PERLEY (Pearley), ISRAEL, miller, office holder, and surveyor; b. 21 July 1738 in Boxford, Mass., first son of Thomas Perley and Eunice Putnam; m. c. 1764 Elizabeth Mooers (Moores), and they had seven sons and seven daughters; d. 30 Aug. 1813 in Maugerville, N.B.
Son of a farmer and local office holder, Israel Perley was reared in Boxford where the New England traditions of Congregational religion and basic education left their marks. He reached his maturity during the Seven Years’ War in which he served for a short time as a provincial officer, although it is not clear where. The scarcity of land in eastern Massachusetts in the 1750s and 1760s led Perley and other disbanded soldiers to seek better prospects elsewhere, and they turned to Nova Scotia where many of them had served. Perley, who had learned surveying, was appointed in 1761 to lead a group of 12 men to explore for suitable land in the Saint John River valley (N.B.). They travelled overland from Machias (Maine) to the mouth of the Oromocto River before returning to Massachusetts. The following year Perley was among a group of 20 who ascended the Saint John River to St Anne’s Point (Fredericton), where a large assembly of Indians turned them back. They settled about 12 miles below St Anne’s, and as a result of advertisements placed in Boston newspapers they were joined in 1763 by about 200 others who were led from Massachusetts by Perley. When the Nova Scotia government proved slow in issuing land grants, the area the settlers had chosen having already been claimed by a group of disbanded regulars, Perley and four other memorialists petitioned the Board of Trade in London, England. Their petition was granted in 1764, with the help, the settlers believed, of Joshua Mauger*, the leading London merchant trading into Nova Scotia. The grateful settlers chose Maugerville as the name of their town.
Like other Nova Scotia communities settled at this time, Maugerville was modelled on the New England township system. Perley, as an original grantee, was therefore a “proprietor” of the town, proprietors having control over common or undivided land which, in this case, comprised acreage far back from the river behind the line of settlement as well as islands in the river. The soil proved to be the richest in the province and yields by 1767 were remarkable even from unploughed land. Perley farmed, surveyed, and joined with others in grist-mill and sawmill ventures. As a proprietor, he was called upon to play a leading role in the political as well as the economic development of the town. In 1770 he was elected representative for Sunbury County in the Nova Scotia legislature, but he probably never took his seat. At about the same time he became a justice of the peace. Within three years of the beginning of their settlement, Perley and the other settlers had formed a Congregational church and Perley became an elder. In the early 1770s they brought in their first minister, a fellow New Englander named Seth Noble.
The strength of their New England connections ultimately brought Perley and his community to their first crisis. Initially, when Massachusetts revolutionaries complained about British oppression and infringements on their rights, the Maugerville settlers – isolated and few in numbers – said nothing. But when protests led to open warfare and then to the brink of independence, Perley and his neighbours felt forced to act. Probably influenced by Noble, the Maugerville settlers met in mid May 1776 – on the eve of the declaration of independence – to consider the question of their allegiance. Perley, whose father was an active revolutionary in Massachusetts and whose uncle, Israel Putnam, became an American general, favoured the revolutionary side. He served as the clerk of the meeting, articulately phrasing resolutions which rejected the British parliament’s right to legislate for the colonists, asserted the justice of the Americans’ resistance, called for the annexation of their settlement by Massachusetts, and pledged that the settlers would share in the “struggle for liberty” with their lives and fortunes. The meeting chose Perley one of a committee of 12 to organize the civil and military affairs of the town. Its remoteness, however, made any significant alliance impossible. Despite the activity of Yankee privateers in Nova Scotia waters, the eagerness of some Machias frontiersmen to help the Nova Scotians rebel, and the sympathy of the Massachusetts General Court, Massachusetts was unable to aid the Maugerville settlers or to act on their request for annexation. A feeble military thrust against Fort Cumberland (near Sackville, N.B.), led by Jonathan Eddy and supported by a few Maine frontiersmen, some Indians, and a handful of Nova Scotian rebels, including 27 men from Maugerville, was easily repulsed by the British. There is no evidence that Perley was among them.
