Reprinted from


Vol. 19, No. 1  - January 1936


MADISON Coordinator’s note: The John Perkins family played an extremely important part in both pre and post-Civil War Madison Parish history. In 1850 John Perkins, Sr., was the wealthiest individual in Madison Parish. He owned Hapaka and Somerset Plantations, evaluated in 1857 at over $600,000, and owned some 250 slaves. His sons, John, Jr. and William, aged 28 and 25 respectively, were listed as lawyers. In 1861 the Madison – Tensas boundary was changed such that Somerset was included in Tensas. However, Hapaka, where John Perkins, Jr. lived after the Civil War, remained in Madison Parish. John Perkins, Jr., who was a graduate of both Yale and Harvard, was elected to the Confederate House of Representatives from the Northeast Louisiana District. He served in the Congress until it was abolished. After the Civil War he fled to Mexico and, later, Europe but returned to Madison Parish in 1878. Unfortunately, William Perkins, who served in the Louisiana Constitutional Convention of 1852, drowned in 1854 while returning from Europe, when his ship, the Arctic, sank.


Richard P. Sevier [email protected] March 2000


This article has now been supplemented with photographs of Perkins’ portraits and memorabilia gratefully supplied by the ggg grandson of William Perkins, Sr., Jeremy Prescott of Leicester, England. Jeanette Colvin supplied additional photos. Footnotes may be read by clicking on them. To return to your original position, click again.


Richard P. Sevier May 2001, August & December 2002, November 2006


*This paper was published in The Tensas Gazette, St. Joseph. La., in 1933. Since that publication, it has been revised by the author and much new material incorporated which was not then available to him.


The cemetery at Natchez, Mississippi, extends along the Mississippi River bluffs, just above the old town. It is probably one of the most beautiful and best-kept cemeteries in the South. Here one may view the majestic sweep of the river for many miles, and the pleasing panorama of the Louisiana lowlands in the distance. This old cemetery dates back to the Spanish regime. For more than a century it has been the last earthly resting place for many of Northeast Louisiana's distinguished sons. In taking a morning's walk along the graveled and grass-bordered paths of this "city of peace," ancient monuments here and there recall to our memory men who, in their day, played leading roles in the opening up and development of this new country; many who were once prominent in its political and social life.


In the older part of the cemetery one pauses at a plot in which there are several heavy iron slabs, and other slabs and monuments of marble. The metal slabs mark the more ancient graves. Although the first record commemorates an interment in 1814, and the last a burial in 1885, all of the tombs are in good condition and all of the inscriptions are quite legible.


To the members of the Louisiana Historical Society who are now celebrating its one hundred years of continuous service in the collection and perpetuation of our State's history--its Centennial--that little plot is of interest: not only because it embosoms the remains of two outstanding and honored sons of Louisiana, but more especially for the reason that one of them was an early officer and active member of the Society, and made to it generous contributions of his time and exceptional talents.


On a heavy marble slab we read


In Memory of John Perkins, Sen'r.

Born in Somerset County, on the Eastern Shore of Maryland,

 May 17, 1781. Emigrated to Natchez in the Winter of 1802.

Died at the age of 85 years and 6 months.


This monument also covers the remains of his wife,

Mrs. Zilpha Perkins,

Who died in the year 1843?

To whose memory a mo

nument was erected on his Somerset Estate in Louisiana.


Marble slab referred to above. Courtesy of Jeanette Colvin


Except to their posterity, the lives of most men would be adequately encompassed and commemorated by such an inscription. Not so with John Perkins, Senior. We here learn that he migrated from the ancestral home in Maryland, when scarcely of age, and that he became a resident of Natchez almost on the eve of the cession of Louisiana to the United States. At that time our section of Louisiana was practically an uninhabited wilderness.[1] Following the transfer, young Perkins soon became a leading citizen of the new country. The conveyance records of Concordia Parish show that John Perkins acquired tracts of land in 1806 and 1807 in the vicinity of Vidalia--then the Post of Concord--and out near Lake St. John. In these deeds his residence is given as Natchez; but conveyances to him subsequent to 1890 recite that Perkins was a resident of Concordia Parish.[2]


That John Perkins was a man of recognized ability and standing in this section, even at that early day, won for him, in 1813, Governor Claiborne's appointment to the important office of Parish Judge of Concordia Parish--a post which he capably filled until he was succeeded by Edward Broughton in 1818.[3] Concordia Parish had a much larger area at that time than it had in later years, for it then extended from the mouth of the Red River to "the upper line of John Milliken's plantation," which was in Milliken's Bend; so the Judge's jurisdiction extended over a territory of more than one hundred miles in length. A Parish Judge in those days was the most important public official in any Louisiana community; the duties appertaining to his office covered a wide range of judicial and administrative activities.[4] As a consequence, this young man had much to do with the early development of Concordia Parish and the administration of its public business during the formative period.


However, as the years passed, through his great acumen and business ability, Judge Perkins founded one of the great landed estates of Louisiana. He sired two brilliant sons--one of them to meet a tragic end early in life; the other to play a prominent role on the stages of state and national politics. He lived the life of the cultured, patrician, ruling class of the Old South; he lived a life of loyalty, charity, philanthropy, and Christian faith.


