governor Thomas Dudley to Lady Bridget, Countess of Lincoln, March , 1631
Upon the 5th of February, arrived here Master (William) Pierce with the ship Lyon of Bristol with supplies of victuals from England, who had set fourth from Bristol the first of December before. He had a stormy passage hither, and lost one of his sailors not far from our shore, who in a tempest having helped to take in the sprit sail, lost his hold as he was coming down and fell into the sea; where after long swimming he was drowned, to the great dolour (grief) of those in the ship, who beheld so lamentable a spectacle, without being able to minister help to him; the sea was so high and the ship drove so fast before the wind, though her sails were taken down….By this ship we also understood the death of many of those who went from us the last year to Old England, as likewise of the mortality there, whereby we see are graves in other places as well as with us. Also to increase the heap of our sorrows, we received advertisement by letters from our friends in England, and by the reports of those who came hither in this ship to abide with us, (who were about 26) that they who went discontentedly from us the last year, out of their evil affections towards us, have raised many false and scandalous reports against us, affirming us to be Brownists in religion, and ill affected to our state at home, and that these vile reports have won credit with some who formerly wished us well.

In other words, John, Judith and family arrived to a very difficult place with few provisions, disease and dispair. Scurvy was taking a toll on the inhabitants. People were leaving to go back to England. Terrible accounts of America circulated in England. However, the arrival of the Lyon marked a turning point for the Puritans. They were on the verge of declaring a fast. The arrival of the Lyon was considered somewhat a miracle.  The day of fast was turned into a day of Thanksgiving. It has even been suggested that Winthrop’s use of the word “thanksgiving” makes this occasion the basis for our current Thanksgiving holiday.

Best Estimate of those on board the Ship “Lyon”

PIERCEJohn (39)
Ship’s caption of high fame. Arrived in Plymouth ship “ANNE” in 1623 with last lot of Pilgrims. Arrived Plymouth in 1625 on ship “JACOB”. Arrived Apr 1929 on ship “MAYFLOWER” (not Pilgrim ship) with Higginson Fleet. Arrived 1631 on ship “LYON”. Sent back on “LYON” for provisions and returned on 1631 with Perkins family. Arrived again June 1632 on “LYON”. Took up his residence in Boston in 1632. Became a Town and Colony official and was engaged shipping thereafter. He compiled an Almanac for New England, a very early printed book. Killed by the Spaniards in 1641 off the island of Old Providence, Nicaragua while taking passengers for settlement.
John (47), Judith (42), John (22), Elizabeth (20), Mary (15), Thomas (9), Jacob (6)
The subject of this story
WILLIAMSRoger (27), Mary (21)
Proponent of separation of church and state. Founder of Rhode Island. Expelled from church in Salem in 1635 for radical views that civil officers could punish church offences. Established Providence on Narragansett Bay.
George (?) or John (30)
George admitted the church in 1632, then disappears, possibly returning to England. The more intriguing story is that the George is really John who shows up 5 years later. John is a good friend with Roger Williams in Salem, moved briefly to Providence, before setting in NY. The Throgs Neck Bridge is named after the land he settled.
ONGEFrances (47), Simon (12), Jacob (11), Isaac (3)
Data not very conclusive, but it’s a interesting story. Frances was a widow and shop owner in England who traveled with her three small children. She settled in Watertown. Never remarried. One wonders how she ended up on this supply ship.
PARKEWilliam (23)
His name is added later due. His father, Robert, was a personal friend of John Winthrop. William settled in Roxbury where he was an early member of its church and became a deacon.
___ WAYE“all her people came safe, except for ___ Waye, his son, who fell from the spritsail and was not recovered.” Possible son of Capt Pierce. More likely, son of Henry Way, who had arrived in Dorchester MA in 1630. Henry was a skipper and master mariner, so it logical that his son could climb the mast during the storm.

John and Judith Perkins in Boston
After his arrival, John and Judith joined the Boston church as members 107 and 108 where became a Freeman. Massachusetts, being a religious colony, required admission to the church (and being male) to participate in civic activities. Being Freeman gave John the right to vote, own land and serve on jury. No record has been found indicating where the Perkins family resided, although one interesting proclamation in 1632 suggests they lived around Boston harbor: “It was ordered that no person whatsoever shall shoot at fowl upon Pullen Point or Noddles Iseland, but that the said places shall be reserved for John Perkins to take fowl with nets”. Pullen Point later became Winthrop MA, while Noddle Island now sits under Logan airport.  Remember our Perkins forebearers the next time you fly to Boston.

The Puritan experience can be difficult to explain in a brief paragraph. Puritans, who disliked the current state of affairs in England, obtained a charter from their government for their Massachusetts Colony. They believed God had given them an opportunity to create this great example of a Utopian society (“A Model of Christian Charity” as described by Winthrop in his famous sermon). They did not focus on written rules, but focused on convenents between God and man where each church became a hub for a congregation of people, hence the formation of the Congregational Church. Political control became church/town focused. Enrollment in the church was not a birthright. One had to freely join, and you needed permission to leave the church or risk your reputation or losing property. Another convenent existed between the men of the community that promoted individual behaviors. You were expected to behave in a way that benefited your congregation. The perception that Puritan lived a life devoid of fun or humor was somewhat true. They famously refused to acknowledge Christmas, considering it a pagan rite. However, alcohol was OK in moderation, romance was encouraged, as long it was not extramarital. Stray outside the bounds, you would be publicly shamed. Misfortune manifested itself through the work of Satan which, in turn, created a fixation on witchcraft.  John Winthrop represented a perfect leader for this movement, conservative enough to banish Roger Williams to Rhode Island due to his radical teachings, but liberal enough to maintain a friendship with Roger Williams because he valued religious freedom.

