The son of a Swiss father from Chateau d'Oex who had come to England c. 1680, he was born in London on 11 December 1693. He was a scholarly child, educated at St. Bees School in Cumbria and at Queen's College, Oxford, graduating BA in 1718 and MA at Cambridge in 1724. From 1719 he was curate of Sundridge and from 1728 Vicar of Shoreham (Kent), where he encountered opposition for much of his incumbency. Introduced to John Wesley by Henry Piers in 1744, in 1746 he invited John and Charles Wesley into his parish. Charles on his first visit described the riotous reaction as that of 'wild beasts'. Resistance to the Methodists continued, but grew less extreme. Both brothers relied heavily on Perronet's advice and support and he was a moderating and stabilizing influence on them. He attended the 1747 Conference and John Wesley addressed his Plain Account of the People Called Methodists to him. In April 1748 Charles Wesley consulted him on his intention to marry Sally Gwynn, and in 1782 referred to him as the 'Archbishop of the Methodists'. On at least one occasion he mediated between the brothers. Only after the death of his wife Charity ( née Goodhew, 1688-1763) in 1763 was a Methodist society in Shoreham formally established. Previously meetings had been held in the vicarage. Known both for great holiness of life and for his scholarship, he published pamphlets defending Locke's Essay on the Human Understanding against the criticisms of Joseph Butler and Isaac Watts. Confined to his house by severe rheumatism from1778, he died at Shoreham on 8/9 May 1785. His funeral sermon was preached by Charles Wesley on 14 May from Psalm 37:37. John Wesley gives a detailed account of his last hours in his Journal for 7 May.
His later years were saddened by the death of his children, including his favourite daughter Damaris and his oldest son William, who died while returning from a visit to Switzerland and was buried at Douai. His younger sons, Edward and Charles were both Methodist preachers for a time. His grandaughter Elizabeth Briggs was the daughter of William Briggs, one of Wesley's first Book Stewards (1753-1759) and a class leader at the Foundery. The portrait painter Henry Perronet Briggs (1791-1844) was a great-grandson.
John Wesley's Journal:
14 August 1744: 'Mr. Piers rode over with me to Shoreham, and introduced me to Mr. Perronet. I hope to have cause of blessing God for ever for the acquaintance begun this day.'
October 1746: 'I preached in the church at Shoreham, morning and afternoon. The congregation seemed to understand just nothing of the matter. But God can give them understanding in his time.'
11 February 1763: 'I … buried the remains of Mrs. Perronet, who, after a long, distressing illness, on Saturday the 5th instant, fell asleep.'
January 1778: 'Mr. Perronet, though in his eighty-fifth year, is still able to go through the whole Sunday service. How merciful is God to the poor people of Shoreham! And many of them are not insensible of it.'
December 1778: 'I found Mr. Perronet once more brought back from the gates of death; undoubtedly for the sake of his little flock, who avail themselves of his being spared too, and continually increase not only in number, but in the knowledge and love of God.'
November 1781: 'I went to Shoreham, to see the venerable old man. He is in his eighty-ninth year, and has nearly lost his sight, but he has not lost his undrstanding, nor even his memory, and is full of faith and love.'
9 December 1784: 'Going on to Shoreham, we found that venerable man, Mr. Perronet, ninety-one years of age, calmly waiting for the conclusion of a good warfare. His bodily strength is gone, but his understanding is little impaired, and he appears to have more love than ever.'
Charles Wesley's Journal:
19 April 1748: 'Today I rode over to Shoreham, and told Mr. Perronet all my heart… Mr. Perronet encouraged me to pray, and wait for a providential opening.'
18 November 1748: 'Consulted old Mr. Perronet, who thought a few of my particular friends might subscribe what would be sufficient for my maintenance and offered himself to set the example.'
13 January 1749: 'Visited Mr. Perronet the next day. He has indeed acted the part of a father, another proof whereof is this letter of his to Mrs. Gwynne.' [Wesley then gives the text of Perronet's letter.]
1758 Visitation Return:
'There are no Dissenters, but one Baptist only. As to Methodists; - there are five or six serious Church-People, of low rank, who, together with my Familly, are distinguished by that name. I have for many years observed, my Lord, that when any Persons have appeared deeply serious and ernestly solicitous about their salvation, they have receiv'd this name, by way of reproach. However, such Methodists, my Lord, and such Methodism, I shall always endeavour to encourage. Indeed, some years ago, there were many more joyn'd in Society, but the Rules being too strict, they dropt off. For no Tippler, no Card-player, no Breaker of any part of the Sabbath, or any other Divine Command, can be a member of that Society.'
1786 Visitation Return:
'One MethodistTeacher, named Staniford (qualified as far as I can learn, according to Law) of very low Extraction & mean Abilities. A large Room in the Teacher's House, where his Followers, who are chiefly all the Parish of the lower Class, assemble on Sundays, & most other Week Days. This Sect,much increas'd of late Years, by the great countenance given to them by my late Predecessor,the Revd. Mr.Perronet… I shd. most heartily wish your Grace wd. put a stop to this Mr, Staniford's creeping into the Habitations of the Sick, & with the Assistance of an ignorant Cobbler named Hyder (who on these Occasions as well as others, passes for his Clerk) Praying & Singing with them in a manner that shameflly distracts their Souls& highly injures their infirm Bodies, especially if if they are at the Point of Dissolution.'