Two weeks off work with my spouse unavailable to travel. What is a person to do? In my case, you arrange a genealogy research vacation. No better family to focus than the Perkins line. Interesting stories, that go back far in time, into exotic locales. Without further ado, here is how I spent 12 days of vacation on the study of this one name.
Before the Trip
Four books, described in the photos below, provide the necessary ground work for the trip. The landmark book, “The Family of John Perkins of Ipswich” by George A. Perkins tracks Generations 1 through 5. Caroline Perkins in “The Descendants of Edward Perkins” (ironically named because our Perkins family has nothing to do with Edward Perkins) picks up the trail with generation 6, Francis Perkins. “Busha’s Romance” uncovers invaluable Jamaica facts, while “The History of Kings County” by Arthur W. H. Eaton provides Nova Scotia insights. Links are provided to the relevant passages of the old books that are off copyright.
Day 1: Landed in Boston Logan Airport
Landed at Logan airport, an appropriate place to start because John and Judith Perkins likely settled nearby after arriving from Hillmorton, England. One of the earlier references to John Perkins states: “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”. Both Pullen Point and Noddles Island (underlined in red on the 1775 map) are located next to the airport.
Day 2: Perkins Island, Ipswich Museum, Alexander Knight House, John Perkins Cane and Bible
A quick early morning drive down Perkins Row leads to the Ipswich Sanctuary where a canoe can be rented for the 45 minute trip to Perkins Island, owned by Quartermaster John Perkins. A great way to overcome the jet lag. Afternoon took me on the “Ipswich Walk” past a mural depicting a history of Ipswich, including a scene where the first Puritans, which included John Perkins, settled Agawan (the Indian name for Ipswich). Afternoon was spent at the Ipswich Museum. Although most visitors consider the historic colonel Whipple House the main attraction here, it is the tiny Alexander Knight House that stood out. Alexander Knight, whose daughter, Hannah, married Isaac Perkins, is our direct ancestor. After hitting hard times in Ipswich, the town took pity and decided to built him a tiny house in 1657, per a plan preserved in the town record. In 2015, the towns people again came together to built this house from the same blueprint – this time as an exhibit to illustrate a colonel house of the common man. According to the museum personnel, I was the first descendant to visit. Maybe family members should be entitled to lodge there. Or not. It’s really small.
The highlight of the tour came at the end of the afternoon with an examination of the John Perkins cane and bible that had been pulled from the archive. The cane has the inscription “i * p” (where i is an early form of j) engraved in the silver handle. Parts of the bible date back to 1599 in London. The good book, too fragile to open, has a wood cover dotted with small woodworm holes. Hold it and you get a sense of a deeply committed man who took a huge risk travelling with his family to America to freely practice his Puritan religion.
Day 3: Chebacco (now Essex) Massachusetts, Ipswich Gravesites and Old Houses
10 miles southeast of Ipswich lies Essex Massachusetts, where Isaac Perkins settled. When he and his son, Abraham, lived here, the area was still part of Ipswich, known as Chebacco. Isaac would have been expected to make the long journey to attend church in Ipswich until a local church was granted in 1683. I visited the Chebacco Old Burying Ground, followed by the more recent Spring Street Cemetery. One gets a sense how many Perkins settled this area by the large number gravestones bearing the family name. All likely descend from John and Judith Perkins.
In the afternoon, it was back to Ipswich to visit various landmarks. The Ipswich Old Burying Ground has no direct ancestors, but you can find gravestones for some ancient aunts and uncles. Then off to the site of the original John Perkins land grant. His youngest son, Jacob Perkins, inherited the land from his father and built a house on this property. The Perkins-Hodgkins house, built around 1700, sits on the foundation of the Jacob Perkins house. It has remained in the family, and has never been sold. Across the street is the original property of Quartermaster John Perkins. Two quick days in Massachusetts, but time now to prepare for a quick night flight to Halifax in Nova Scotia.
