Guide to the Collection

Collection Summary


This collection consists of the military, business, and family papers, 1775-1878, of William Perkins, captain in John Crane's Battalion of Artillery and later commander of Castle Island in Boston Harbor.

Biographical Sketch

William Perkins (1742 - October 27, 1802) was the son of William and Elizabeth (Palfrey) Perkins of Boston. He married Abigail Cox in Boston on December 20, 1763, and they had several children.

The military career of Perkins began in May 1775 when he was appointed lieutenant in Gridley's Regiment of Massachusetts Artillery. He was appointed captain in Knox's Regiment of Continental Artillery on December 10, 1775; captain in the Third Continental Artillery on January 1, 1777; and promoted to major on September 12, 1778, and lieutenant colonel by brevet on April 20, 1787. During his military career, Perkins served in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. A notable episode in his career was the service of his artillery unit in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, during the spring of 1778. From 1779 to 1781 he oversaw military stores at Providence, Rhode Island.

After the war, Perkins served as the commander of the fort on Castle Island in Boston Harbor from 1785 to 1798. During his time at Castle Island, Perkins corresponded with John Hancock and Samuel Adams. In 1798 Perkins was appointed inspector and measurer of Boston. He died on October 27, 1802.


William Perkins papers, 1775 - 1878,
Massachusetts Historical Society.

Francis B. Heitman, Historical Register of Officers of the Continental Army During the War of the Revolution, (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 1982), 436.

Secretary of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors of the Revolutionary War, (Boston: Wright & Potter, 1904), 12: 172 - 173.

Collection Description

The William Perkins Papers are contained in two boxes, one narrow and one oversize. The papers date from 1775 to 1878, and the bulk date from 1775 to 1801. The papers are divided into three series.

The Revolutionary War papers of William Perkins make up the first series. The 139 documents in this series detail the career of Perkins as a captain in Colonel John Crane's Battalion of Artillery in 1777 and 1778. Perkins served in that role in New York, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island (most notably in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, in the late spring and early summer of 1778). The series also documents Perkins service as a major from 1779 to 1781 when he oversaw military stores at Providence, Rhode Island. Finally, the series includes correspondence from 1783 to 1794 through which Perkins attempted to receive additional compensation for his military service.

Business documents from the postwar career of Perkins spanning the years 1785 to 1801 are contained in the second series. The 31 documents in this series cover the period he served as commander of the fort on Castle Island in Boston Harbor and as inspector and measurer of Boston. Correspondence with Mass. Gov. John Hancock is included in this series

Family papers created between 1782 and 1878 by Perkins and his descendants are included in the third series. The 30 documents in the series include a Perkins family tree covering seven generations, documents describing the lives of the children of William Perkins, and nineteenth-century correspondence between Perkins descendants.

Acquisition Information

The William Perkins Papers were a gift of James A. P. Homans on July 26, 2002. Photocopies of items in the collection relating to Rhode Island were simultaneously deposited in the Rhode Island Historical Society Library by Mr. Homans.

Detailed Description of the Collection

I. Military papers, 1775 - 1794, [1812]

This series has been divided into six subseries: correspondence, orders and commissions, muster rolls, payroll records, returns, and equipment and clothing receipts.

A. Correspondence, 1777 - 1794

Arranged chronologically within each box.

The Revolutionary War service of William Perkins is documented in this subseries. The correspondence begins in 1777 when Perkins was a captain in Colonel John Crane's Battalion of Artillery with a letter from Major General Henry Knox ordering Perkins to raise a company in Peekskill, New York. Letters to Perkins after he attained the rank of major date from 1779 to 1781 and document his service overseeing military stores at Providence, Rhode Island. Correspondence from 1783 to 1794 documents efforts by Perkins to collect additional pay for his military service. A highlight of this subseries is a 1 April 1780 letter in which Perkins is ordered to find a carriage to transport a nurse and her children "staying at the college" to their home in Charlestown [Massachusetts] (Box 1, Folder 1).

Box 1Folder 1-3
Correspondence, 1777 - 1794
Box 2 (oversize)Folder 1
Oversize correspondence, 1783, 1789

B. Orders and commissions, 1777 - 1787

Arranged chronologically.