Old conveyance records at Vidalia disclose that, in 1815, Judge Perkins began the purchase of contiguous tracts of land in the northern part of what is now Tensas Parish, but at that time in Concordia. These tracts bordered the Mississippi River, and they were known as the Homestead, Via Mede, Back Land, and Wildwood plantations, all lying south of Bayou Vidal, and the Hapaka plantation which lay to the north of the bayou. These plantations all adjoined, and Judge Perkins consolidated them into one vast property of seventeen thousand five hundred acres, to which he gave the name "Somerset Estate," in commemoration of his boyhood home in Maryland. Some of these tracts were acquired as late as 1840. A deed of 1820 recites that the lands purchased "adjoin the Somerset establishment of John Perkins at the mounts"--Indian mounds.[5]


Outline of John Perkins’ property. From La Tourrette’s 1853 Map of Louisiana


This great property had been highly improved and well stocked with slaves long prior to the Civil War; and before that time Judge Perkins had become one of the leading cotton planters and one of the wealthiest men of Northeast Louisiana. When the parish of Madison was carved from northern Concordia in 1838, the Somerset Estate lay entirely within the bounds of Madison; and when the parish of Tensas was created in 1843, the line between the two parishes of Madison and Tensas ran through Somerset and intersected the river "just below the residence of John Perkins." The boundary between Tensas and Madison was again changed in 1861; and all of Somerset, with the exception of the Hapaka plantation of two thousand acres, was included within the boundaries of Tensas, where it is now.


1843 daguerreotype of Judge Perkins. Courtesy of his ggg grandson, Jeremy Prescott of Leicester, England


In a biographical sketch of John Perkins, Junior, published in the Natchez Tri-Weekly Democrat[6] of December 23, 1885, it is said that his father "was the first United States Judge ever to sit on the bench in Louisiana." This statement is, of course, erroneous: Judge Dominic Hall was appointed United States District Judge for Louisiana on the organization of the government of Orleans Territory under the act of Congress which became effective on October 1, 1804; and he served in that capacity for many years. The writer of the Democrat sketch evidently had in mind, Judge Perkins' service as Parish Judge of Concordia; this author has no knowledge of his having filled any other office.


Judge John Perkins, Senior, was married twice. His first wife was Mary Bynum, widow of Benjamin Bynum, a resident of Concordia Parish; she had been Miss Mary Rives. Benjamin Bynum died in 1815; he is buried in the same plot. At the time she married the Judge in 1817, the Widow Bynum had four children: Nancy, Benjamin, Mary and Harriet.[7] Mary Bynum married Thomas P. Eskridge; Harriet became the wife of E. P. Fourniquet; and it is believed that Nancy married Martin W. Ewing. Benjamin Bynum, Jr., died in the 1830's.


The children of Judge John Perkins, Senior, and Mary (Bynum) Perkins were: Rachel S., who died in infancy at the Olympian Springs, Kentucky, and William Perkins and John Perkins, Junior. Mrs. Mary Perkins died on August 12, 1824, at the age of thirty-eight years, and her tomb is in the Natchez cemetery.



Tombstones of Rachel and her mother Mary Perkins. Courtesy of Jeanette Colvin


In her will, which was probated in Concordia Parish, she bequeathed her Bynum property to her Bynum children, and her interest in the community with Perkins to her sons, William Perkins and John Perkins, Junior. She expressed great affection for both sets of her children and her solicitude "for their continued happiness together without any heartburnings and jealousies over property."[8] It appears that Judge Perkins educated his stepdaughters in Baltimore, and that he had a great affection for them.


Either William or John Perkins, Jr. Courtesy of Perkins’ ggg grandson, Jeremy Prescott of Leicester, England


Judge John Perkins, Senior, had no children by his second wife, Mrs. Zilpha Perkins, who before her marriage was a Miss Calvitt of Claiborne County, Mississippi. At the time he came to Natchez in 1802, it would seem that an older sister accompanied him, as there is also the tomb of Miss Sarah Perkins: "Born in the County of Somerset, Maryland, February 24, 1780. Died April 12, 1814."


Monument to Zilpha Perkins. Somerset Plantation. Courtesy of Jeremy Prescott


William Perkins married Ellen M. (Murdoch), and they had three children: Blanche Z., Eleanora and Anna.


              Daguerreotype of William Perkins c1850               Daguerreotype of Blanche, Ann and Eleanora Perkins

Photos courtesy of Jeremy Prescott


William was a lawyer and engaged in the practice of his profession in Madison Parish. He served in the Louisiana Constitutional Convention of 1852, as a member from Madison Parish.[9] In 1854 William Perkins went to Europe. We do not know what his mission was; his young family was not with him. On his return voyage, the vessel, the Arctic, went down and Perkins was lost September 27, 1854. The judge had a monument erected to his memory on a large Indian Mound on Somerset.


Monument to William Perkins at Somerset Plantation, mentioned above. Courtesy of Jeremy Prescott


Blanche Z. Perkins married James B. Richey;

Grave of Blanche Perkins Richey and her husband Sir James Bellett Richey. Wimborne Road Cemetery, Bournemouth, England. Courtesy of Jeremy Prescott. Inscription reads: In Loving memory of Sir James Bellett Richey K.C.I.E. C.S.I. Born December 11th 1833, Died June 27th 1902. And he was not, for God took him a just man made perfect. And of his wife Blanche Zilpha Richey Born June 24th died July 27th 1916. Love never faileth her children a rise up and call her blessed. They were lovely and pleasant in their lives and death did not divide them.