A quick word about Abraham Perkins who married Elizabeth Ely. A drive to New London county, Connecticut would have been necessary to follow the Perkins path completely . Abraham moved from Chebacco to Lyme with his brother and two sisters. In Lyme he married Elizabeth Ely, namesake of the many Ely’s that would follow. If Abraham made this move in pursuit of better land, then he likely blew it (only one son remained by the next generation). Around 1758, the townspeople in New London county began negotiating with Nova Scotia government officials about free land in exchange for creating a town. There is a fabulous town plot done in 1760 bearing the name of Abraham Perkins that suggests that he, not his son Francis, may have been looking to leave Lyme. Given one extra day, I would have driven to Lyme, and stayed with my family who live nearby. Ironically, I stiffed them to pursue my family research.
Francis Perkins, not his father Abraham, settled from New London County, CT in Horton. He traveled with his wife’s father, our direct ancestor Benjamin Peck, and two brothers, Cyrus and Benjamin Sr. It gets confusing because there were three generations of Benjamin Pecks with the middle one known as Benjamin Peck Sr (the father came to Nova Scotia, but returned to Connecticut around the time of the Revolutionary War). Also confusing are the collection of towns in the area. Horton generally refers to the township comprising Grand Pre, Wolfville, Kentville and New Minas. Hortonville, as the small village was called, consisted of a small collection of houses, but really does not stand out anymore. There is a Horton Landing that has monuments to the Acadians and the Planters who settled the area.
The rest of the trip focused on Francis Perkins and his descendants. The reader will need the chart below to keep track of all the various names. Francis had three sons. Ely, my ancestor, got the land, and remained in Nova Scotia. The second son, Dr. William Francis Perkins, was trained in England to be a doctor, and settled in Jamaica. The third, Rev Cyrus Peck Perkins, son served as the first minister of the Anglican church in Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia.
Day 4: Nova Scotia Archive in Halifax, Grand Pre World Heritage Site, Map-maker, Overnight in Grand Pre
The National Archives houses most of the original documents associated with Nova Scotia history. Four hours does not provide enough research time. I did manage to collect some documents pertaining to the formation of Horton. Highlight was an original land grant to Francis Perkins for 1/2 lot in Horton. Not all of these land grants survived so it was nice to see this beautifully penned document on a large 36″ x 24″ sheet of onion paper.
After lunch, it was time to drive to the other side of the island to the Minas Basin, the site where our ancestors settled around 1762. The Grand Pre National National Historic Site is dedicated to the 10,000 French Acadians who were expelled by the British. They looked at me with horror when asked if they had any information about the 6,000 New England planters who settle the land afterwards.
Marcel Morin works as a cartographer. His unique style graces the Grand Pre Park Brouchure. He also took the original Horton plot map and overlaid it over his illustration of the current terrain. Look at this map and you will see the location of the original Abraham Perkins land grant. I visited Marcel and his wife for about an hour. They live in Grand Pre in an original Planter house owned by Jeremiah Calkins, originally located three houses down from the Perkins lot. Marcel demonstrated how many of the features shown in this 1760 map exist to this day, including many roads.
Day 5: Horton Landing, Acadia University in Wolfville, Kings County Historical Museum in Kentville, Night in Aylesford
Started the day at Hortonville. Using the Marcel Morin map, pinpointed the location of the Francis Perkins house, located at the end of a dead-end road, overlooking the Horton Landing monuments. They evoke a full range of emotions for the Planters’ fortune and for the Acadians’ misfortune. A few miles west lies Wolfville, named after the DeWolfe family, including Nathan DeWolfe, another direct ancestor, whose daughter, Sarah, married Ely Perkins. A Baptist Church serves as a marker. Nathan lived across the street, and is buried in the Wolfville Burying Ground next door. Here also sits Acadia University, home of the study center dedicated to the study of New England Planters. Had a great conversion with Wendy Robicheau, one of the archivist. She explained that the Acadians refused to sign a loyalty oath offered by the English, because they not want to appear disloyal against their fellow Frenchmen. The Acadians come across as pawns in a chess match. It never ends well in chess for pawns.
