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Perley Family Papers

Perley Family Papers

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Processing was done as a directed study for graduate work in American History at Salem State College.

Collection Summary

Repository:The Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum 132 Essex Street Salem, MA 01970 Phone: 978-745-9500 Fax: 978-531-1516
Creator:Perley family
Title:Perley Family Papers
Quantity:4.5 linear feet (9 boxes, 1 volume)
Abstract:The Perley Family Papers trace the history of the Perley family of Boxford, Massachusetts, and Bridgeton, Maine, and the development of those towns from pre-Revolutionary days through the mid-nineteenth century.
Collection Number:MSS 121

Series List

SERIES I. Enoch Perley (1749-1829) Papers
SERIES II. Thomas Perley (1746-1831) Papers
A. Legal Papers
B. Financial Records
C. Correspondence and Memoranda
D. Sarah (Wood) Perley (1765-1854) Papers
SERIES III. Perley Family Papers
A. John Perley (1779-1851) Papers
B. John Perley (1788-1874) Papers
C. Asa Perley (1793-1845) Papers
D. Thomas Perley (1747-1856) Papers
E. Huldah Perley (1805-1843) Papers
F. Miscellaneous Perley Family
G. Relatives' Papers
SERIES IV. Boxford Town Records

Scope and Content Note

The Perley Family Papers trace the history of the Perley family of Boxford, Massachusetts, and Bridgeton, Maine, and the development of those towns from pre-Revolutionary days through the mid-nineteenth century. The collection is organized into four series.

Series I. Enoch Perley (1749-1869) Papers, 1773-1829, contains letters written by Enoch from Bridgeton, Maine, to his brother Thomas in Boxford, Massachusetts, and the accounts on timberland in Maine owned jointly by the two men. The papers record experiences of early settlers in the Maine wilderness, the founding of Bridgeton, and development of the logging industry.

Series II. Thomas Perley (1746-1831) Papers ranging from 1743-1851 include his legal papers, accounts, personal correspondence and memoranda as well as letters received by his wife Sarah (Wood) Perley from relatives. The bulk of the legal papers contain estates and vendues of clients. Of interest are the letters of Abigail Wheeler (1741-1826) seeking alimony payments from her husband Rufus. Miscellaneous legal papers of the Perley family, for whom Thomas acted as attorney, can be found in Series III.

Thomas' memoranda, 1787-1831, include the 1787 certificate for election of a Massachusetts state representative, an undated copy of President John Adams' deeds to the town of Quincy, an undated catalog of the books in Boxford, a copy of the 1703 mulatto and negro slave law, the 1787 inventory of Massachusetts products and goods, the 1787 list of Massachusetts exports, the 1801 act for regulation of weights and measures, toasts given at a Boxford celebration July 4, 1801, lists of Massachusetts electors, notes on a meeting of the Federal Republicans in Salem in 1806, a description of railroad construction from Boston to Albany, specifications and drawings for construction of a house, and prescriptions to cure disease in man, animals, and plants.

Thomas' correspondence includes copies of his letters to or on behalf of his brothers, 1785-1827, and his diaries, 1799-1803. Letters to Thomas from his brother Enoch and nephew John Perley of Bridgeton, Maine, are located with their papers. Of interest in the letters to Thomas Perley are several from the Massachusetts Congressman Jeremiah Nelson reporting on political activities in Washington D.C., 1806-1820, and a 1823 letter from nephew Edward Ballard describing his journey from Hopkinton, New Hampshire, to New York City, and thence Elizabethtown, New Jersey. A series of letters in 1825 presents doctors' diagnoses and prescriptions for the illness of Sarah (Wood) Perley.

Series III. Perley Family Papers, 1766-1881, contains mostly personal correspondence of family members. John Perley's (1779-1841) papers include information on real estate and financial matters in Bridgeton, Maine, and notes on the legislature in Portland. The papers of John Perley (1788-1874) of Salem, Massachusetts, concern domestic matters. Thomas Perley (1788-1874) papers include letters from his cousin Thomas Perley (b. 1783) regarding Maine State politics and elections, land and timber sales, and a detailed description of logging with six ox teams, December 20, 1839. Also included here are Augustus Perley's comments on the Tyler-Van Buren presidential campaign and election. Asa Perley's (1793-1845) papers relate the experiences of a mentally-ill man, 1819-1845, and his time as a patient at McLean Asylum, with descriptions of the environment, activities, care, and staff. The poetry collection of Huldah Perley (1805-1843) indicates the romantic sentiment of her time with pieces on '"woman," "home," nature, friendship, and death.

