Stephen William Perkins, planter, slaveholder, Republic of Texas congressman, state legislator, chief justice of Brazoria County, and Confederate military officer, was born in 1808 in Kentucky. Perkins immigrated to Texas in 1840 and first went to Montgomery County and then Velasco before he settled in the vicinity of West Columbia in Brazoria County in 1842. He received an unconditional certificate of land on May 13, 1844. A planter by trade, Perkins eventually established a plantation at Bailey’s Prairie. Most likely he had come to Texas as a married man with his wife Anna Elizabeth Walcott Perkins. The couple had a total of five children, but two died in early childhood, before 1850, and were buried in a family cemetery on their land.
Perkins was also heavily involved in politics throughout his career. In 1844–45 he served as the representative of Brazoria County in the Ninth Congress of the Republic of Texas. After Texas became a state, he was elected to the Texas House of Representatives where he served in the First Legislature from February 16, 1846, to December 13, 1847. During that term, a total of five men held the position of Speaker of the House. Perkins took over for William H. Bourland on May 11, 1846, and ended the congressional session two days later. Perkins’s service as speaker remains still today the shortest speakership in Texas history. However, Perkins’s political career continued into the Second Legislature, where he was elected to the Texas State Senate and served from December 13, 1847, to November 5, 1849.
After his service to the state legislature, Perkins returned to Brazoria County and was, on August 5, 1850, elected chief justice, a position he held until September 1862. In the 1860 census Perkins was listed as a widower; his wife Anna had died in 1854. He estimated his real property to be worth $14, 250 and his personal property to be worth $5, 535, including the ownership of five slaves.
After the secession of the lower South states but before the Confederate shelling of Fort Sumter, Perkins enlisted on March 1, 1861, as a private in a home-guard company known as the Brazoria Volunteers of the Rio Grande Regiment. However, he was quickly discharged from service on March 20. While most accounts have this short term as his only service during the Civil War, the preponderance of primary evidence suggests that it was not. It appears that his name has been misconstrued as Samuel W. Perkins, a Confederate officer in the Thirty-fifth Texas Cavalry [Brown’s] Regiment. While no record has been found of his using the name Samuel, primary evidence suggests that Stephen W. Perkins is in fact the “S. W. Perkins” used in official Confederate service records and muster rolls.
This being the case, Perkins’s service in the Civil War did not end with a brief enlistment in the Rio Grande Regiment. On October 5, 1861, he organized a company of soldiers known as the Columbia Blues. He and his unit were mustered into service as Company A of the Fourth (Bates’s) Regiment Texas Volunteers and stationed at Quintana on the Texas coast. On April 3, 1862, Bates’s Regiment (four companies) was combined with the Thirteenth Regiment Texas Volunteers and later expanded on November 11, 1863, to become designated the Thirty-fifth Texas Cavalry Regiment, also known as Brown’s Regiment Texas Cavalry. Sometime between November and December of 1862, Perkins was promoted by election to the rank of major. He was again promoted, this time to the rank of lieutenant colonel, on November 11, 1863, the same day the Thirty-fifth Cavalry was formed. Perkins’s regiment took part in numerous skirmishes in Texas, but its primary function was scouting duty along the Texas coast. Due to his age, Perkins frequently took leaves of absences because, as he stated, “my health yet requires a change of climate from the coast to the country for restoration.” In addition, his background as Brazoria County chief justice required him frequently to be on detached service to head court martial proceedings. Perkins and his unit served out the war on the Texas coast and were included in the surrender by Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith and the Trans-Mississippi Department on May 26, 1865.
After the war, Perkins returned home to Brazoria County and was once again elected that county’s chief justice on June 25, 1866. However, on April, 25, 1869, he was removed from that office by order of Gen. Joseph Reynolds for being “an impediment to reconstruction.” In 1876 while visiting his daughter, Annie Eugenia Cayce, in Coryell County, Perkins died and was buried there. The Perkins Family Cemetery in Brazoria County was honored with a Texas Historical Marker in 1990.