Eleanora Murdoch Perkins married William Bruce Prescott, both becoming British subjects. Their husbands are said to have been from cadet lines of the British nobility. One of them is said to have been an officer in the British army, and to have been killed in a native uprising in India.


Eleanora Perkins Prescott. Courtesy of her gg grandson Jeremy Prescott of Leicester, England


Elenora Perkins Prescott’s grave in Wimborne Road Cemetery, Bournemouth, England. Courtesy of her gg grandson Jeremy Prescott. Inscription reads: In loving memory of Eleanora Murdoch Widow of William Bruce Prescott Esq. Died July 29, 1913. Also of their son Cyril William Prescott Lt. Colonel I.A. Born Jan 22 1880 Died Oct 2nd 1926



Photos of William Perkins’ chest. Courtesy of his gg grandson, Jeremy Prescott of Leicester, England


On the 7th of April 1857, Judge John Perkins made what is called in Louisiana law an "onerous" donation to his son, John, Junior, of his entire Somerset Estate of seventeen thousand five hundred acres, with all the appurtenances, including some two hundred and fifty slaves. The property was valued in the act of transfer at over six hundred thousand dollars. This donation was conditioned upon the payment by the son to the father of the sum of fifteen thousand dollars annually during the life of the donor; also upon the payment by the donee to Mrs. Ellen M. Perkins, widow or William, of twenty thousand dollars; and, further, upon the payment, at the death of the Judge, to his three grandchildren – the daughters of William -- eighty thousand dollars each10. John Perkins, Junior went into possession of the property at that time, and resided there and operated it until the outbreak of the Civil War; he never resided on the property thereafter. Before or about the time of his donation, the old Judge acquired an estate near Columbus, Lowndes Co. Mississippi which he called "The Oaks," where he lived up to the time of his death in 1866.


Shortly prior to his death, the Judge brought suit in the District Court of Tensas Parish, Louisiana, against his son, John, for the revocation of this donation and the restitution of the property to him.[10] He alleged that John had not complied with the terms and conditions of the donation, in that he had failed for a number of years to pay the stipulated annuity of fifteen thousand dollars; that John had abandoned the property and had not visited it for several years, and was then residing in the City of Mexico. John Perkins, Junior, had become heavily involved in debt during the war; and a number of his creditors attempted to intervene in this suit, but their interventions were not allowed by the District Court. These creditors alleged that the suit for revocation of the donation was a collusive attempt on the part of the Judge and his son to shield the property from the pursuit of the son's creditors. There was judgment in the District Court, in 1866, annulling the donation. The creditors appealed, and the Supreme Court of Louisiana reversed the lower court and remanded the case for a trial on the interventions.[11]


In the meantime, the old Judge died at his home at "The Oaks" on November 30, 1866. His will[12] dated June 11, 1866, is a lengthy instrument of some ten or twelve large and closely written pages. It is a very human document. It expresses the true character of this grand old man -- his deeply religious life; his generosity to his church and its clergy; his thoughtfulness, liberality and affection for his kindred and friends. "I commend my soul to God, my Heavenly Father, in the hope of a happy resurrection and entrance into His Heavenly Kingdom through the merits of His Son."


The testator directs that his remains be buried by the side of his last wife, at Natchez, and he continues: "and I desire that both be covered with one stone, plain and not costly, and that a monument selected by my Executors be erected at Somerset, similar to those that commemorate my last wife and my son William."

John Perkins, Sr.’s monument created and placed with William and Zilpha’s monuments in the year 2000 in compliance with his the execution of his will. Courtesy of Jeremy Prescott.


After directing the payment of his debts, the next bequest is of more than passing interest: "I give and bequeath to my son John Perkins, Jr., the gold-headed cane which he brought to me from Mount Sinai;" and this was the only bequest to John.


The testator then bequeathed to Mrs. Evelyn Perkins, "my daughter-in-law and to her daughter, Miss Evelyn Bailey, that portion of the Somerset Estate which was known as the Hapaka Plantation." To his daughter-in-law, Mrs. Ellen M. Perkins, and to her children, Blanche Z., Eleanora and Anna, he left his "whole service of Plate, together with the iron safe in which it is usually kept; and also the cylindrical iron case left by me at my late residence at Somerset, containing letters from my deceased son, William, while in Europe, together with the newspaper accounts of his loss at sea, preserved by me especially for my grandchildren as matters of great interest to them." He also directed delivery to his grandchildren of "the family portraits--my own, and that of my deceased wife and those of my two sons--and also a pair of gold sleeve buttons that were originally my great-grandfather's, marked JP." From this last item, it seems most probable that the Judge's great grandfather was also a John Perkins.


Portrait referred to above. Courtesy of Perkins’ ggg grandson, Jeremy Prescott of Leicester, England


The whole estate of "The Oaks" was willed to his "relative," Elizabeth Scott Eskridge. To his "relative," Robert J. Perkins, he bequeathed fifty acres of land in Adams County, Mississippi, "one mile below the City of Natchez, and adjoining my old residence, The Briars." Like many other Northeast Louisiana planters of the "Golden Age," Judge Perkins maintained a suburban home at Natchez in addition to the home on the plantation in the Louisiana lowlands. The writer does not know when the ownership of "The Briars" passed from Judge Perkins, but it was subsequently owned by the Howell family; and it was here that Jefferson Davis was married to Varina Howell. This historic ante-bellum home is now owned by Mrs. W. W. Wall, of New Orleans; and it is one of the places visited on the annual pilgrimages which are now sponsored by the Natchez Garden Club.

