This story begins in the vicinity of Colchester, Essex County,
England, a city northeast of London, where the earliest known
Purkiss in my line “appeared”. James Perkis, date and place of
birth unknown, married Elizabeth (somebody) in Great Bentley
near Colchester, in 1720. Elizabeth had two children by James:
James born in 1721 and Mary in 1726. Both children were
baptized at churches in Colchester, James at St Giles and Mary
at All Saints. James Sr. then passed away in 1727. James Jr.
married Mary Osborn of Ardleigh (suburb of Colchester)
probably sometime around 1750. The date and location of their
wedding is also unknown. They had six children: five girls and
one boy – James Osborn Purkiss. We know that two of these
children were also baptized in St Giles, and it is probable that
all six were also.
James Osborn Purkiss married Ann Vesey in the St. Giles Church in
Colchester on October 15, 1799. James and Ann had two children
(that I’m aware of): my Gt-Gt-Grandfather James Purkiss, born in
1808, and Harriet Purkiss, born in 1810; both were baptized at St.
Giles Parish, Colchester. This James married Harriet Ellis Blomfield
on January 19, 1832 in Berechurch, a suburb of Colchester. Between
1837 and 1851, James and Harriet had twelve children, 8 boys and 4
girls; the first, James (of course) died at about age seven. The
remaining eleven all made it to adulthood. During this time frame,
the James Purkiss family resided first in Colchester, and later in East
Donyland, a suburb. They initially moved into Donyland Place, a
Within two years, James left England with four of his sons, Samuel Bloomfield (age 19), Alfred (11),
Thomas Frederick (8) (my Great-grandfather), and the baby, Arthur Octavius (3). They sailed from London
aboard the Bark (Sailing Ship) Richard Cobden, arriving in New York on August 28, 1854. They then made
their way to Sanilac County, Michigan. In 1866, one additional son, Henry ("Harry"), sailed from London
aboare the “Liverpool” with his wife Eliza and joined them in Lexington. The Purkisses were quite the
entrepreneurs in Sanilac County, Michigan. They bought and sold property, had a thriving lumber
business, a meat market, and a brewery. James died in 1870, having never returned to England.
Thomas enlisted in Company D, 10th Michigan
Infantry in 1861 at the age of 15. The Company
left Lexington mustered in Flint in February
1862 and over the next three years, Thomas
saw action as an ambulance driver in most of
the major Civil War battles in which the
Regiment participated. He later received a
disability pension for his Civil War service.
Of the five brothers who immigrated to
Michigan, only Harry and his wife were
childless. The other four married and raised
children in the county. However, all the sons
except Samuel eventually moved from Sanilac
County to make their fortunes.
Under Frederick’s entrepreneurship, Thomas’ meat market
at 13th and Lapeer in Port Huron became “Purkiss and
Sons”, a partnership with sons Arthur and Charlie (my Dad).
The store survived WW I, the Great Depression, WW II and
thrived up to the early 1950s. By the mid 50s, a combination
of Charlie’s death, Frederick’s advanced age, poor
business practices, and ever increasing competition by
large chain stores caused the demise of the store. I was
the last Purkiss to be employed at Purkiss & Sons.
|St. Giles Church
Samuel and Thomas opened a meat market on Main Street in Lexington in 1876. Samuel bought out
Thomas’ share in 1883 and ran it with his two sons James and Samuel until 1893, when he sold out to
Arthur left Sanilac County after the death of his first wife. He remarried in Port Huron in 1905, but
“disappeared” shortly thereafter. I’ve been unable to find any record of his death anywhere, but his wife
is listed as a “widow” in the City Directory beginning in 1906.
Henry moved to Port Huron and worked as a bar tender and later he and his wife ran a Boarding House.
Alfred and Thomas bought a brewery in Lexington in 1884 and apparently did a
brisk business until calamity struck in 1888. The Purkiss Brewery caught fire
and burned to the ground; shortly thereafter, the property was foreclosed.
After they lost the property, both went to live in Port Huron. Alfred didn’t stay
long, however; first he went briefly to Burville, and then he went to Homer,
where he lived his remaining days as a hotel proprietor.
Thomas bought property at 13th St and Lapeer Ave in 1895 and opened a meat
market. In 1899, he was too sick to run the market and asked his son Frederick
to take it over. Thomas died in 1901.
Most of the brothers’ offspring remained in Southeastern Michigan until the
World War II timeframe. The last Purkisses to live in Lexington were Samuel
Bloomfield’s greatgrandsons, Keith Roscoe and Daniel Clark II, both of whom
graduated from Lexington High School just before WW II; both of whom entered
the Army at the beginning of WW II. If either of them returned to Lexington, it
was only for a brief stay.
James and Harriet had two other sons. William was apparently the black sheep of the family. There is
some evidence that he married in 1854 to a Mary Ann Westbroom, but I have found no indications that
they had any children. William died in 1898 in Braintree, not far from Colchester. James (a second James
– common in England when a child died young) sailed to New Zealand aboard the “Barque Ardenernig" in
1862. He married and had two sons born there, Alfred Miles and James Bloomfield. James and his wife
lived their remaining years and are buried in Halcombe, New Zealand. James Bloomfield married and
had one daughter. Alfred, a butcher in Halcombe, never married, served in the Medical Corps in WW I,
and retired and later passed away in Wellington in 1960.
When my Gt-Gt-Grandfather James left England with his four sons, he left his four daughters in
Colchester with his Mother-in-Law, Harriet Blomfield. Of the four girls, we know only a little about each of
them. Emma taught school and never married. In about 1940, she wrote a letter to a niece (Alfred's
daughter - Matie Olive Purkiss O'Brien), which is the source of quite a bit of our knowledge about the
family in England. Emma was close to 100 when she wrote the letter. Caroline died in Colchester at age
12. Eliza and Harriet married, had children, and lived and died in England
|Frederick and Son Arthur
Purkiss Market - 1912
Today, descendents of James and Harriet are scattered all
around the US, from Michigan, to Idaho, to Montana, to
California, to Florida and to Texas, not to mention a few in
farm that have been given to Harriet as a marriage
portion. In the late 1840s, when Donyland Place
became too small for James’ growing family, they
moved into Donyland Hall, trading living space with the
Lord of the Manor, Mr. Philip Havens. Then in 1852,
James’ wife Harriet passed away. James was
devastated and seemed to have lost all interest in life.