Major Gilbert Perkins was born in 1819 in Vale Perkins, a hamlet on the western shore of Lake Memphremagog in Quebec Province, near the Vermont border. His grandfather, Samuel Perkins, after whom the hamlet was named, had established a homestead there by the 1790s. And Perkins' father, New Hampshire-born Cyrus aiken Perkins, returned to Vale Perkins, bringing his wife, Vermont-born Sally Fullarton, where they farmed and raised a family of eight.1
As Perkins later recalled, in 1836, at the age of 17 he struck out on his own, walking from Brownington, Vermont, to Lowell. He quickly obtained a job at the Merrimack Mills and remained there for several years. Perkins noted that his pay at the Merrimack amounted to 65 cents a day, and that the work day was often 14 hours in length. He resided at a Merrimack corporation boardinghouse, paying $1.25 a week for room and board. In 1843 he married Nancy Haynes and they had two children. Perkins left the Merrimack for the Tremont Mills in the 1840s and was appointed overseer of weaving. He remained at the Tremont into the late 1860s.2
While at the Tremont in the 1850s, Perkins’ wife died, leaving him with two young children. He sent his son and daughter to live with relatives in Vermont. In the 1860s, Perkins married Harriet E. Smith, from Vermont. After retiring from the Tremont Mills they moved for a short time to a farm in Tewksbury. By the early 1870s, however, they were back in Lowell. In the early spring of 1874 Perkins and his wife were riding in their horse-drawn carriage on Merrimack Street where it overturned throwing both of them upon the pavement. Knocked unconscious Perkins broke his collar bone in several places, while his wife was severely bruised and cut.3 Both of them recovered although Harriet Perkins died the following year at the young age of 43.
In his early years in Lowell, Perkins joined the Whig Party and later became active in the local Republican Party. As a Republican he won election to the city council in 1875.4 For a brief time, in the mid-1870s, Perkins became a lumber dealer in Lowell and then, returned to the Tremont Mills as an overseer. His second Tremont tenure lasted only a few years before Perkins established himself as a commission merchant and broker in Lowell in the early 1880s. He then married for the third time. Perkins and his wife, Caroline J. Simpson, a divorcee from Newton, Massachusetts, lived in a house on Liberty Street in the suburban Highlands neighborhood. His third wife died in 1900 and Perkins lived as a widower until his death in 1915.5