The Kings County Historical Museum was the next stop to explore the settlements of Ely Perkins and his descendants. Prior to my visit, I had some information based the 1914 Eaton’s Kings County Book. Benjamin Peck Sr gave property on his farm to create the Oak Grove Cemetery. Eaton further writes: “On the ‘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 or completely rebuilt, by Capt. Joseph Barss…”
So how did Ely get to this location from the town plot in Hortonville? Originally, the Governor of Nova Scotia thought that the planters would be concentrated in the town plot since they would co-exist with the Acadians. However, that plan changed after the expulsion. The planters received four different types of land in their allocation: The town plot, tillage (for planting), pasture (for grazing) and forest (for lumber). After they arrived, a huge flurry of buying and selling of these lots erupted. The historical museum has a photocopy of a map that shows the complexity of the original land allotment. Many planters may have built a small abode on the town plot when they first arrived, but they would have quickly settled directly near their farm.
The Kings County Historical Museum has an entire wall covered by the spectacular A.F. Church Township Map of Kings County Nova Scotia, which details the area in 1872, and this map includes the location of two Roy farms and the Barss house. The local historian at the Museum knew the place well: go down the highway to the Bowling Alley at the intersection of appropriately named Roy Ave.
It’s hard to imagine how this region looked back in the day since the highway is lined with modern stores. However, you can cross the nearby Cornwallis River and look back to be rewarded with view of the dykeland and fertile farmland still in use. Likewise, the nearby Oak Grove Cemetery gives a serene nod to the past. Found were the Peck family gravestones, including Benjamin and Cyrus Peck, brothers to Elizabeth (Peck) Perkins. Behind these engraved stones are a series of smaller stones used for infants with initials like “HP”, “BP”, “SP” and “MP”. We will never know for certain, but these may be the children of Ely and Sarah Perkins who are said to have died young.
That evening was spent in the middle of Aylesford, Nova Scotia, final home of Ely Perkins along with son William Francis Perkins, named after his uncle, the Jamaican doctor. Grandson James Perkins was born here in 1824. It is written in the Caroline Perkins Book, that Ely “managed to let most of his property slip through his fingers”. The author likely refers to the move from fertile Kentville to Aylesford. After Ely died, William Francis farmed here and a few other nearby locals before moving his family to Ontario in 1844. Aylesford remains remote farmland far from any towns. My Airbnb hosts could not have been more gracious. They invited me for dinner, then we drove for ice cream.
Day 6: Billstown Baptist Cemetery, Halls Harbor, Night in Hillsdale House, Garrison Graveyard tour
An important set of gravestones can be found in Billstown Baptist Church Cemetery. We see Sarah (DeWolfe) Perkins Farnsworth, widow of Ely Perkins and, later, Joel Farnsworth, who went to live with her daughter Lucilla (Perkins) Cogswell and grandson Edmund J Cogswell until her death at the age of 92. Sarah, Lucilla and Edmund were the keepers of the family history of Francis. I have long suspected that they provided the very accurate information published in the 1914 Caroline Perkins book. More about Edmund later.
A quick side trip to Halls Harbor to witness low tide in the bay of Fundy. Then time to drive from Kings County to Annapolis County. I skipped the Randal Burying ground, where Ely and Francis are said to have been buried. It lays in the middle of a sand quarry where trespassing is discouraged. Soon I arrived Annapolis Royal where the Rev. Cyrus Peck Perkins settled as the first rector of the local church. I lodged at Hillsdale house, once owned and operated by William B Perkins. Within easy walking distance are St Lukes church, the DeGrannes house, the oldest wooden building in Nova Scotia used as a rectory by Cyrus Perkins, and the Fort Anne with its accompanying Garrison graveyard where Mary (Woodbury) Perkins is buried. Annapolis Royal started as Military town with Fort Anne defending British interests after they captured it from the French in 1710. Annapolis Royal served as the British capital of Nova Scotia until Halifax took its place in 1749. Ultimately Annapolis Royal has transformed into a quaint summer tourist town. History contributes significantly to the town’s tourism business.
Time in the late afternoon to track down the bulk of the Perkins gravestones located in the Woodlawn Cemetery. The size of the lots and monuments shows the prominence of this family. The night concluded with the popular Garrison Graveyard tour led by a member of the Annapolis historical society. An extremely knowledgeable individual, he knew much about Rev Cyrus Perkins, William B Perkins and Charlotte Isabel Perkins.
