The Perkins legacySmart, strong Simeon set the standard
Simeon Perkins served the Township of Liverpool in numerous capacities, but his greatest legacy is the tome of diaries he left behind recounting life in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Photo courtesy Queens County Museum.
Queens County, since its founding, has been home to a variety of strong-willed men and women - individuals who have persevered against difficult odds and played important roles in ensuring that the development of the county would go ahead, undeterred, into the future.
Many of those individuals were critically important players during the early settlement of the Liverpool Township.
People such as John Doggett, for his role recruiting settlers; James Gorham, who built and endowed Liverpool's first public schoolhouse; Enos Collins, renowned for his business acumen and success during the War of 1812; and the Reverends John Mann and William Black in supporting the churches of early Liverpool all helped to sustain the community in one capacity or another.
But chiefly among those early heroes of Queens County was one Simeon Perkins, whose lasting legacy rises above all others.
Perkins arrived in Liverpool in the spring of 1762, joining the ranks of literally hundreds of other New Englanders who had come to Nova Scotia. While many came from centres such as Plymouth and Cape Cod, Perkins himself hailed from Norwich, Connecticut.
At just 27 years of age, Perkins, who was a widower, left his family - including a son - in exchange for the wild, untamed woods of Nova Scotia.
Upon arriving in Liverpool, he immediately went about the process of renting a store, in which he set up shop as a merchant. Making the best of the region's resources, Perkins intended to trade in fish, lumber, molasses, rum and other goods obtained from throughout the Atlantic sphere, from Nova Scotia to the West Indies.
But knowing full well that he could not survive by trading goods alone in this early stage of Liverpool's development, with the community not yet five years old, Perkins quickly made the decision to pursue a diversification of his business interests.
Accordingly, he invested in a sawmill further up along the Mersey River, above Liverpool, and acquired several tracts of forested land. In later years, when the American Revolution would present privateering opportunities, wood from Perkins' holdings would be used to construct the backbone of Liverpool's privateering fleet along the town's waterfront.
Perkins' role in Liverpool's early economy was especially important during the 1770s. Prior to the outbreak of the American Revolution, Liverpool went into a severe state of decline. The harsh, isolated environment made for difficult living, and many settlers who had originally come from the New England region began returning to the more prosperous colonies to the south.
Perkins, too, endured hard times, even relocating to "The Falls," where his milling operation existed in the year 1770.
To make matters worse, in 1772 with Liverpool in an economic spiral, Perkins became rather ill.
The help of one Dr. John Lagord, a doctor of francophone descent residing in the county, was sought. Dr. Lagord prescribed rest and, to ease Perkins' howling cough, a mixture of hot milk sweetened with brown sugar for a week.
Perkins - not yet 40 years old - was eventually able to recover and resumed his regular duties with plenty of rest and the doctor's care.
The tough times for Queens County lasted for several years. In January of 1773, Perkins remarked in his diary after yet another household relocated southward that, "Many other families talk of going away. I think Liverpool is going to decay, and it may be many years ere it is more than a fishing village."
Little did Perkins know that a turn of fate was in store for Liverpool.
Trying as warfare can be on men's souls, as the old saying goes, it is also very good for business. Beginning in 1775, the American Revolution presented opportunities for Liverpool's shipping and shipbuilding industry that had not previously been present, and the resulting infusion of wealth into the economy of southern Nova Scotia helped spurn on the betterment of many fledgling settlements, including Liverpool.
Perkins' interest in the well-being of the Liverpool area extended beyond the realm of economic concerns. He also became involved in the local militia and was assigned the rank of lieutenant colonel in the militia by 1772.
By the time the American Revolution erupted and privateers descended upon the Nova Scotia coast, wreaking havoc on shipping and settlements in 1775,Perkins had been assigned the rank of Colonel Commandant of the entire county militia.
As a result, on numerous occasions, it was Perkins himself who was responsible for planning the defence of Liverpool against foreign coastal raiders, who usually arrived with superior numbers.
Aside from his military and commerce activity, Perkins also served in multiple governmental capacities, both local and provincial. He served as the first Justice of the Courts in Queens County and Judge of Probate, and he also represented the county in provincial government for some 34 years, serving on multiple committees and councils in the process.
After a long and full existence, most of it spent in Nova Scotia, Simeon Perkins' life came to an end on Saturday, May 9, 1812, at the age of 77.
An obituary, published in the Weekly Chronicle in Halifax a month later, noted that his passing would be "universally lamented, having distinguished himself in [Queens] County for half a century, for his loyalty, integrity and ability."
As important as Perkins' legacy was as an economic and militia leader in both Liverpool and the greater Queens County area, the diary that he crafted, chronicling the details of existence in early Liverpool, is of equally immense value.
Although a period of Perkins' entries in the 1800s has been lost, the majority of the collection chronicling his daily activities from the 1760s until the weeks before his death in 1812 not only survived intact in its original form, but it was subsequently published in its entirety, ensuring it is accessible to anyone who desires to learn from it.
The document is something of an historical rarity. While not out of the norm in one sense, as it was written by an educated man, the Perkins diary differs from most surviving written works of the period for its thorough description of rural life, focusing not just on the wealthy, but also on those struggling to make a living.
The diary stands as a testament to the will to survive that permeated throughout many small, isolated communities during the early years of European settlement in Nova Scotia; to the sacrifices made during times of war; and to the cumulative experiences of those who have gone before us.
Sources: "Diary of Simeon Perkins,1760-1780," "Diary of Simeon Perkins, 1780-1789," and "Diary of Simeon Perkins, 1804-1812," published by the Champlain Society; Penney, Allen, "The Simeon Perkins House: An Agricultural Interpretation, 1767-1987."
Written and researched by Patrick Hirtle.