Biography of Eliphaz Perkins

Eliphaz Perkins, son of John Perkins, a leading citizen of Norwich, Connecticut, was born at that place, August 25, 1753. Deprived of his father at an early age, he was nevertheless enabled, through the exertions of his mother, to obtain a liberal education. Soon after leaving college, Mr. Perkins married Lydia Fitch, daughter of Dr. Jabez Fitch, of Canterbury, Connecticut, and engaged for a time in the mercantile business in that town. Subsequently he engaged in the same business in New Haven; having, however, an inclination to professional pursuits, he finally entered on the study of medicine with his father-in-law, and this was his vocation during the rest of his life. The times being hard, and his family increasing, Dr. Perkins decided to remove to a new country, and, in the spring of 1789, leaving his family in Connecticut, he started for Marietta. On his arrival here he found a number of persons from Clarksburg, Virginia, engaged in laying out a road between that place and Marietta. At their urgent solicitation he returned with them to Clarksburg, where he practiced medicine for nearly two years. The Indian war began about this time, and Dr. Perkins witnessed some terrible scenes of border warfare. In one instance the savages killed and scalped a family near where the Doctor was passing the night. One member of the family, a girl about fourteen years old, was scalped and left for dead in the fence corner. Dr. Perkins found her the next morning, still alive, took her under his care, and with good treatment and an elastic constitution, she was finally restored to health.

In the autumn of 1790, Dr. Perkins returned to Connecticut and rejoined his family, whom he had not heard from, nor they from him, for nearly two years. During the next few years, he lived part of the time in Connecticut, and part of the time in Vermont, and practiced his profession. He finally decided to remove his family to the northwest, and they set out for Marietta on the third of June, 1799. He had at this time seven children, the eldest of whom, then a young lady of fifteen (afterwards Mrs. David Pratt, of Athens), kept a journal of their trip to Marietta, which is now before us. She says

“Mother had a pleasant, easy-going horse, so that she could, whenever she choose, relieve herself from the tiresome motion of the wagon by riding on horseback. The first Sabbath was spent at Brandon, Vermont. It being a rainy ‘day, we did not attend church, but spent the day within doors. The second Sabbath was passed at Williamstown, Massachusetts, where we heard an excellent sermon from mother’s brother, the Rev. Ebenezer Fitch. The third Sabbath, we were at Salisbury, Connecticut, where we were hospitably and kindly entertained by friends of the name of Chittenden. Here we also spent Monday in order to recruit our provision chest, which we did abundantly with bread, pies, cakes, etc., through the kind assistance of our friends. The next week brought us into Pennsylvania. At sunset on Saturday evening, we passed through Reading, intending to go a little into the country where we could find pasture for the team. About eleven o’clock we came to a large stone house with a sign for entertainment, where we were admitted. The next day was the Sabbath, and before evening, mother gave birth to twin daughters. We remained here three weeks, when, the babes being healthy, and mother’s health better than before, we resumed our journey. But now sickness began to prevail among the rest of the family, probably owing to the hot weather, bad water, and the abundance of fruit which was then ripe and very inviting to children, and doubtless, indulged in too freely by them. The people, at that time, along the mountains, were not very friendly to strangers, especially if they had sickness among them, fearing some contagious disease. Many of them were Dutch, and either did not, or pretended not to understand English, so that it was often with difficulty we found a place to lodge in. Several of the children were obliged to be placed on beds in the wagon, the motion of which, soon became so painful to them, as to make it necessary to suspend traveling for a time. A shelter was necessary. At last, with great difficulty, we found a hut that had been a blacksmith’s shop, with a blacksmith’s fire-place in it. There was no floor, but the shelter was better than nothing.