Day 7: O’Dell Museum
A lot of pre-trip research got done with the help of Lois Jenkins of the Annapolis Historical Museum. Found out that the Rev Cyrus Perkins was forced out of his position as first rector due to some combination of drinking, womanizing, or sheer financial incompetence. He relocated near Halifax where his wife is buried (see Day 4) before settling in England where he died in a yachting accident in 1825. His descendants, who remained in Annapolis, went into the hotel business. William B Perkins initially committed the Queen Hotel in 1873. Cyrus A Perkins took over, sold it in 1895 and then purchased the Hillsdale House in 1897. Cyrus’s children remained loyal to the hospitality and history business. Charlotte Perkins, who never married, become a well-known author and historian of Annapolis Royal. She wrote “The Romance of Old Annapolis Royal” in 1952. She also recorded the inscriptions of the stone in the Garrison graveyard. Mary Elizabeth Perkins married Carmen O’Dell whose father built the house that would become the O’Dell House Museum. William R Perkins continued operating the Hillsdale House during the summer, then would work in Florida hotels during the winter. William R. Perkins’ death in 1972 marked the end of the Perkins family presence in Annapolis Royal.
The museum has a file on the Perkins surname where I found a letter written by Cyrus Wilfred Perkins (brother of my great grandmother Olive) to William R Perkins in 1963. It is an interesting read. Cyrus found the correct relative, but his version of the history had been mauled by time (he thought that the Perkins family came from Virginia).
Day 8: Falmouth Jamaica, Walkerswood
Up early for a pre-dawn flight from Nova Scotia to Jamaica. Then off to Falmouth on my way to my new lodging with the help of Dennis, my driver for the next three days. Dr William Francis Perkins settled in Falmouth, and married Henrietta Harcorne, wife of a military man. Falmouth sat at the center of the sugar trade. It attracted wealthy merchants, and the people that catered to their needs. Dr William Francis Perkins fit well in this social circle. He had two daughters who would return to Canada to be raised by an uncle, Charles Cranston Dixon, after Henrietta died. Three sons remained in Jamaica:
- Cyrus Francis Perkins: A printer who wrote a serialized monthly antislavery story. “Busha’s Romance” was repackaged as a novel by Canadian academics with the help of Lilly Perkins, the last of her family line. She left all her family papers to the National Archives.
- Henry Perkins: The original landowner in Walkerswood. All of the known individuals with the surname Perkins descend from this line.
- Phillip Perkins: He has been a man of mystery. My research indicated that Philip settled as a carpenter in a town of Bryant’s Hill in Clarendon Parish.
In Falmouth, I visited the church where the early family of William Francis Perkins was buried. The outside of the church looks like a disaster area with unkempt gravestones amid the Spanish Needle weeds. Our search revealed no gravestone marked Perkins, not surprising since Busha’s Mistress mentions that the graves got covered during a church addition. Fortunately, we got to tour the inside of the church – it’s still in good shape. We finished Falmouth with a drive around town. I later learned I should have driven Duke street because the original medical office of Dr Perkins still stands there.
Then on to Walkerswood, my home for the next three nights. Such a scenic ride along the coast to Ocho Rios, then inland though the lush jungle greenery of Fern Gully. After reaching elevation in the rolling hills, a left turn down a dirt road for 1/2 mile brought me to Perkins Sweet Pepper Cottage. Denyse Perkins was my host, and she could not have been nicer. She knew about my family research interests, and had arranged my driver Dennis, and had notified other family members. “Mrs. P”, as everyone called her, had earn the respect of the entire community, because she has spent her time and effort supporting the town. She was instrumental in growing the local Walkerwood Spice Factory into a viable company. Her husband, Earl Perkins, now a little forgetful, is son Francis George, grandson of George Francis. Fun to see how long the name “Francis” survived.
The cottage had all the luxuries of home: full kitchen, washer & dryer, internet. At night you fall asleep to the sounds of insects and frogs. In the morning you awake to the chickens and goats. The cottage was part of a larger Perkins estate that included names like Mt Hermon and Batchelors Pen. I cannot say I fully understand all the various parts yet. From the cottage you overlook the acreage that remains in the family.