Recent photo of “The Briars” Courtesy of his ggg grandson, Jeremy Prescott of Leicester, England


Returning to the will, we find that the Judge made gifts of five thousand dollars to each of his "relatives," Elizabeth Scott Eskridge and Mrs. Anna Buck, wife of Captain J. H. Buck; and similar sums to the Misses Mary E., Eliza and Julia Ogden, daughters of Judge A. N. Ogden of New Orleans. To his "relative," Miss Henrietta Furniss, he bequeathed five hundred dollars; and a like sum to Mrs. Byrne, "daughter of my friend the late Dr. Smith of Baltimore, to evidence my regard for the memory of her mother, Mrs. Smith, on account of her kind and affectionate treatment of my stepchildren while in her family and at school in Baltimore" Also to the Misses Henrietta and Ruth Butler, five hundred dollars each, -"to commemorate the usefulness of their father, the late Rev. Dr. Z. Butler." "To Miss Anna Chamberlain, daughter of the Rev. N. P. Chamberlain, five hundred dollars, to show my feeling of kindness and affection for her; and to my friend, the Rev. N. P. Chamberlain, pastor in my house, the sum of five hundred dollars, and one pair of my gold glasses, together with my entire wardrobe of wearing apparel." "To my late pastor, the Rev. J. W. Kerr, the sum of five hundred dollars and a suit of black cloth; and to my grand-stepson, B. B. Eskridge, one of my gold-headed canes."



Somerset China. Courtesy of his ggg grandson, Jeremy Prescott of Leicester, England


Close-up of Somerset pitcher. Courtesy of his ggg grandson, Jeremy Prescott of Leicester, England

Close-up of Somerset tureen. Courtesy of Jeanette Colvin


The will then directs: "That two thousand dollars be appropriated for the building of a Presbyterian church at some convenient spot on my Somerset Estate, whenever the occupants and neighbors shall manifest a serious disposition to maintain Evangelical services in said house; and as long, and no longer, as they maintain an Evangelical clergyman for conducting worship in said house, one hundred dollars annually shall be paid towards the support of the clergyman; and it is my will that the church standing on the Via Mede Plantation shall be used for all denominations of Christians."


The will then recites in detail, the donation of Somerset to John; the failure of John to comply with the conditions of the donation; and the suit which the old Judge had brought for its revocation; with the further statement that John had received more than his legitime in advancements and revenues from the property. The donation of Somerset to him is formally revoked. The entire Somerset Estate, (with the exception of Hapaka), was bequeathed to the testator's three grandchildren, the daughters of William and Ellen Perkins. It is expressly stipulated that all the money dispositions are chargeable against the Somerset Estate only, and are to be paid exclusively from the rents and revenues accruing from that property; and the Executors were directed to hold Somerset intact, and to deliver it to his granddaughters, who are requested to hold the same in indivision.


In a Codicil, the old gentleman directed: "That a sufficient amount be paid as my bequest to the Perkins Professorship in the University of South Carolina to make up the losses sustained by that Professorship by the war and occasioned thereby, as far as may be necessary to supply the means of placing the Professorship on its original footing;" and in another Codicil, he mentions a gift to the "Theological Seminary at Columbia, South Carolina;" and declares that it was not intended by him that this donation should be restricted in its use, "but is to accrue to the benefit of the Seminary, whenever the Church in its wisdom sees fit to locate it." Other Codicils increased the size of some of the special money bequests. The testator named N. E. Goodwin, of Columbus, Mississippi, as Executor of his Mississippi estate; and Josiah Stansbrough, of Madison Parish, Louisiana, and Judge A. N. Ogden, of New Orleans, as the Executors of his Louisiana estate.


These Executors made themselves parties to the suit to revoke the donation of Somerset to John Perkins, Jr., and a second judgment, annulling the donation, was rendered by the District Court of Tensas Parish in 1871. This judgment was again appealed from by the intervening creditors of John, Jr., but some compromise was entered into between them and the residuary legatees of Somerset; the appeal was dismissed by consent.[13]


At the time of the execution of this will, little more than a year after Lee's surrender at Appomattox, and when he was enfeebled by age and ill health, it is probable that the old Judge had no clear conception of the shrinkage of his fortune and the changed conditions resulting from the war and its aftermath; that he failed to fully appreciate the havoc which Grant's army had wrought on Somerset in its march to Hard Times, for the crossing of the river and the investment of Vicksburg: otherwise, it would seem that he would not have made such lavish testamentary dispositions.


In accordance with the will, the Executors attempted to pay off the debts and special legacies from the accruing revenues of Somerset, but without much success. During all this time, Mrs. Ellen A. Perkins and her three daughters were residing in London and Paris. Through her attorney, Judge Edgar D. Farrar, in 1874 they assumed the payment of the debts, and the property was turned over to them, burdened with the special legacies; the Executors were discharged. Judge Farrar continued in the management of Somerset for several years, and much litigation ensued from the efforts of the legatees to collect their money bequests. A history of this litigation may be found in the opinions of the Louisiana Supreme Court in the cases of Eskridge & others versus Farrar, Agent.[14] The Supreme Court held that, under the peculiar wording of the will, the legatees had recourse against the revenues of Somerset only, and had no right of action to provoke a sale of the property for their satisfaction.