By May 1777 the Maugerville settlers, with Perley again in a leading role, accepted the reassertion of British authority when Colonel Arthur Goold (Gould), of the Nova Scotia Council, came to investigate “illegal proceedure.” Offering leniency and swift reconciliation for those who would take an oath of allegiance, Goold found Perley and other “rebel” leaders ready to submit. Perley wrote on behalf of the others that they had felt themselves cut off from British authority and intimidated by New England privateers into taking the action they had. He advised that there should be a general pardon and no attempt to distinguish the loyal from the disloyal. Goold agreed and by the end of May 1777 had taken oaths of allegiance from most of the settlers. Perley, however, found little protection in the general pardon. As clerk of the Maugerville meetings, he had signed the minutes and all correspondence and was thus open to the charge that he had carried on “Secret Correspondence with his Majesty[’s] Rebellious Enemies.” So indicted, he was brought before the Nova Scotia Supreme Court on 16 Oct. 1778, but when the crown failed to produce evidence against him the court released him on his own recognizance. Perley returned home and apparently the matter was dropped completely.
When American loyalists swelled the population of the Saint John River valley after 1783 and successfully petitioned to have a new province established, Perley’s surveying skills were in great demand. Named a deputy to the surveyor general of New Brunswick, George Sproule, by 1786, Perley surveyed lands in various parts of the province, but especially in the Miramichi valley, and acquired a grant of 1,000 acres for himself on the Gaspereau River in what is now Queens Countet, though he served the crown, he resisted efforts of loyalists to acquire for the Church of England those lands held by his own church, and he remained a firm Congregationalist.
In his declining years Perley lived on his farm at Maugerville, where he died in 1813.
Common Clerk’s Office (Saint John, N.B.), Index of marriages and deaths, comp. C. Ward, 1972 (copy at N.B. Museum). N.B. Museum, F41; F49: nos.156, 263A, 265, 285; History of Maugerville, 1788–1928; Perley family papers; Petitions, Northumberland County, nos.72, 401; Queen’s County, no.317; York County, no.521 (abstracts); Quinton family papers, John Quinton diary (typescript). PANB, RG 10, RS 107/5/1, 1: 278. PANS, RG 1, 409, Arthur Gould to inhabitants of Maugerville, 9, 14, 17, 20 May 1777; Israel Perley to Gould, 12 May 1777; Perley et al. to Gould, 18 May 1777 (mfm. at N.B. Museum); RG 39, J, 1: 332. American arch. (Clarke and Force), 5th ser., 1: 703–6. “Documents of the Congregational Church at Maugerville,” N.B. Hist. Soc., Coll., 1 (1894–97), no.1: 119–52; no.2: 153–59. [Israel Perley], “Justice Perley’s court documents,” N.B. Hist. Soc., Coll., 1 (1894–97), no.1: 96–99. Directory of N.S. MLAs. A genealogical chart of the male descendants of Allen Perley, comp. G. A. Perley (Fredericton, 1877).
Brebner, Neutral Yankees. History and genealogy of the Perley family, comp. M. V. B. Perley (Salem, Mass., 1906). [This work is the most comprehensive genealogy of the family, but much of the New Brunswick material is based on family tradition rather than on original research. s.e.p.] Maugerville, 1763–1963, comp. I. L. Hill (Fredericton, 1963). L. M. B. Maxwell, An outline of the history of central New Brunswick to the time of confederation (Sackville, N.B., 1937). M. H. Perley, On the early history of New Brunswick: a portion of a lecture delivered before the Mechanics’ Institute, St. John, in 1841 . . . (Saint John, 1891). [The lecture seems to have been based on the oral tradition and is the probable source of much misinformation repeated elsewhere. s.e.p.] Raymond, River St. John (1910). J. C. Webster, The forts of Chignecto: a study of the eighteenth century conflict between France and Great Britain in Acadia ([Shediac, N.B.], 1930). James Hannay, “The Maugerville settlement, 1763–1824,” N.B. Hist. Soc., Coll., 1 (1894–97), no.1: 63–88. “Observer” [E. S. Carter], “Linking the past with the present,” Telegraph-Journal (Saint John), November 1929–December 1931. S. E. Patterson, “In search of the Massachusetts–Nova Scotia dynamic,” Acadiensis (Fredericton), 5 (1975–76), no.2: 138–43.