William Robertson Perkins papers, 1903-1967

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Perkins, William Robertson, 1875-1945
12 Linear Feet
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Judge William Robertson Perkins (1875-1945), counsel for James Buchanan Duke, executor of his will, and Trustee of the Duke Endowment, is represented by a letter on the relation of a university (Duke) and its president (W. P. Few) to students. This copy comes from an original letter to Judge Perkins to be found in the William Preston Few Papers.

In the settlement of Item IV of the will of James B. Duke, a major role was played by Judge Perkins as executor. His son, Thomas L Perkins, sent to the Perkins Library a clipping frog the Philadelphia Evening Public Ledger, Oct. 10, 1928, in which Judge Perkins and Charles Evans Hughes are pictured during the final hearings on the settlement of the Duke estate under Item IV. In the James Buchanan Duke Papers are many letters and legal papers concerning the court battles in this settlement.

See the article on Perkins in the Duke Alumni Register (1942), p. 269.

Ca. 5,704 items and 5 vols. added, 3-24-82

When this large addition, primarily 1920s and 1930s, was added to the collection, the small original collection of three items was incorporated into the category, Perkins, William R. - Miscellaneous Papers.

William Robertson Perkins (1875-1945), attorney, practiced law in New York City for forty years. After a boyhood and early years as an attorney in Lynchburg, Virginia, he became, in 1913, personal legal counselor to James B. Duke and the Duke families. Perkins was a member of the law firm of Perkins and Daniels, which later became Perkins, Daniels, and Perkins when Perkins' son Thomas L. joined the firm. He drew the wills of James B. and Benjamin N. Duke and acted as executor of both their estates. Perkins' business connection with the Duke interests kept him in close touch with the affairs of Duke University. He drafted the indenture for the Duke Endowment and then served as trustee and vice chairman of the Endowment. As a result of his link with James B. Duke, Perkins was active in hydroelectric power development in Canada. He was both a director and counselor to the American Cyanamid Company, and also served as a director and vice president of the Duke Power Company in the Carolinas. Further biographical information is contained in Box 1.

The Alphabetical Files comprise the entire collection of thousands of legal papers (1903-1945) representing state and federal tax litigation of the Duke families, the George D. Haskell suit against the Aluminum Company of America, and the Haskell suit against the Duke estate. Note that several suits were carried on simultaneously in separate state and federal courts, thus there appear to be overlapping inclusive dates.

There are estate tax litigation papers for Angler, Benjamin, Doris, James, and Nanaline Duke from eight states and the federal government (Boxes 1-11). Particularly detailed to show the Duke family holdings in stocks and bonds are the New Jersey, New York, and federal estate tax cases (1925-1934), which involved the Doris Duke trust, Duke Farms Company (a personal holding company which James Duke organized), and the Duke Power Company (Boxes 6-7).

On July 13, 1931, there was a decision for the Duke estate before the U.S. Board of Tax Appeals, which the Board appealed. Perkins then won the Duke estate federal tax case in the 3rd Circuit Board of Appeals on January 10, 1933. The Board took the case to the U.S. Supreme Court. Finally, and again under Perkins' leadership, on October 23, 1933 federal taxes of $9,000,000 assessed against the Duke estate were disallowed by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The ALCOA Chronology file (Box 11) is a guide to most of the events leading to the Haskell suits against ALCOA (Boxes 11-20). George D. Haskell, a small businessman from Massachusetts, claimed that there was a joint venture with James B. Duke in early 1924 to establish an aluminum enterprise on the Sanguenay River in Quebec, that Duke broke this agreement by "selling out" to ALCOA, and that the Haskell suit was an attempt to recover for gains from Duke. Haskell alleged he would have made these gains had his agreement with Duke been realized. The Haskell suit for $15 million damages against the Duke estate began in 1926 in a New Jersey District Court and ended in the U.S. Supreme Court in favor of the Duke estate in 1929 (Boxes 20-21). Throughout the litigation teams of lawyers were guided by the counsel of Perkins from either New York or Lynchburg.

Evident throughout the papers is the business acumen of James B. Duke, Perkins, George Garland Allen, Arthur Vining Davis, George D. Haskell, and William States Lee. Many of their signed letters are included. Also in the papers are newspaper articles in 1925 on James B. Duke's proposed extension of the Piedmont and Northern Railway from Charlotte to Winston-Salem, as well as on building the connecting link between Gastonia and Spartanburg, South Carolina, a matter which would cost from twelve to fifteen million dollars (Box 7).

Included in the Perkins files (Boxes 22-25) at the end of the collection are his early cases with the British-American Tobacco Company and the P. Lorillard Company litigation. Also, a volume consists of an "Abstract of Title to the Proposed Site of the Jamestown Exposition." This abstract was presented to Judge Perkins in 1938 in a silver canister. The abstract is signed by Theodore J. Wool and O.D. Batchelor, General Counsel for the Jamestown Exposition Company, and dated March 10, 1904. With the abstract is Wool's letter to Perkins on April 18, 1938, in which he reveals that Perkins had compiled the abstract and that it had been preserved by Wool since the close of the Exposition in 1907. A signed copy of Perkins' reply also appears in the collection.

Also in the Perkins files are papers of a personal nature such as an itemization of Perkins' estate in two ledgers as well as a detailed genealogical study of his ancestors and descendants from 1656 to 1943. Other volumes are leather-bound memorial resolutions adopted in memory of Judge Perkins by the American Cyanamid Company, the Duke Endowment, Duke Power Company, and P. Lorillard Company. These resolutions contain much biographical information.

Since this collection has not been cataloged in detail, the entries made for the Autograph file may be incomplete. Only general subject entries have been made for the collection. An inventory of the collection is filed in the first box.

Description from the the Duke University. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library Manuscript Card Catalog.

Acquisition information:
The William Robertson Perkins Papers were a gift to Duke University, ca. 1971 and 1980.
Processing information:

Processed by: Duke University. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library Staff

Completed March 24, 1982

Encoded by Stephen Douglas Miller

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All or portions of this collection may be housed off-site in Duke University's Library Service Center. The library may require up to 48 hours to retrieve these materials for research use.

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Preferred citation:

[Identification of item], William Robertson Perkins Papers, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.