Finally, it is said, a suit was brought by these special legatees against Judge Farrar for an accounting of the net revenues accruing during his agency. The suit was prosecuted by his nephew, the brilliant Edgar H. Farrar; and it is said by an attorney who was a spectator at the trial that it was the most heated legal contest ever waged in Tensas Parish.


With reference to the codicil to Judge Perkins' will in which he speaks of having made a donation inter vivos to the University of South Carolina at Columbia, this writer recently made inquiry of the authorities of that institution for information in regard to it. Dr. R. M. Kennedy, Librarian of the University, has written to me, as follows:


I am very much interested in your letter, just received. The Perkins Professorship about which you ask was established by Judge Perkins of Mississippi in the Columbia Theological Seminary of Columbia, South Carolina, in the year 1859.


I am much surprised to see from the extract of Judge Perkins' will that he refers to "the Perkins Professorship in the University of South Carolina." It would seem that he certainly knew what he was saying, and so it is hard to account for his confusing the University of South Carolina with the Columbia Theological Seminary. But, all I can say is, there is absolutely no record of such professorship, or any other endowed professorship, having been established in this institution . . . There is no legal or official connection of the two institutions. The Seminary is now in Decatur, Georgia.


This writer cannot explain the confusion in the Judge's mind, if such there was. But there is no lack of information relative to the Perkins Professorship in the Columbia Theological Seminary. This institution, for the theological education of the clergy of the Southern Presbyterian Church, was established at Columbia more than a century ago. The subject of the Perkins Professorship is discussed in numerous historical papers relative to the Church and Seminary. Some of these have been made available to the writer through the courtesy of Rev. William Childs Robinson, D. D., Professor of Church History and Polity in that institution. A history of the establishment of the Perkins Professorship, written by the Rev. James A. Lyon, D. D., of Columbus, Mississippi, was published in the Southern Presbyterian Review for April, 1860.[15]


We quote the following from Dr. Robinson's interesting book: [16]


Darwin's Origin of the Species, published in 1859, is said to be cardinal for the whole movement of natural science in relation to Christian Thought. In the same year in which this fundamental work was published, there was made in the Southern Presbyterian Church a genuine effort to establish a rapprochement between natural science and Christian truth. This effort was made at the Columbia Theological Seminary.


The minutes of the Board of 1859 narrate a donation of fifty thousand dollars made by Judge Perkins of Mississippi to the Seminary. Half of this sum was to be used to endow a professorship in the Seminary, which was ordered styled the "Perkins Professorship of Natural Science in its relation to Revealed Religion."


The instrument of conveyance from Judge Perkins states:


"First, as we live in an age in which the most insidious attacks are made upon Revealed Religion through the natural sciences; and as it becomes the Church, at all times, to have men capable of defending the Faith once delivered to the Church, it is the object and design of the said John Perkins, and it is hereby ordered and directed:

that thirty thousand dollars shall be vested as a permanent fund for the endowment of a Professorship."


If we may be permitted to digress a little, the first occupant of the Perkins chair in the Seminary was that great scholar, the Reverend James Woodrow, D. D., a maternal uncle of President Woodrow Wilson. Dr. Woodrow held the chair for several years; but his lectures and writings on Evolution, (particularly an address which he delivered on May 7, 1884, entitled Evolution,) were held by the "Fundamentalists" to be "contrary to the Southern Presbyterian interpretation of the Scriptures." The controversy raged for some time, and several of the Synods and the General Assembly of the Church held that Dr. Woodrow's views were not in accord with "doctrines fundamental to the faith." Dr. Woodrow's connection with the Seminary was severed. Thereafter, he became President of the University of South Carolina. A very interesting and exhaustive account of this church schism, which had it’s beginning with Dr. Woodrow's "Perkins Professorship" lectures, may be found in Dr. Robinson's book."[17]


We now turn our attention to the eventful career of John Perkins, Junior--probably of more interest to the members of the Louisiana Historical Society. From the inscription on his tomb, near that of his father, we glean: That John Perkins, Junior, was born "near Natchez" on July 1, 1819; that he married Evelyn May of Virginia; that he died in Baltimore on November 29, 1885; and "In the Communion of the Catholic Church." Evelyn May, a daughter of Judge May of Petersburg--and formerly the Widow Bailey--was his second wife. They had no children; she survived her husband. Mrs. Evelyn Perkins died at Baltimore on September 11, 1897, where she was living with her daughter, Evelyn, who was the widow of Dr. Louis McLane Tiffany of Baltimore.



Tombstone of John Perkins, Jr. and his wife Mary. Courtesy of Jeanette Colvin


This writer hesitates mentioning the marriage of young Perkins to Mary Potts, of New York, in 1850. It was tragic, but it is the duty of the honest historian to present facts, even though unpleasant. The young couple visited Paris on their wedding tour of Europe; while there Mrs. Perkins deserted her husband and, after a time, returned to her father's home in New York.[18] Tensas Parish tradition has it that she became infatuated with a French dancing master.