John and Judith Perkins in Ipswich
Wherever their residence in Boston, the Perkins family time was short lived, because in 1634, the Perkins family helped settlement in Ipswich MA, or Agawam, as it was then known. John Winthrop Jr, a true renaissance man, led this group.  What follows is a little history of this fascinating man.

John Winthrop Jr worked through the spring and summer setting up the plantation. Unfortunately, his wife and young daughter died in the summer. Winthrop Jr lost interest in Ipswich and sailed to England. There he met Lords Say and Brooke who contracted John in 1635-36 to establish and govern a fort the the mouth of the Connecticut river, in an area later named Saybrook. At the end of his contract, John returned to Massachusetts and built an iron works at Braintree, which produced tools and utensils for the Colony. In 1640, John applied for and was granted Fishers Island and in 1644 he was authorized to start a plantation in the Pequot country. In 1645, John was in the area of Eastern Connecticut for the settlement to be called Nameaug first, then Pequot, and now known as New London. In 1646, John brought his family to Fishers Island. They wintered on the Island, and in the spring moved to Nameaug, where a house had been prepared for them. He spent the next few years in New London,  where, he received monoply powers for a grist mill he built. In 1651, John was elected an assistant to the Connecticut government, and in 1657, he was elected governor of Connecticut and ordered to Hartford. In 1661, John was sent to England to obtain a charter for Connecticut. This he did in 1663. In 1667 and again in 1670, John tried to resign his office as governor, and each time his request was denied. He continued in office until his death in 1676. Throughout all this time, John Winthrop Jr participated in a vibrant Puritan alchemy movement to develop salt making in Salem, the iron works process in Braintree and to practice medicine by concocting cures in New London.

 John Perkins was 51 at the time of his settlement in Ipswich. There he settled into life as a well regarded citizen in an area known as “Manning’s Neck”, located outside of the main village. Town records indicated he assumed the role of elder statesmen. He bought additional lands, he served on juries. As “lot-layer”, he and three others had responsibility for layout of property once the town issued a land grant – a task that required great finesse given the limited amount fertile land in the salt marches. Although a man of status, we have a description of his modest abode as “a two-room house, with a great chimney at each end, probably of wood, daubed with clay, with a loft over head floored so loosely that one could look up into it from below, and a thatch roof.” Two Perkins possession survives to this day: a cane that bears his initials and a bible.

Will of John Perkins, written 28 March 1654
“John Perkines the Elder of Ipswich being at this time sick and weak in body” bequeathed to “my eldest son John Perkines a foal…also…to my son John’s two sons John and Abraham to each of them one of my yearling heifers”; to “my son Thomas Perkines one cow and one heifer also…to his son John Perkines one ewe”; to my daughter Elizabeth Sargeant one cow and a heifer to be to her and here children after her decease”; to “my daughter Mary Bradley one cow and one heifer or a young steer…to her & to her children”; to “my daughter Lidia Bennitt one cow and one heifer or steer…to her children”; to “my grandchild Thomas Bradley one ewe”; to “my son Jacob Perkines my dwelling house together with all the outhousing and all my lands…according to a former covenant, after the decease of my wifte”; residue “to my dear wife Judith Perkines” sole executrix, “as also to dispose of some of the increase to children of my son Thomas and of my three daughters” at here direction.

The Inventory of his estate totalled £250 5s, including real estate valued at £132: “the dwelling house and the barn with outhousing,” £40 60s “land about the house about 80 acres “more land unbroke up about 14 acres,” £21; “a parcel of marsh about 6 acres,” £12; “a parcel of upland and marsh being much broken about twenty acres,” £20; “twelve acres of improved land,” £24.

John and Judith Perkins were at the forefront of the Puritan movement and spent time with its most important players.  They sailed with Roger Williams, were greeted by John Winthrop, and settled Ipswich with John Winthrop Jr, the leaders of Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Connecticut respectively. Yet they lead a humble existence in keeping with their Puritan ideals. They were “a model of Chrisitian Charity”.

John Winthrop, “The Journal of John Winthrop, 1630-1649: Abridged Edition”, Harvard University Press, 1996
“The Family of John Perkins of Ipswich, Massachusetts”, by Geo. A. Perkins, M.D., Salem, 1882
Connecticut Nutmegger, vol. 3, pgs. 427-9 by John Winthrop
“PERKINS: First of this name on American Shores 1631” by Dow W. Perkins
“New England, The Great Migration and The Great Migration Begins, 1620-1635”,, 2013. Original data: Anderson, Robert Charles. The Great Migration Begins: Immigrants to New England, 1620-1633, Volumes 1-3; The Great Migration: Immigrants to New England, 1634-1635, Volumes 1-6. Boston: New England Historical and Genealogical Society, 1996-2011.