1.   Historical note

2.   Scope and content

3.   Provenance

4.   Processing note

5.   Inventory

6.   Subjects

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    R.I.H.S. Library page

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 Joseph Perkins Papers

 Silversmith of Little Rest (Kingston), R. I.

 Papers, 1770-1792.

 Size: .5 lin. ft.

 Catalog number: MSS 629 SG 9

 Processed by: Robin Flynn, April 1999

©Rhode Island Historical Society

Manuscripts Division


Historical note:

            Joseph Perkins was a silversmith, gunsmith, and merchant at Kingston, Rhode Island. He was born September 24, 1749, the son of Edward and Elizabeth Perkins; he was the great-grandson of Governor William Brenton, one of the original Pettaquamscutt Purchasers. Perkins married Mary Gardiner, the daughter of Caleb and Isabel (Sherman) Gardiner; she later married Elisha Reynolds Potter, Sr. Perkins served as an ensign in the Kingstown Reds in 1781. He died at age 39 on September 6, 1789.  

            According to historian William Davis Miller, Perkins's silversmithing activities extended to counterfeiting silver currency. To avoid capture by authorities, he hid his dies in the swamp of his father-in-law Caleb Gardiner.

            (Subgroup 12 of this collection, the William Davis Miller Papers, contains research notes about Perkins and his works in silver.)


Notes of William Davis Miller

Miller, William Davis, "Joseph Perkins, Silversmith", Collections of the Rhode Island Historical             Society 21, (July 1928).

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Scope and content:

            The collection is comprised primarily of loose accounts and account books, with a small amount of deeds and letters. William Davis Miller's article includes a copy of a letter from Hannah Potter to Joseph Perkins regarding items of silver Perkins had given Potter to sell at commission for him. Among the accounts in this collection was found one to Hannah Potter, dated June 22, 1786, listing the items that Perkins gave to her. There are two other similar accounts: one dated May, 1787, which lists items given to Davis Nason, with what looks to be a list of items sent back and forth between Perkins and Nason between May 28th, 1787 and July 16, 1789; and another for Stephen Peirce at Newport, June 23, 1785 which shows items exchanged and monies received by Perkins for items Peirce sold. There is also an undated account for "Dedfoot Brown, Negro" from Perkins for sundries, powder and shot, silk, rum, and needles which includes a credit to Brown for work done, including breaking flax.

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            The papers in this subgroup were probably part of a 1968 transfer from the University of Rhode Island Library to the RIHS, comprised of over 2000 documents from several Washington County families, the foremost of which are the Reynolds, Potter, Gardiner, Hagadorn, Wells, and Davis families. The papers had formerly been in the private collection of historian William Davis Miller, a descendant of the Davises, and were given through bequest to the university upon Miller's death in 1959.

            A smaller portion of his collection had gone to the Rhode Island Historical Society the same year; this portion is divided primarily between MSS 629, subgroups 2 and 3, the papers of Elisha Reynolds Potter and his son, Elisha Jr.

            William Davis Miller's July, 1928 article about Joseph Perkins, in Rhode Island Historical Society Collections, volume 21, states that "a considerable collection of [Perkins'] papers...were carefully preserved by Elisha Reynolds Potter, Sr." Mary (Gardiner) Perkins, wife of Joseph, married Elisha Potter Sr. after Perkins' death.

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Processing note:

            The documents in this collection had been mingled in chronological arrangement with the papers of other South Kingstown families in a collection known as the "Potter Papers", which was a merging of William Davis Miller's 1959 gift to the RIHS and the 1968 University of Rhode Island transfer, along with several other smaller gifts from various parties. In 1998, the Potter Papers were sorted into several family subgroups under a single collection number. The largest subgroups are numbers 2 and 3, the papers of Elisha Reynolds Potter Sr. and Jr., respectively.

            After separation from the rest of the collection, the Joseph Perkins Papers were arranged by type, and re-housed in upright acid-free storage.

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Loose volumes.

Volume 1. Day book, probably Joseph Perkins, ca. 1775-1783

Volume 2. Account book, incomplete, 1784-1789

Joseph Perkins

Box 1, folder 1. Accounts, 1771-1790 and undated

Box 1, folder 2. Bond, 1787, and arrest warrant for Henry Greene, 1789

Box 1, folder 3. Correspondence, 1789, 1791 and undated

Box 1, folder 4. Day book, loose page, 1785

Box 1, folder 5. Deeds, 1774-1789

Oversized storage: Deed, George and Rowland Browne to Joseph Perkins, 1788

Box, folder 6. Estate settlements, 1789-1792 and undated

Box, folder 7. Receipts and promissory notes, 1770-1789

Mary Perkins

Box, folder 8. Deeds, September, 1789 (estate settlement of husband Joseph?)

Box, folder 9. Loose accounts, 1790

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Perkins, Mary (Gardiner) - deeds and loose accounts, 1789, 1790

Silversmiths - South Kingstown, R.I.

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