John Perkins, Junior, graduated from Yale College in 1840; one of his classmates was William M. Evarts. Thereafter, he took his law degree at Harvard and entered the practice of his profession at New Orleans.[19] During his several years of residence there; Perkins became greatly interested in Louisiana History. In June 1846, a meeting was held at the State House for the purpose of reviving the Louisiana Historical Society; it had languished since its original organization in 1836. At this meeting there were present: John Perkins, Jr., J. D. B. DeBow, E. J. Forstall; Charles Gayerré, General Joseph Walker, and Alfred Hennen.[20] The efforts of these six outstanding men found fruition in the adoption of the Society's constitution on July 1, 1846. Judge Francois Xavier Martin was elected President.[21] In the summer of 1847 the Society was incorporated. Judge Martin having died, Judge Henry A. Bullard was chosen President, with John Perkins, Jr., and J. D. B. DeBow as its Secretaries: Perkins and DeBow "were appointed to visit the various societies at the North and open interchanges of documents and correspondence. This duty they regularly performed."[22]


In the summer of 1848, John Perkins "was delegated by the Society to make researches (historical) relating to Louisiana."[23] It appears that he sojourned in Paris for several months during 1848 and 1849. At the time, he was in ill health, and was seldom able to leave his room for the first three months after his arrival there, "and was never free from pain." Notwithstanding his physical condition, he contacted many French officials, and the vast archives of the Ministry of Marines and of the French War and Foreign Departments were thrown open to him. In a lengthy preliminary report to the Society, dated at Paris, March 21, 1849, he discussed the condition of the archives and what had already been done towards classification and calendaring, either by the French Government or by others; and he noted that there seemed to be "many documents of a most interesting kind that have escaped the attention of Mr. Forstall, and even of Mr. Gayarré." It seems worthwhile to make the following excerpt from this report.[24]

. . . Under the circumstances, I concluded it would most subserve the purposes of our Historical Society to begin with the transcript of the papers where the publication on the part of the French government ceases. Accordingly, I hope to send you during the ensuing season a digest, chronologically arranged, of all the papers in the different archives of the French Government referring to Louisiana, from the date of Iberville's landing in 1697, down to its final acquisition in 1803 by the United States. The labor of this composition has been great--much more than I could have achieved, even with health, by myself. I have been fortunate in securing the services of Mr. Margry, to whose minute familiarity with the archives of the government and the early history of our State must be ascribed any merit that the digest may be found to possess.


When I tell you that it fills a large quarto of 500 closely written pages, you will see how impossible the idea I first conceived of sending home certified copies of the documents themselves. Louisiana ought to have them. She owes it to herself to collect this proper patrimony of her sons. . .


Having abandoned his law practice in New Orleans, John Perkins, Junior, returned to Madison Parish in 1851, with an appointment to the office of District Judge. The following year he was elected to the 33rd United States Congress from this Northeast Louisiana district, as a Democrat.[25] On his retirement at the end of the term, he seems to have been reappointed to the District Bench; and, as we have seen, he took over the management of Somerset in 1857.


When the breach between the North and the South over slavery reached the point of open advocacy of secession, Perkins actively espoused thee secession movement In the election of delegates to the memorable Louisiana Secession Convention of 1861, John Perkins. Junior, of Madison Parish and Lemuel P. Conner of Concordia Parish, were the successful candidates for the Senatorial District composed of the parishes of Madison, Tensas and Concordia.


On the assembling of the Convention at Baton Rouge on Wednesday January 23, 1861 on motion of Lawrence of Plaquemines, John Perkins Junior was made temporary Chairman. The candidates for the Presidency of the Convention were Alexander Mouton and Isaiah Garrett: the ballot stood, Mouton 81, Garrett 41, and Perkins 1, making a total of 123 votes.


After Governor Mouton took the chair and delivered his address of acceptance, and other organization preliminaries were completed, upon motion of Samuel W. Dorsey, Parish delegate from Tensas, a Committee of Fifteen was appointed "to prepare arid report an ordinance providing for the withdrawal of the State of Louisiana from the Union." Perkins was made Chairman of this Committee.


On Thursday, January 24th, as Chairman of the Committee, Perkins reported an Ordinance entitled: An Ordinance to dissolve the Union between the State of Louisiana and other States united with her in the compact entitled "The Constitution of the United States." Upon his motion, the Ordinance was ordered printed and made the special order of the day for Friday, the 25th. Rozier, of New Orleans, and Fuqua, of Baton Rouge, offered substitute ordinances which were later voted down. At the session of Saturday, January 26, 1861: on motion of Perkins, the ordinance which had been presented by him was called up and was adopted by a vote of 113 Yeas to 17 Nays--and Louisiana had seceded! [26]


The Convention recessed, to meet at New Orleans on January 30th, whereupon six delegates were elected from the State to the Convention to be held by the seceding States at Montgomery, Alabama, on February 4th. Perkins was one of the delegates at large. Upon the formation of the Confederate States Government, Perkins was returned by the Northeast Louisiana District as its member in the Congress of the Confederate States; he served in that capacity to the end. This writer has not at his command the necessary reference works to enable him to discuss the career of Perkins in either the United States Congress or the Congress of the Confederate States; in this respect this paper is inadequate.