Day 9: Drive around island in search of Bryans Hill
Philip Perkins lists Bryant’s (or Bryan’s) Hill as his home town. Yet Google Maps lists no such town. Using latitude and longitude of a train station that once existed there, Dennis drove me there along the curvy rural roads. Despite the threat of rain, the locals walked along the streets in their Sunday best to attend one the many churches that lined the roads. After 2 hours, we arrived – the town that still exists! (Google doesn’t know everything yet). Eric, a local who owned a little shop, never heard of any Perkins’, but was familiar with surnames Brennan and Dunkley, families of some of the Perkins women. The return trip took us around to nearby larger town Chapelton and May Pen where member of this branch of the family later located.
That night when I reviewed my trip with Denyse, we were looking through a 1940’s Jamaica Who’s Who, where we happened onto a entry for Joseph Pinchin, son of Earlimph Perkins. My research indicates that children of Robert Cyrus and Caroline (Black) Perkins, married into the Chinese community, who settled in Jamaica during a later wave of immigration.
Day 10: RGD for wills, National Archives in Spanish Town
A day for research. Dennis only needed to drop me off in Spanish Town in the morning, and pick me up in the afternoon. The Registrar General’s Department (RGD) houses the wills. Four separate ledgers allowed me to identify five different Perkins wills (click on the icon to the read the original will).
Getting around Spanish Town can be tricky, even for a simple one mile cab ride from the RGD to the National Archives. No Uber here. Fortunately, the kind staff worried about my safety enough to have an office manager personally drive me to the National Archives. There I was rewarded with the Lilly Perkins Papers, as mentioned in the book “Busha’s Mistress”. I was hoping to find some additional information, and was not disappointed. With a listing of over 100 items and examination limited to 3 items at a time, I again could have used some more time. However, I was extremely excited by what I found.
Day 11: Back to the National Archives, meet Relatives
By this time, Denyse had arranged some visits with the George Francis Perkins descendants who lived in Kingston. She also expressed interest in the Spanish Town archives. We started the day with the quick drive through the pasture to see the George Francis Perkins gravesite. The humid, hot Jamaican climate can take a terrible toll on structures, particularly cemeteries. We then transitioned to the coldest site in Jamaica – the Archives requires low temperature for document preservation. Bundles in our sweaters, we reviewed the documents found yesterday, then started the photocopying process.
Day 12: Lunch with Kingston Relatives
I had thought about going to the National Library in Kingston to look through old newspapers, but got a better offer after word had spread to more of the family in the Kingston area. Had a delightful lunch with the descendants of Kenneth George Perkins. The 36″ Dr. W.F. Perkins chart was again presented. They brought a photo of the old Dr Francis Perkins office building that I missed in Falmouth and a copy of “Busha’s Mistress”. They mentioned Mutty Perkins, the famous radio personality. Other topics were covered, now forgotten in the excitement of the moment. Then it was time to go. Billy and Helen kindly gave me a lift to the Kingston airport. It marked a successful end to twelve days of genealogy bliss.
Postscript: What was learned from the wills and Lilly Perkins Archive
- Henry Franklin Cyrus Perkins names a lot children in his will, including many new ones. No additional information about them has been discovered yet.
- Lilly gives a wonderful description of Philip Perkins, but indicated he remained single, while my research indicates that he likely had children.
- Lilly gives additional information about a second child of Cyrus Francis Perkins, Jane Perkins, who married a Charles Smith. Using today’s genealogy tools, I managed to identify them. Although Lilly thought they moved to Canada, it looks like they remained in Jamaica.
- Lilly thought that the Dr W.F. Perkins had another daughter who became Madame de St Remy. I find no supporting evidence. William F Perkins only mentions two daughters in his will. I did find a reference to a Caroline Dixon who married Edmund de St Remy. Likely that Madame de St Remy is connected to Charles Cranston Dixon who raised the two Perkins daughters.
- Lilly talks about some bad blood between Cyrus Francis Perkins side vs the Henry Perkins side. Cyrus remarried the widow Jane (Lloyd) Scotland who was a sister to Henry’s wife, Mary Elizabeth Lloyd (their last name might also be Thompson as indicated in her will). Cyrus and his son died before Jane. She was expected to pass some of the proceeding of the estate to Cyrus’s grandson, but instead she passed everything to Henry’s children, Henry Franklin Perkins and George Francis Perkins, therefore cutting out Lilly’s side. There is a scratched out section in her family history where Lilly writes some harsh words about Henry.