Here we remained ten days before the sick were so far recovered as to be able to bear the jolting of the wagon. We then traveled slowly, about six or seven miles a day, till we reached McKeesport on the Monongahela river. Here we were going to take a flat-boat and pursue our journey immediately by water, but some of the children who had been sick took a relapse, and we were detained several weeks. By this time the river was so low as to make navigation dangerous, yet, as we were all so anxious to reach Marietta before cold weather, it was determined to try it. Father procured a flat-boat of the largest and strongest sort, took in two men for rowers, and having placed the family and effects on board, with provisions for the voyage, we set out on the first of November, 1799. Owing to the extreme lowness of the water, we were three days in reaching Pittsburg-only about twelve miles. When we got into the Ohio river, it was very little better. At the end of the first day’s travel, about three miles below Pittsburg, our boat fastened on the rocks, swung round, and seemed in imminent danger of being broken in pieces. At length, by great exertions, it was freed from the rocks and got to shore. The children were now so frightened they could not be persuaded to enter the boat again, nor were our parents much less alarmed. A consultation was held, but what could they do? On both sides of the river stretched an unbroken wilderness. The team had previously been sent on by land in charge of the two oldest boys. There were two horses on the boat belonging to the rowers; these father agreed to take and endeavor, without road or compass, to cross the country by land with the family and meet the boat at Wheeling. Taking all of us and the two horses out would somewhat lighten the load, and the men thought they could get on with the boat. Mother was placed on one horse and I on the other, each of us with one child in her lap and one on the horse behind her. Father took one of the babes in his arms, which he carried walking all the way to Wheeling, and the rest of the children walked beside him. In this way we traveled about a week through the forest, sometimes finding little paths, and sometimes no trace at all. There were a few settlers through this region, and we were so fortunate as to find some sort of shelter every night. At last we reached Wheeling. The boat had not yet arrived, but reached there two days later. We all entered the boat once more, and having now more water, we floated along somewhat more easily. After another week of tedious travel, we landed at Marietta on the 18th of November, 1799. But our troubles were not ended. It was impossible to get a comfortable house, and for nearly two months we occupied one not at all fit for winter. One of the children was taken with bilious colic, and his life was despaired of for several weeks. About the last of December we got into a more comfortable house, and just then mother was seized with a nervous fever. Father doctored her and was assisted by other good physicians, but without avail. After a few days of painful sickness, her toils and trials were ended by death. Father was very much crushed by this affliction, and could hardly bear up. In the spring of 1800 father was invited by some gentlemen from the Athens settlement, on the Hockhocking, to settle there. He accepted the invitation and spent the summer practicing over a large extent of sparsely populated country. Having decided to locate at Athens, he procured a house, the best the place could afford, a log cabin with one room, one window, and one door. There was a spring of excellent water near the house, and a shed for horse and cow. Being unable to go for the family himself, he employed a trusty person to escort us through the wilderness from Marietta to Athens. Our goods were sent in a small boat down the Ohio, and up the Hockhocking. Only five of us went over at this time, the other four children being left temporarily with friends in Marietta. I rode on one horse with the babe in my lap, and one of the little girls behind me, and two of the boys rode another horse, the guide walked before and led the way. * * * * * * *

At last we reached Athens in safety. We were well pleased with our new home, and rejoiced to be with father again, who was not less glad to see us once more. Here we enjoyed peace and happiness. The first settlers here were generally poor, and father found it easier to earn money than to collect it. If the people had not money to pay with, he never distressed them. We suffered many privations; most of our bread had to be prepared from grain ground on hand mills, or horse mills, or pounded in a mortar, dug out of a large stump, with a spring pole fastened to an iron wedge for a pestle. A hand mill was something like a large coffee mill fastened to the side of the house or to a tree close by.

In 1803, father married Miss Catherine Greene, a sister of Mr. Griffin Greene, a prominent citizen of Marietta. Her mother, an aged and pious lady, became an inmate of our family at this time. She died in 1807, in her ninetieth year, and was the first person buried in the old grave-yard north of town.”

Dr. Perkins was a man of much culture and refined manners, and, being a skillful physician, his arrival in the community was hailed with general joy. His professional skill, gentle manners, and quiet christian deportment gained him immediate popularity and influence which he was prompt to exert in every good cause. He labored to establish and sustain common schools in the county, and was an ardent friend of and liberal contributor to the Ohio university, of which institution he was one of the first trustees, and for many years treasurer. He was post master at Athens for about seventeen years, and county treasurer for many years. His descendants are widely scattered. His sons, Chauncey and Jabez, studied medicine with their father at Athens. Jabez died January 12th, 1843, having never married. Dr. Chauncey Perkins lives in Erie county, Pennsylvania. Eliphaz was a mechanic in early life, but studied for the ministry and preached for several years before his death; his descendants are in Kansas. John, another son of Dr. Perkins, is well known in Athens, where he has lived nearly seventy years. Henry, another son, graduated at the Ohio university, and in theology at Princeton, New Jersey. He has been pastor of a Presbyterian church at Allentown, New Jersey, over thirty years. One of Dr. Perkins’ daughters was married to Captain David Pratt, of Athens; another to Mr. Isaac Taylor, long known as a hotel keeper in this town; another to Dr. Medbury, formerly a physician here; another to Dr. William Thompson, of Richmond, Ohio. Seven of Dr. Perkins’ descendants have been ministers of the gospel, and six the wives of ministers; he died at Athens, April 29th, 1828.



Collection: Athens County Ohio Genealogy.

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