An interesting story was told the writer by Lemuel P. Conner, of Natchez, who had it from his father, the colleague of Perkins in the Secession Convention. They were warm friends and, although Mr. Conner was not a member of the Committee of Fifteen, he assisted in the drafting of the Ordinance, which was completed only after a session lasting through the entire night. Perkins retained the original of the completed manuscript. Years later, during his last illness in Baltimore, he began a letter to Mr. Conner, in which he stated that he realized he was approaching the end, and that he felt that his friend should have this historic paper. The old gentleman was unable to finish the letter, and the conclusion was written by Mrs. Perkins; she forwarded it to Mr. Conner, with the manuscript, after her husband had passed on.


During the war John Perkins, Jr., spent most of his time in Montgomery, first, and then in Richmond. But he was at Somerset on at least one occasion; for when his plantation was about to be taken possession of by Federal troops, Perkins, with his own hand, fired his magnificent dwelling, and also two thousand bales of cotton, rather than see them used by the Federal troops.[27]


As we have seen, Perkins did not return to Somerset at the conclusion of the war, but went to Mexico. Due to the prominent part he had taken in the secession of Louisiana and his high official connection with the Confederate States Government, like Governor Allen and Governor Moore and many others similarly situated, he believed his personal safety would be more assured on foreign soil. In the original record in the old donation suit there is to be found the testimony of Allen T. Bowie of Tensas Parish. Bowie testified that he was in a Confederate military camp near Gainesville, Georgia, a few weeks after Lee's surrender; that Judge Perkins sought him out at the camp; that they slept together; that Perkins discussed his affairs and stated that he was going to Mexico and never expected to return to the United States.


In an absorbingly interesting little book, From Texas to Mexico and the Court of Maximilian in 1865, by Judge Alexander W. Terrell, [28] we get an occasional glimpse of our Louisiana émigrés. He relates an experience of "The Honorable Mr. Perkins of Mississippi," which undoubtedly has reference to John Perkins of Louisiana. It is worth repeating:


Traveling on the highway was often hazardous in Western Texas, as it was in Mexico. The Honorable Mr. Perkins of Mississippi, a wealthy cotton planter, started from San Antonio to enter Mexico at Eagle Pass with an escort hired by him, consisting of three ex-confederate soldiers. He had several thousand dollars in gold on his person, a fact that became known to some desperate men who wore the Confederate gray. They lay in wait for the party west of the Nueces River. One afternoon Perkins and his escort were joined by four horsemen, who came into the road from the chaparral, armed with cavalry guns. As was natural, each party paired off with a new companion, and, as they were thus riding, three guns were discharged simultaneously by the strangers, and the three men of the escort fell dead from their horses. Perkins remained unhurt, but was held under the muzzle of a pistol by his new companion, who caused him to dismount and assist in dragging the bodies of the dead men away from the road. His gold watch, when the plunder was divided, fell to the lot of the man who rode with him, who returned it to him, saying, "Sir, when a boy I lived on your plantation in Mississippi, and you were always kind to mother and her children; your life is safe, take your watch, mount your horse, and ride. If you look behind, you are a dead man."


From the paucity of material available to this writer, he does not know whether Perkins entered the service of the ill-fated, scholarly dreamer, Emperor Maximilian, although it has been so asserted.[29] From what little information we have, we gather that he attempted to establish a coffee plantation at Carlotta, near Cordova. Mrs. Sarah A. Dorsey, writing in 1866, refers to him as "a colonist now residing at Carlotta, in Mexico.”[30]


Governor Henry Watkins Allen, writing from the City of Mexico on February 10, 1866, says:[31]


. . . Our friends in exile here are all making a living. Some farming, some employed on the railroad, some in counting houses, stores, &c. All, I am glad to say, are conducting themselves very properly, and are highly esteemed by the Mexicans. The Colony at Cordova bids fair to do well. Judge ______ is the agent of the Government there, and is well satisfied with his prospects for a fortune . . .


From another letter of Governor Allen to a friend, written from the City of Mexico, April 2, 1866, we quote:[32]


… I took a trip to Vera Cruz and Cordova a week or two since. Judge P. is well, and pushing finely ahead with his coffee-farm: he blacks his own shoes, and feeds and curries his own horse. He expects his wife and daughter in the fall . . . .


According to a letter of Governor Allen of a prior date, August 10, 1865, Judge Perkins arrived at the City of Mexico on that day, accompanied by Generals Price and Polk, of Missouri. The Governor says: "They are well. Thank God! We are all, at least, beyond the power of persecution, prison and chains. Judge Perkins looks in fine health . . . .[33]


The beloved Henry Watkins Allen kept his "rendezvous with death" at the City of Mexico on Sunday morning, April 22, 1866. One of his faithful friends was with him at the last, Major Edwards, later delivered to Judge Perkins at Cordova, "The stars of his rank, a silver goblet, and one or two other little remembrances." Judge Perkins had requested that these remembrances of the Governor be placed in his keeping for delivery to the Governor's friend, Mrs. Dorsey."[34]


When the Emperor Maximilian paid the penalty for his wife's ambition--death by a Mexican firing squad at the aqueduct of Queretaro--Mexico was no longer a safe place of refuge for our Southern émigrés. John Perkins, Jr., went to Europe and remained there until 1878. In that year, he returned to the United States, and to his wife's Hapaka Plantation in Madison Parish, where he spent his last years, annually summering in Virginia.[35]


Mr. Perkins was an extremely cultivated man. His literary attainments were of the highest order. His library was superb. His home was a gem for taste and richness. He was an easy, fluent conversationalist.[36]


Somerset and Hapaka have long since passed out of the ownership of the Perkins family, and time has obliterated, to a large extent, the importance of the name in Louisiana History. In presenting this brief biography, may we say that John Perkins, both father and son, exemplified in a high degree the traditions, culture and manhood of the Old South.


