Grape Island sketch

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 and 18th Centuries.

Luke Perkins (son of Quartermaster John 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 1680s 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
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.

Samuel Perkins, Luke’s brother, was born in Ipswich in 1655. He married in 1677 Hannah, daughter of Twifford and Hannah West. He was a cordwainer by trade. His father also gave him a deed of land on Grape Island, on which he had built a house in 1684; this land joined to land given to his brother Luke. In the deed to Luke, his father, Quartermaster John wrote, “and that Sam Perkins shall not be disturbed in the possession I have given him, and that he hath built upon.” Samuel Perkins died intestate in 1700. His widow, Hannah, was appointed administratrix of his estate, and was also chosen as guardian of his two minor children, John and Elizabeth.

Luke’s wife Elizabeth died about 1690 , after which he married Sarah about 1692. Her last name, and their date of death is not known. The history of the Perkins family notes that Luke Perkins was employed during the early part of his life by his father and brother Abraham, and at some point carried on the Inn formerly kept by his father, but he was living on the Island in 1695.


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