Luke and Elizabeth Perkins, notorious Disturbers of the Peace and a “Wicked-tongued Woman”

Featured image: Grape Island, blockprint by Evelyn Goodale

Grape Island is a part of the Parker River Wildlife Refuge at Plum Island, and was once a small, but thriving community. John, Jacob and Matthew Perkins, William Hubbard, Francis Wainwright, Thomas Hovey, Thomas Wade, Benedictus Pulsifer, Captain John Smith, Samuel Dutch, and Nathaniel Treadwell were among the owners in the 17th Century.

Luke Perkins and his wife, Elizabeth were notorious disturbers of the peace in 17th Century Ipswich, and she was said to have had a “venomous tongue.” It was a happy day for the town in the 1680’s when Luke and Elizabeth loaded their goods into a boat and set sail for the solitary island farm owned by his father on Grape Island. However, Luke did not fulfill the conditions of their stay, and was ordered by the Court to transfer the property back to his father. An agreement was made that upon Luke’s relinquishing all claim to the house and land, his father would convey to him another house on half an acre of land.

Grape Island, photo by George Dexter (1862- 1927)

Luke repudiating this agreement, took it to court, lost his case, and went to jail rather than submit to the order of the court. He was released after giving bonds in the sum of £1000 not to molest his brother Abraham, who was in the possession of his property.

None of this sat well with Luke’s wife Elizabeth, and at the Quarter Sessions Court March 29, 1681, she was “presented for saying that her father and mother (*Luke’s father Quartermaster John Perkins and his wife Elizabeth), and Abraham, Jacob and Sarah Perkins were of the company of Belial, and she would be glad if they were all tied back to back that she might see them carried to the gallows to be hung; that her mother had one foot in hell already and the other would be there quickly.”

The northern end of Grape Island, photo by George Dexter, circa 1900

The northern tip of Grape Island, photo by George Dexter (1862- 1927)

It was her scandalous charges of gross immorality against Rev. Mr. Cobbett, Pastor of the Ipswich church that drew the ire of the court, to which Luke added, “Mr. Cobbett is more fit to be in a hog sty than in a pulpit!”

The Grand Jury found Elizabeth Perkins guilty of “the most opprobrious and scandalous words of a high nature against Mr. Cobbett and her husband’s natural parents, and others of his relations, which was proved, and in part owned.

The sentence was read:

“That a due testimony may be borne against such a virulent, reproachful and wicked-tongued woman, this Court doth sentence said Elizabeth to be severely whipped on her naked body, and to stand or sit the next Lecture day in some open place in the public meeting-house at Ipswich and when the Court shall direct, the whole time of the service with a paper pinned on her head, written in capital letters, for reproaching ministers, parents & relations.”

Elizabeth Perkins paid a fine rather than be whipped, but the rest of the sentence was executed. They continued to live on Grape Island, and a deed conveyed to Francis Wainwright in 1701 includes a year’s rental fee of 5 pounds from Luke Perkins for his use of the farm.


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