This subseries ranges from the undated appointment of William Perkins as captain in Colonel John Crane's Battalion of Artillery to his appointment as lieutenant colonel by brevet in 1787. Included are acts and resolves by the Rhode Island General Assembly and the Rhode Island Council of War dating from 1779 to 1781 which concern the disposition of military stores housed at Providence. Also included is the 1777 appointment of Seth Sprague as an ensign in Captain Caleb Carr's company of the Rhode Island Militia (Sprague's connection to Perkins is not clear). A highlight of this subseries is a 3 May 1783 finding by a West Point investigatory committee (on which Perkins served) which orders a Lieutenant Campbell to apologize to Colonel Crane for slandering him (Box 1, Folder 5).

Box 1Folder 4-5

C. Muster rolls, 1777 - 1778, [1812]

Arranged chronologically.

The bulk of the documents in this subseries list the soldiers who served under Captain William Perkins in Col. John Crane's Battalion of Artillery, including those who served in 1778 at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. The subseries begins with an unusually detailed February 1777 roll which provides soldiers' birthplaces, ages, "complexions," hair color, eye color, and height. Additional rolls document the service of the company at unstated locations from February 1777 to March 1778, at Valley Forge from April to June 1778, at an unstated location in July 1778, and at Providence, Rhode Island, in September 1778. Also included is a recreated roster of the Massachusetts Regiment of Artillery created in or after 1812 by H. Burbeck, who stated that "old age, 93, must be my apology of interlining" (Box 2, Folder 3).

Box 2 (oversize)Folder 2-3

D. Payroll records, 1776 - 1778

Arranged chronologically within each box.

Included in this subseries are payroll records of soldiers who served under William Perkins from 1776 to 1778 in Col. John Crane's Battalion of Artillery. Locations are not stated on many of the records, but those on which locations are noted are datelined July 1776 at New York [City?]; December 1776 at "Camp Penselvania;" February 1777 at Peekskill, [New York]; August 1777 at "Cross Roads, Bucks County," [Pennsylvania]; and November 1777 at "Camp Whitemarsh Church." The 31 July 1776 New York [City?] record is notable in that it states that the men listed received "pay for our butter and pease" (Box 1, Folder 6).

Box 1Folder 6
Payroll records, 1776 - 1777
Box 2 (oversize)Folder 4
Oversize payroll records, 1777 - 1778

E. Returns, 1778 - 1781

Arranged chronologically.

This subseries includes returns dated from May 1778 to August 1781. The earliest return was created at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, and the remainder were created at the following locations (all presumably in Rhode Island): Providence, Greenwich, Newport, Tiverton, and Middleton. The 23 May 1778 return is of special note as on the reverse it carries a receipt datelined Valley Forge, 24 May 1778, which acknowledges the receipt of shirts, shoes, and "stockens" sent to soldiers serving at Valley Forge "as a gift from the Massachusetts state" (Box 2, Folder 5).

Box 2 (oversize)Folder 5-6

F. Equipment and clothing receipts, 1775 - 1781

Arranged chronologically.

This subseries documents is comprised of receipts which document the standard issue of equipment and clothing used by soldiers who served under Perkins. They also document the movements of William Perkins from Boston in January 1776, to New York [City?] in July 1776, to Peekskill [New York] in February 1777, to "Camp Cross Roads, Bucks County" [Pennsylvania] in August 1777, to various locations in Rhode Island from October 1778 to July 1781. The earliest document in the William Perkins Papers, a receipt dated 8 July 1775, is included in this subseries (Box 1, Folder 7).

Box 1Folder 7-10

II. Business papers, 1785 - 1801

This series has been divided into two subseries: papers covering the period during which William Perkins served as commander of the fort on Castle Island in Boston Harbor, and those covering the period he served as inspector and measurer of the port of Boston.

A. Castle Island, 1785 - 1798

Arranged chronologically within each box.

Correspondence and other documents related to the service of William Perkins as commander of the Castle Island fort are included in this subseries. Documents range in date from 2 November 1785 (his appointment) to July 1798. Included are four documents signed by Mass. Gov. John Hancock and dated 25 August 1787, 11 April 1788, 12 September 1788, and 19 March 1789 (Box 1, Folder 11; Box 2, Folder 7). A 10 October 1793 letter from Samuel Adams requests that Perkins fire the guns of the castle during Hancock's funeral (Box 1, Folder 12).

