William Bennett Perot, postmaster of Hamilton for more than 40 years, secured his place in history as the creator of the now famous Perot stamps.
Perot produced the stampsthe first to be issued in Bermudabetween 1848 and 1865 to foil mail cheats who were not leaving money behind in a drop box to pay for postage.
Today, Perot stamps, which are known as Perot Provisionals, are prized by collectors, commanding as much as $100,000 on the international market. Only 11 Perot stamps survivethree are owned by The Queen.
Perot’s postal duties though were just a sideline. Gardening was his primary passion. His five-acre garden at Par-la-Ville on Queen Street, Hamilton, where he lived for most of his life, was a horticultural showpiece. Historian Henry C. Wilkinson described it as “the best in the colony.”
Perot planted more than 50 varieties of fruit trees, as well as the seedling that grew into the giant rubber tree that dominates the entrance of Par-la-Ville Park (now Queen Elizabeth Park) today.
Perot was also a Corporation of Hamilton alderman and a Member of Parliament. He helped convince the Corporation to buy the city’s first fire engine. He waged a long and solitary campaign for the establishment of a poor house for people in dire economic straights, which added to his reputation as a model citizen.
Perot was descended from a French Huguenot family who emigrated to the U.S. from France in the late 1600s. A branch of the family settled in Bermuda around the 1740s and established themselves as merchants.
Perot’s father William was a silversmith and shipping agent who had built his home, Avocado Lodge (now a government pre-school) in Devonshire, next door to his business.
Perot, whose date of birth is given as either January 1 or 15, 1791, was William Sr.’s son by his first wife.
In 1801, with the new town of Hamilton beckoning, William Sr. and his brother James purchased the Par-la-Ville property. In 1807, William Sr., who had been widowed the previous year, married his second wife, Elizabeth Hinson.
He built the two-storey Georgian house at Par-la-Ville that became the family residence between 1807 and 1814. On December 22, 1814, William Bennett Perot married Susanna Butterfield Grandberry Stowe and brought his new bride to Par-la-Ville.
The following year, Bermuda’s capital moved from St. George’s to Hamiltonwhich created the need for a central post office and the efficient delivery of mail between the two towns.
An office was established at Par-la-Ville, and Perot became postmaster in January 1819. (Perot was Hamilton’s third postmaster, but the tenure of his predecessors was hampered both by a lack of funding and a post office.)
Perot reported to the Deputy Postmaster General James Taylor, who was based in St. George’s. He in turn answered to the General Post Office in London. Perot’s pay was the postage money he collected for letters posted in Hamilton, a practice that continued for nearly 25 years.
In 1842, Bermuda followed the lead of the U.K. and passed a new law that reduced the postage rate for local letters.
Perot was put on the Government payroll the following year, receiving an annual salary of £50 in addition to the postage money, but his responsibilities began to increase.
To attract new business, he had a slot cut in door where people could drop letters along with the pennies for their postage when he was tending to his plants or was out of his mail run. By 1848, he discovered that while more mail was being dropped off, fewer pennies were being left behind. It was impossible to detect who was shortchanging him.
His friend James B. Heyl, a pharmacist with whom he shared an office, is said to have proposed a solutionthe Perot stamps. Using his date stamp, from which he had removed the plugs for the month and date, Perot stamped the year on sheets of writing paper, wrote “one penny” above the year and his signature below.
He sold them in individually or in sheets of 12. The imprints were black until early 1849, when the post office switched to red ink. The known examples of Perot stamps were dated from 1848 to 1856. Of the 11 Perot stamps that survive, six are red and five are black.
Perot was operating outside the systemofficial postage stamps were not introduced in Bermuda until 1865but when letters carried his stamps, he knew he had been paid.
Perot cut a colourful figure about town. He arranged the letters by in the crown of his hat in the order of their intended destination. He would meet ships arriving on the Hamilton docks, pick up the mailbag and sort the letters in his office, before heading into the streets of Hamilton.
Perot first ran the post office in a room of his house, but later moved it to an annex that the family built further along Queen Street. The building where Perot Post Office is now located served as Hamilton’s post office until 1869, when it was replaced by a brand-new building on the corner of Reid and Parliament Street. That Post Office subsequently became Magistrates Court until 2011.
Perot retired on June 7,1862, after nearly 43 years in the position. He had been a Member of Parliament for about three years, and was serving in the House at the time of his death.
Perot was considered a progressive person by the standards of the day. As a Hamilton alderman, he backed the new mayor’s proposal to buy Hamilton’s first fire engine, by producing hard facts on why one was needed. He helped organize Hamilton’s first fire department.
He campaigned long and hard for a poor house and was eventually rewarded when a building became available in Pembroke. St. George’s followed his lead by building one in the east end.
Perot was not just prolific in the garden. He and his wife had 11 children, nine of whom survived to adulthood. Son Adolphus sent him the seedling for the Par-la-Ville rubber tree from British Guiana, where he and his brother James had established themselves in business. Perot planted it in 1847 in the company of daughters Elizabeth and Susan.
The stamps’ place in philatelic history dates back to 1897 when Louis Mowbray, the future curator of the Bermuda Aquarium, discovered three stamps that had belonged to his grandmother. He found a buyer for one and gave two to a British officer who returned to the U.K. after serving in Bermuda.
Other stamps were discovered in Bermuda and eventually made their way to the international market, where they became hot items for collectors.
As for Perot, he lived at Par-la-Ville along with his extended family for most of his life. He inherited Par-la-Ville on his father’s death in 1839. Perot died on October 13, 1871 at age 80outliving his wife by seven months.
Par-la-Ville remained in the Perot family until 1900 when it was sold to the Corporation of Hamilton. Plans to build a hotel never materialised and the grounds were turned into a public garden. In 1916, it became home to the Bermuda Library. The Bermuda Historical Society moved in when an extension was built in 1957. In 1959Bermuda’s 350th anniversarythe annex where Perot moved the Hamilton post office opened as Perot Post Office following a restoration.
Perot’s name lives on through his stamps. A more lasting legacy perhaps is Par-la-Ville, which is an oasis in the increasingly bustling city that Hamilton has become, and the magnificent rubber tree.
Par-la-Ville Park was renamed Queen Elizabeth Park in April 2012 in honour of The Queen's Diamond Jubilee.
In April 2012, Bermudians got a once-in-a-lifetime glimpse of seven of the 11 priceless Perot stamps that survive at an exhibition at Masterworks Museum of Bermuda Art. Three of the Perot stamps were from The Queen's collection, two belonged to former premier Dr. David Saul, while another two were lent by Mr. David Pitts of Louisiana. Dr. Saul owns a red and black Perot. A previous owner of the red Perot was former Government Leader Sir Henry Tucker.