Rev. Justin Perkins

by Laurel | January 17th, 2007

About seven years ago or so I inventoried the tombstones at the Rock Valley Cemetery (the entire database is available elsewhere on this site). When I was there, the cemetery was looking cared for and in pretty good shape. Over the years the condition of the cemetery has been, at times, severely neglected. In fact Holyoke owes a lot to Earle Brick for the current restoration and maintenance of the cemetery. All without remuneration I might add.

However, this was not the first time Rocky Valley Cemetery was brought back from severe neglect. In a 1945 issue of the Holyoke Transcript there is an article about the city of Holyoke taking over Maintenance of the “Old West Holyoke” Cemetery formally known as the Rock Valley Cemetery.

Reverend Justin PerkinsThe well-known and much beloved Rev. E. B. Robinson of Grace Church is said to have driven past the cemetery one day, and — unable to see the headstones due to the unchecked growth of the grounds — initiated action. First, a group of Amherst College student volunteers cleaned the site, then the City of Holyoke accepted responsibility for the maintenance. The Amherst College student volunteers were not involved by chance but through a connection to the College via a notable alum buried at Rock Valley.

Among the graves at Rock Valley Cemetery, the Perkins clan has a large family plot where buried were John in 1792 and his wife Mary in 1799. The most famous of the Perkins family, and a man whom Holyoke as well as Amherst College lays claim to is Justin Perkins, who volunteered as the first missionary to the Nestorians in Uramia, Persia in 1834.

Born of William and Judith (Clough) Perkins in West Springfield, or West Holyoke, on March 12, 1805, Justin Perkins received an MA from Amherst College in 1832 and a DD in 1843. Before receiving his Doctor or Divinity, he was ordained a minister in West Springfield on June 7, 1833. The same year he and his bride, Charlotte Bass of Middlebury, Vermont, embarked for Persia. After nearly a year’s arduous journey, Rev. and Mrs. Perkins reached their destination.

The first Nestorian whom Mr. Perkins met was the bishop Mar Yohannan. When the Perkins returned to the states and west Holyoke, some time later for a short respite from their missionary work they were accompanied by Mar Yohannan. According to the History of the Nestorians, it was the latter’s presence in the states and the inspiring and unfaltering work of Justin Perkins which awoke interest in the Nestorian people who were an ancient sect of the Christian church, believers in two distinct persons in Christ. Justin Perkins and his wife spent more than thirty years in Persia as a missionary.

Rev. Perkins also authored “Eight Years Residence in Persia” and “Missionary Life in Persia.” His classmate and closest friend at Amherst was Elias Riggs who played an important role in the missionary development of Greece from 1833 to 1838 and Turkey from 1838 to 1901.

The epitaph of Rev. Perkins could be the most significant in the unpretentious Rock Valley Cemetery. It reads: “First missionary to the Nestorians by whom he was loved as a Father, learned, devoted, successful. Born here March 12, 1805, embarked for Persia, Sept. 21, 1833, died in Chicopee, Dec. 31, 1869.”

If you view the tombstone inventory, you will note some stones are partial or missing. I believe a couple more stones have been recovered since I published the tombstone inventory (they were discovered completely buried). When I was last there, there was only scant evidence in the Perkins family plot of Rev. Justin Perkins. I did not see the stone mentioned in the above article, though I sincerely hope it was since recovered. I plan to have a look next time I am in Holyoke.

Anyone know if this stone was recovered?

Justin Perkins Links:
Rock Valley Cemetery Inventory
The Missionaries Assistants’
Life of Rev. Justin Perkins (text version)
Finding Aid at Amherst College

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