By Virginia Perkins
In 1837, Florida was still a territory and it was the northern part of the state, near Tallahassee, that Thomas James Perkins, age 20, came to seek his fortune. His work with the railroad brought him from Queen Anne County, Maryland and he continued to work for the railroad for the next 13 years. In 1839 he married Amelia Mather Keowin of Charleston, South Carolina. He became active in local affairs in the local Methodist Church, which was later named Trinity Methodist. He voted in the first election in 1845 and saw Florida become a state. Perkins left the railroad, served for a time as Intendant Mayor of Tallahassee and later became a cotton broker and commission merchant.
John George Anderson, who was born in the West Indies where his family raised cotton, moved to Florida in 1850, first to the east coast near Ormond Beach, then to Monticello, and finally to Tallahassee. Educated at Yale, Anderson became affiliated with the Tallahassee office of the cotton brokerage firm of Smallwood and Anderson of New York City.
Tallahassee was a small town and the Perkins and Anderson families no doubt saw a lot of each other since they were neighbors and both were in the cotton commission business. Anderson had established himself as a prosperous cotton merchant and built what was described as “a mansion” on the corner of Monroe and Virginia Streets. Following the same floor plan as Goodwood, this home later became known to Tallahasseans as the Brown House.
Life spans were often short in those days and Anderson’s was no exception. At the age of 40 he died of what was then called “bilious fever,” but now known as a gall bladder attack. He had a will in which he left a loan of $20,000 to his friend, Thomas James Perkins, to use if he desired, to buy into the cotton brokerage company of Smallwood, Anderson and Company. It appears that Perkins did just that, becoming part of Anderson’s partnership in New York, which by that time was headed by John H. Earle, a New Yorker. Thomas James handled the purchasing and shipping of cotton north and Earle then exported the cotton overseas to those who purchased it. The company was later known as Earle and Perkins, and as T. J. Perkins noted in his list of “remarkable experiences,” he was in partnership with John Earle for 31 years without “an angry or harsh word spoken.” So close was that relationship that a grandson was named John Earle Perkins and that name has now been carried through 5 generations.
The Anderson’s youngest son, Lawrence, or Laurie as he was called, was with the Bradford Light Artillery, Florida Battalion, Company A, and fought at the Battle of Shiloh in Tennessee. On the second day of battle in April 1862, he was killed. He was buried in an unmarked grave along with many other young men who gave their lives in that battle. A year after young Laurie’s death, the Perkins’ last son was born and was given the name Lawrence Anderson Perkins for the lost son of their friends, John George and Jane Anderson.
Lawrence Anderson Perkins married and had a family. In 1936, he recalled the origin of his name stating in a letter to Dr. Henry E. Palmer, Senior, Warden of St. John’s Episcopal Church, that his family lived directly across the street from the Andersons and were “warm personal friends.” He went on to say “ I was born a short time after Lawrence’s death and my parents, owing to the great friendship existing between the two families and their great admiration for Lawrence, gave me this name. My son and grandson both bear this name.”
As Lawrence’s namesake, he was left a beautiful silver fruit knife by his grandmother, Sarah Petty Dunn Anderson, who died in 1869 and is buried along with her son in the St. John’s Cemetery. In the mid 1800s, the St. John’s rector asked parishioners for old gold and silver for use in relining the communion service. Perkins gave the knife to the church for this purpose saying “we thought this a most fitting place for this relic.”
Perkins Family Papers
“Lest We Forget,” graduate American History paper, Stephen McLeod
(President’s note: During the pandemic, when all of us are sitting inside with nothing to do except watch TV, members of the Tallahassee Historical Society have been contributing history vignettes, which we can then share. The Perkins family and its various branches is well known in virtually every state in the South. In my home county, in Tennessee, they were some of largest landholders with great political influence. Our own Virginia Perkins sent this in, a study, as she calls it, of real friendship.)