The black Horn blower
Perkins served his entire career in the West Indies, but what marks him out is that he was black – described in records as a mulatto, and he may well have been born a slave. A large percentage of the Caribbean coastal sailors were slaves or ex-slaves.
John Perkins first entered the service in Jamaica in 1775 as a pilot and was commissioned in 1782 as a lieutenant in command of a Brig. He served under Admiral Parker in the Caribbean at the same time as Nelson, before he was made a full Captain in 1800. In the summer of 1805, just before the Battle of Trafalgar, the French Admiral, Villeneuve, made a dash for the Caribbean. Nelson pursued him and prevented the Franco-Spanish Armada joining forces in the West Indies with a view to a planned invasion of Ireland. As a senior British officer in the region, Perkins almost certainly played a part in this operation and became a decorated Captain.
There is also a suggestion that some officers were unhappy that a Black man had been commissioned. The Royal Navy has always been seen as the whitest of all the services, quintessentially English.
“The numbers of Negro slaves employed in navigating the trading vessels in these seas seems to me to increase so much as to require the attention of the British Legislator, as it throws so many English seamen out of employment.”
Governor Parry of Barbados – to the Colonial Office, 1786