Somerset Commemorative sign and monuments to John, Sr., Zilpha and William. Courtesy of Jeremy Prescott

[1] Calhoun, R. D., "A History of Concordia Parish," in Louisiana Historical Quarterly, XV, 44-67, (January, 1932).

[2] Numerous deeds recorded in. Conveyance Books "A-4" and "B" of Concordia Parish Archives, Vidalia, La.

[3] Calhoun, op. cit., in Louisiana Historical Quarterly, XV, 224, (April, 1932).

[4] Calhoun. R. D., "The Origin and. Early Development of County-Parish Government in Louisiana," in Louisiana Historical Quarterly, X'111, 56-160, (January, 1935).

[5]Sundry Conveyance Books in Concordia Parish Archives, with transcriptions in archives of Tensas and Madison parishes

[6] Published at the time of death of John Perkins, Jr. Courtesy of Natchez Democrat Publishing Co., Natchez, Miss. They have a complete file of Natchez papers from 1887 to date.

[7] 0riginal records Re: Tutorship of the Minors Bynum, and Succession of Mrs. Mary Perkins, Concordia Parish Probate Archives.

[8] Original will, Concordia Parish Probate archives.

[9] Journal of the Constitutional Convention of 1852. (Copy in Howard Memorial Library, N. O.)

[10] Tensas Parish archives. Its recitals are also given in Louisiana Supreme Court decisions noted hereafter.

[11] John Perkins. Sr., versus John Perkins, Jr. (1868), 20th Louisiana Annual, 257-259.

[12] Certified copy in the original record Re: Succession of John Perkins, Sr., Tensas Parish archives.

[13] 0riginal records Re: Succession of John Perkins, Sr. and Perkins versus Perkins, Tensas Parish archives.

[14] E. S. Eskridge & Husband versus E. D. Farrar, Agent; and Mary E. Ogden et al versus The Heirs of John Perkins (Consolidated). 30th Louisiana Annual (1878, 718-738; also 34th Louisiana Annual (1883), 709-728.

[15] Southwestern Presbyterian Review, 111, 181-195.

[16] Robinson William C., Columbia Theological Seminary and the Southern Presbyterian Church Decatur, Ga., 1931, 168-193.

[17] Also, Woodrow, W. W. Dr. James Woodrow, 1909, pp. 366-370.

[18] John Perkins, Jr. versus Mary E. Potts, His Wife, 8th Louisiana Annual (1853). p. 14. 19"Biographical sketch, Natchez Tri-Weekly Democrat, op, cit.; Fortier, Alcee, Louisiana, (Cyclopedic), 11, 310.

[19] Biographical sketch, in Natchez Tri-Weekly Democrat, op. cit., Fortier, op. cit., 11, 310

[20] French B. F., Historical Collections of Louisiana, 1st series, Part 11 (1850), pp. 1-2; also, Fortier, op. cit., 1, 508, article "Historical Society.”

[21] French, op. cit., pp. 3, 4.

[22] Ibid p. 7.

[23] Ibid p. 9.

[24] Ibid pp. 9, 10, 11.

[25] Biographical sketch, in Natchez Tri-Weekly Democrat, op. cit., Fortier, op. cit., 11, 310; also, volumes of the Louisiana Reports for the 1850's.

[26]Greer, James Kimmins. .'Louisiana Politics, 1845-I86l," in Louisiana Historical Quarterly, XIII, 617-650, (October, 1930); Kendall, Lane (.aster, "Interregnum in Louisiana in 1861," in Louisiana Historical Quarterly, XVI 386-408, (July, 1933); Calhoun, R. D., "History of Concordia Parish," in Louisiana Historical Quarterly, XVI, 99-100, (January, 1933).

[27] Quoted from biographical sketch, in Natchez Tri-Weekly Democrat; see also, Dorsey. Sarah A., Recollections of Henry Watkins Allen, New York and New Orleans, 1866, p. 410

[28] Published by the Book Club of Texas, Dallas. 1933. Judge Terrell a Brigadier General, C. S. A., Texas lawmaker, "Father of the University of Texas." and U. S. Minister to Turkey during Cleveland's administration, gives a vivid account of the experiences of himself and others who went to Mexico at the close of the Civil War. (In Collections of Louisiana Library Commission, Baton Rouge).

[29] Biographical sketch, in Natchez Tri-Weekly Democrat.

[30] Dorsey, Sarah A., Recollections o/ Henry Watkins Allen, p. 162.

[31] Ibid, pp. 357-358.

[32] Ibid, pp. 358-354.

[33] lbid, pp. 331-832.

[34] Ibid, pp. 363-384. The value of Mrs. Dorsey's book was seriously lessened by her frequent deletion of names and her references to many persons as "Mr. _____ "Colonel S.," etc. The "silver goblet," mentioned in the last quotation, was one that Mrs. Dorsey had given to Allen while he was visiting at her temporary residence in Crockett, Texas, as he was enroute to Mexico. (Ibid, P- 322).

[35] Quoted from Ibid

[36] Biographical sketch, in Natchez Tri-Weekly Democrat.