Born in Boston, Colonel Perkins grew up during the American Revolution and, as a boy, witnessed the Boston Massacre of 1770. In 1786 he and his brother James became commission merchants engaged in foreign trade of anything profitable including tea, silk, spices, slaves and opium. A massive fortune resulted from the shipping business with China and from his many investments at home: mining, quarrying, hotels, and the creator of America’s first railway.
Acquaintance with George Washington was a part of Perkins’s experience in state and national politics, which included leadership in the state militia corps. Today he is primarily honored for his philanthropies: the Boston Atheneum, the Massachusetts General Hospital, the Bunker Hill Monument, and the Perkins Institute for the Blind. His affiliation with the First Parish in Brookline betokens his Unitarian faith.
A biography published by Harvard University Press, coauthored by Unitarian Universalist minister Carl Seaburg, is Merchant Prince of Boston: Colonel T. H. Perkins, 1764-1854.