From “Romance in Old Kennebunkport” by Harry Packard in the July 1955 issue of Down East
Little of the romance of old Kennebunkport has ever been written. One by one the old sea captains’ houses change hands and the history of the beautiful places is lost forever. There is a quality in these fine, stately houses which modern building is unable to duplicate; and there is a special atmosphere about them when some descendant of the original family still lives in the home of his forebears. Such is the “Life” Perkins’ house, the second oldest in Kennebunkport, which was built in 1790 by Capt. Eliphlet Perkins. It has remained in the same family for 165 years.
The Perkins were among the largest of the ship-owning and ship-building families on the Maine coast. The heirlooms and records contained in their lovely old house are many and varied. Not the least is a chart case which holds intact a set of early, dated charts of the entire world.
There is, too, the complete ship log of one of the family sea captains who makes little of his ship being buffeted about in a typhoon and still less about a mutiny which developed on ship board that resulted in the mutineers being placed in irons; but page after page of the log contains vivid details of how the second mate was caught stealing the Captain’s liquor. The Captain’s private supply of Wesi Indian rum was supposed to be untouchable. The account ends with a laconic entry in the log: “The mate is now sober.”
But the real romance of the “Life” Perkins family concerns the lovely daughter of a Spanish Governor. Captain “Jot” Perkins on his many voyages to the West Indies became friendly with the wealthy and
powerful Spanish Governor of one of the islands, a descendant of the Ponce De Leon family of early Florida history. The Governor besought Captain Perkins to take his twelve-year old child, Julia, to America for her education. The pretty Spanish girl spoke but a few words of English, and her ambitious family wanted her to become acquainted with American customs, manners and speech.
So great was the faith of the De Leon family in Captain Perkins that they did not fear to trust their young, beloved child to his keeping. In the year 1835 they watched her and the Captain set sail for Maine where Julia was to stay until her education was completed. It was a strange mission for the doughty, old sea captain. Governor De Leon en-trusted Captain Perkins with five thousand dollars for the young lady’s spending money, which the captain deposited to her credit in a Boston bank.
Less than six months after Julia De Leon arrived in Kennebunkport, there was an insurrection in the West Indies and the girl’s parents and all members of her family were slain by the rioting natives.
Julia stayed on in Kennebunkport. A talented singer and linguist, she was educated at Gorham Academy. She never married although at one time she was engaged to the son of an old Kennebunkport family. His untimely death ended that romance. All of the four brothers of the Perkins family left portions of their estate to Julia whom they treated and considered as a sister. She died at the great age of ninety and was buried in the Perkins’ family lot in Kennebunkport.
After building his first home on Spring Street, above, Captain Perkins constructed a Greek Revival mansion, known as White Columns, on the corner of Spring and Main Streets. The home is open for tours from Memorial Day through Columbus Day. Visit The Kennebunk Historical Society’s website for more information.