Miscellaneous family papers include correspondence among the Perley and Ballard (Hopkinton, New Hampshire) cousins, Aaron Perley's undated treatise on "horsemanship," and his description, 1818, of planting an orchard in 1803. Relatives' papers include the letters of William Neale Cleaveland (1799-1872) to his son James Putnam Cleaveland (1838-1892), a student in New York City circa 1851, and letters from James' young friends in Topsfield, Massachusetts. Of interest is a document exempting James from military service in 1864. A title abstract traces the Perley-Cleaveland farm in Boxford from 1666 to 1882. The Palmer papers, 1861-1874, include bills from Amherst and Harvard Colleges, and copies of undergraduate examination.

Series IV. Boxford Town Records, 1703-1869, contains military papers, church records, school records, correspondence with selectman, and notes of town meetings. The military papers contain lists of Boxford's Minutemen and foot soldiers in the Continental Army, Thomas Perley's (1746-1831) history of raising a militia in Boxford up to 1788, and several petitions opposing conscription during the Revolutionary War. Church Records, 1703-1823, include membership lists, 1703-1825, notes of minsters' salaries, 1768, notes on a singing school, 1805, and a history of the First Congregational Church, April 30, 1838. The bulk of the church records contains the documents pertaining to the schism under Reverend Briggs, 1818-1825, and of construction of a new meeting house in 1836. School records, 1795-1841, include: letters from prospective teachers; lists of scholars, 1795-1800, 1832, 1836, 1837; rules and regulations of school, 1796; and a list of repairs to the schoolhouse, 1803. Other school issues are located in correspondence with selectmen and notes of town meetings.

Correspondence with selectmen and notes of town meetings, 1780-1863, includes: lists of town officers from the 1700s; petitions against assessments and for warrants; a petition against "lewdness," 1794; drawings of plans for woodlots and roads, 1800-1802; the town treasurer's reports, 1799-1803, deal primarily with costs of buildings and repairing roads, and providing for the poor. Particularly interesting is the life history of the black itinerant Mars, born in Africa, who died in Boxford in 1806, and valuation lists for tax assessments that include individual estates, the town as a whole, and other towns in Essex County.

Miscellaneous correspondence, 1818-1832, includes a treatise by Thomas Peabody on the American Indian, February 14, 1840, and several open letters, undated to the President.

Biographical Sketches

Enoch Perley (1749-1829) was born in Boxford, Massachusetts, son of Thomas Perley (1704-1795) and Eunice (Putnam) Perley (1710-1787), sister of General Israel Putnam. Enoch was one of Boxford's 50 Minutemen who marched to Lexington April 15, 1775 and thence to Boston. In 1776 he moved to the Maine wilderness where he settled on land laid out in 1760 by an Essex County, Massachusetts, company. His clearing eventually became the center of the town of Bridgetown and he the leading citizen, serving as town moderator and justice of the peace. His large tracts of timberland made Enoch Perley the wealthiest man in the region where he was known as "Squire Perley." He married Anna Flint (1753-1823) and fathered five children, among them General John Perley (1779-1841) and Captain Thomas Perley (b. 1783).

Thomas Perley (1746-1831), born in Boxford, Massachusetts, was the son of Thomas Perley (1704-1795) and Eunice (Putnam) Perley (1710-1787). A tailor as a young man, he had wide-ranging interests and a keen historical consciousness. He kept notes on political, social, and economic matters of his day, and maintained a broad correspondence. Thomas Perley served Boxford as town clerk, selectman, assessor, surveyor of highways, and member of the school committee. He was town moderator for 21 years, trustee of public school funds for 30 years, an attorney and justice of the peace for 40 years. He was on committees to regulate prices of labor and goods, to examine the state constitution, and to review relations with Great Britain. He represented Boxford at the General Court in Ipswich and Boston, and received votes for senator, lieutenant governor, and governor of Massachusetts.

