Bishop James De Wolf Perry

Bishop James De Wolf Perry, a leader of the Episcopal Church in America, is one of several family members bearing the name James De Wolf Perry. It is not surprising, however, that those names have been perpetuated.

Bishop Perry was the great-great-grandson of the famous (and also infamous) Bristol merchant, slave trader, and preeminent War of 1812 privateersman James De Wolf and the great-grandson of naval officer Raymond Perry, brother of Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry, hero of the 1813 Battle of Lake Erie, and Commodore Matthew Calbraith Perry, the father of the American steam navy who opened Japan to Western trade and influence. He was also a descendant of Rhode Island’s first congressman and leading Federalist, Benjamin Bourne.

Bishop Perry, by his achievements, enhanced his family’s prominence. He was born in Germantown, Pennsylvania on October 3, 1871, the third of five
children. His mother was the former Elizabeth Tyson; his father and namesake was an Episcopal priest.

After studies at Germantown Academy, the University of Pennsylvania (Class of 1891), and Cambridge Theological School (Class of 1895), Perry was ordained a priest in 1896. Following efficient service in Springfield and Fitchburg, Massachusetts and New Haven, Connecticut, he was called to Providence in 1911 for consecration as seventh bishop of the Diocese of Rhode Island—a post he held with distinction until failing health prompted his retirement in 1946.

Bishop Perry was particularly active in support of the Allied cause in World War 1. He was national chairman of the executive committee of the Episcopal Church War Commission. He went to France in July 1918 and became chief of the Red Cross Bureau of Hospital Chaplains, in charge of the appointment, assignment, and work of all chaplains throughout the American Expeditionary Force.

Perry was proud of the military and naval traditions of his family. He served as president of the Rhode Island Society of the Cincinnati in 1921, an historical organization composed of descendants of Revolutionary War veterans. Perry’s ancestors were Benjamin Bourne and Christopher Perry. In recognition of his own wartime service, the French government awarded him its Legion of Honour in 1934.

From Providence’s Cathedral of St. John, Perry presided over the state’s Episcopalians with such recognized ability that he was elected by his peers as the 18th presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church in America. During his tenure, which lasted until 1937, Perry showed a strong interest in his church’s foreign missions spending five months visiting mission stations in the Philippines, China, Japan, and Hawaii. He was the last presiding bishop to retain his diocesan position while serving in this national office.

While in New Haven as a young priest, he met Edith Dean Weir and married her on January 2, 1908. The couple had three children: James De Wolf IV, Beatrice, and John. Bishop Perry died of a heart attack on March 20, 1947 at the age of seventy-five. He was laid to rest in Bristol’s Juniper Hill Cemetery, a burial place his grandfather had helped to establish.

Scroll to Top