Box 1Folder 11-12
Castle Island, 1785 - 1798
Box 2 (oversize)Folder 7
Oversize Castle Island, 1785 - 1798

B. Inspector and measurer of Boston, 1798 - 1801

Arranged chronologically.

Two documents are included in this subseries. The first is the 15 November 1798 appointment of Perkins to the post of inspector and measurer of Boston. The second is a customs record of the vessel George William which arrived at Boston from Tobago in December 1801 with a cargo of rum. The second item is not signed by Perkins.

Box 1Folder 13

III. Family Papers, 1782 - 1878

This series is divided into three subseries: biographical and genealogical papers, writings, and miscellaneous.

A. Biographical and genealogical papers, 1782 - 1878

This subseries includes a Perkins family tree [1871?], family letters written between 1782 and 1856, a list of Perkins family domiciles from 1785 to 1799, receipts for child care from 1796 to 1797, a list of vital records of the children of William Perkins, a description of the Perkins family crest, a newspaper obituary of Elizabeth Perkins (the wife of William's son Samuel), and correspondence with the Society of the Cincinnati dated 1826 and 1878.

Box 1Folder 14-15
Biographical and genealogical papers, 1782 - 1878
Box 2 (oversize)Folder 8
Oversize biographical and genealogical papers, ca. 1871

B. Writings, n.d.

Two documents are included in this subseries. The first is an unsigned patriotic address to "gentlemen of the military" on the occasion of an unspecified anniversary. The subject is the Revolutionary War and the possibility of renewed conflict, which suggests that it might have been written during the period immediately preceding the War of 1812. The author of the address states that he was a witness to the Revolutionary War and that he had been absent from his native place "nearly twenty long years." The second document is an unsigned poem entitled "On the Decease of a Late Eminent Christian" which is a lamentation on the death of an unnamed wife and mother.

Box 1Folder 16

C. Miscellaneous, 1790 - 1796, 1820

Arranged chronologically within each box.

Included in this subseries are items of unknown relation to the Perkins family. They are a $20 check dated 1796 and signed by Aaron Burr, a signature of Edward Everett clipped from a letter, two documents concerning the 1790 Middlesex County prosecution of Ezra Blood for the theft of a chain, and an 1820 land deed describing the transfer of Dorchester, Massachusetts, land from John Amory to Jonathan Amory.

Box 1Folder 17
Miscellaneous, 1790 - 1796
Box 2 (oversize)Folder 9
Oversize miscellaneous, 1820

Preferred Citation

William Perkins papers, Massachusetts Historical Society.

Access Terms

This collection is indexed under the following headings in ABIGAIL, the online catalog of the Massachusetts Historical Society. Researchers desiring materials about related persons, organizations, or subjects should search the catalog using these headings.


Perkins family--Genealogy.
Adams, Samuel, 1722-1803.
Hancock, John, 1737-1793.
Knox, Henry, 1750-1806.


United States.--Continental Army.--Continental Artillery Regiment, 3rd (John Crane's).
United States.--Continental Army.--Officers.
United States.--Continental Army.--Pay, allowances, etc.
United States.--Continental Army.--Supplies and stores.
Rhode Island.--General Assembly.


Family history--1750-1799.
Family history--1800-1849.
Family history--1850-1899.
Ports of entry--Massachusetts.
Boston (Mass.)--Officials and employees.
Boston Harbor (Mass.)--History.
Castle Island (Boston, Mass.).
Rhode Island--History--Revolution, 1775-1783.
United States--History--Revolution, 1775-1783--Equipment and supplies.
United States--History--Revolution, 1775-1783--Muster rolls.
Valley Forge (Pa.)--History--Revolution, 1775-1783.

Materials Removed from the Collection

The following printed broadside was removed for placement and cataloging with the Massachusetts Historical Society broadside collection:

Commonwealth of Massachusetts, In the Year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and ninety-eight, An Act Ceding Castle Island, in the harbour of Boston, to the United States. 1798.