Aaron Perley (1755-1832), the last of eight children of Thomas Perley (1704-1795) and Eunice (Putnam) Perley (1710-1787), was born in Boxford where he served briefly as assessor and selectman, and was active in the First Congregational Church. He inherited his father's farm and became wealthy on a large stock of cattle and oxen, extensive orchards and a cider mill. He married Mehitable Wood (1761-1853), sister of Sarah (Wood) Perley, and had ten children, including John, Thomas, Asa, and Huldah.

John Perley (1779-1841), born in Bridgeton, Maine, was the son of Enoch Perley (1749-1829) and Anna (Flint) Perley (1753-1823). He was a productive farmer in Cumberland County, selectman, town treasurer, school and church trustee, and justice of the peace in Bridgeton. He was a general in the Massachusetts and Maine Militias, member of the House of Representatives, and was active in reform causes.

John Perley (1788-1874) of Salem, Massachusetts, was born in Boxford, the son of Aaron Perley (1755-1832) and Mehitable (Wood) Perley (1761-1853). He had a shoe store at 252 Essex Street in Salem, and flower gardens widely known for beauty and abundance.

Asa Perley (1793-1845), son of Aaron Perley (1755-1832) and Mehitable (Wood) Perley (1761-1853), lived in the family home throughout his lifetime except for those periods when mental illness confined him to McLean Asylum in Charlestown.

Thomas Perley (1797-1856), born in Boxford, was the son of Aaron Perley (1755-1832) and Mehitable (Wood) Perley (1761-1853). He inherited his father's farm and was an active member exhibitor and committeeman of the Essex Agricultural Society and the Massachusetts Agricultural Society.

Huldah Perley (1805-1843), daughter of Aaron Perley (1752-1832) and Mehitable (Wood) Perley (1761-1853) lived at the family farm for the duration of her life. She wrote and collected poetry.

William Neale Cleaveland (1798-1872), son of Nehemiah and Experience (Lord) Cleaveland of Topsfield, married Harriet Perley (1803-1879), daughter of Aaron and Mehitable (Wood) Perley (1761-1853). He was a cotton manufacturer, businessman, and a selectman in Topsfield, 1824-1845. He moved to the Perley family farm in 1856, and thereafter administered and settled estates.

James Putman Cleaveland (1838-1892), son of William N. Cleaveland (1799-1872) and Harriet (Perley) Cleaveland (1803-1879), was born in Topsfield and attended school in New York City. He inherited his father's estate and became a progressive farmer. He married Anna J. Palmer, daughter of Asher and Anne Folson Palmer, but had no children.

Index Terms

This collection is indexed under the following headings in Philcat. Researchers desiring materials about related topics, persons, or places should search the catalog using these headings.

Ballard family
Cleaveland, James Putnam, 1838-1982
Cleaveland, William Neale, 1799-1872
Palmer family
Perley family
Perley, Asa, 1793-1845
Perley, Enoch, 1749-1829
Perley, Huldah, 1805-1843
Perley, John, 1779-1851
Perley, John, 1788-1845
Perley, Sarah Wood, 1765-1854
Perley, Thomas, 1746-1831
Perley, Thomas, 1797-1856
First Congregational Church (Boxford, Mass.)
McLean Asylum for the Insane
Account books
Church buildings--Massachusetts--Boxford
Estates, administration of
Itinerancy (Church polity)
Lumber trade
Medicine--Formulae, receipts, prescriptions
Boxford (Mass.)
Bridgeton (Me.)
United States--Maine--Politics, practical
United States--Politics and government


Restrictions on Access

This collection is open for research use.

Administrative Information


Requests for permission to publish material from the collection must be submitted in writing to the Manuscript Librarian in the Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum.

Preferred Citation

Perley Family Papers, MSS 121, Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Mass.


The Perley Family Papers are a reorganization and integration of 10 scrapbook volumes, several diaries, and one account book. The collection is believed to have been donated to the Essex Institute by Harriet Cleaveland (1837-1903), of Salem, Massachusetts.

Processing Information

Collection processed by Heather Pentland, April 1984. Updated by Catherine Robertson, January 2015.

Related Material

Perley, Sidney. The Dwellings of Boxford. Salem, Massachusetts: Essex Institute, 1893.

Perley, Sidney. The History of Boxford. Boston: Franklin Press, 1878.

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