Perkins was born into slavery in 1816 or 1817 in Louisa County. The names of his parents are not known, but he reportedly lived in the household of a man known as Buck Perkins, whose wife was said to have provided Fountain Perkins a rudimentary education. He was trained in scientific farming techniques and became the overseer of his owner’s farm. While still enslaved, he married a woman named Esther (sometimes spelled Easter), with whom he had six sons and two daughters. She had a son from a previous marriage during slavery. It is not known when or under what circumstances Perkins became free.
At the end of the American Civil War (1861–1865) Perkins was recognized as a leader in the community, and his name was included on a list of prominent African American men in Louisa County that the local agent of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands compiled in March 1867. The agent listed his occupation as a preacher. The previous year Perkins had been among the trustees who purchased property near the county courthouse for a church. He served as the first minister of the African American First Baptist Church, and under his leadership a school for freedpeople operated on the church grounds. During the 1870s he served as pastor of Oak Grove Baptist Church and Springfield Baptist Church. From about 1878 until at least 1884, he was the minister for Faulter’s Creek (later Foster’s Creek) Baptist Church. During this period Perkins attended annual meetings of the Colored Shiloh Baptist Association, occasionally serving on special committees during the sessions.
Perkins also became interested in politics and joined the Republican Party. He spoke at political meetings in Louisa in 1867 and was reportedly considered as a possible candidate for the convention that met in 1867–1868 to rewrite the state’s constitution as required by the Reconstruction Acts passed by Congress. In March 1869 he was named to the Republican State Central Committee and later that year he was a candidate for one of the county’s two seats in the House of Delegates. On July 6, he and the white Republican candidate won the election, each with about 53 percent of the vote.
When the General Assembly held a short session in October 1869, Perkins voted to ratify the Fourteenth and Fifteenth amendments to the Constitution, which the state was required to do before being readmitted to the United States. During the sessions that met in 1870 and 1871, he sat on the Committee of Agriculture and Mining and during the final session he was also appointed to the Committee on Retrenchment and Economy. In 1870 the assembly approved a bill to create a public school system in Virginia. Some of the African American delegates attempted to strike out the requirement that schools be racially segregated, but the measure was overwhelmingly defeated. Perkins then joined other legislators in casting a symbolic vote against passage of the school bill that he and the other African American lawmakers almost certainly favored. On March 28, 1871, he voted with the majority in favor of a bill that provided for the payment of the antebellum state debt, which totaled more than $45 million. The Funding Act proved disastrous and was later regarded as one of the state’s most ill-advised pieces of economic legislation.
Perkins did not run for reelection in 1871, although he remained active in politics during the 1870s and 1880s, attending local Republican meetings, sitting as an election judge, and again serving on the state central committee. He acquired property in the vicinity of Poore Creek beginning in 1871 and by 1890 was paying taxes on almost 246 acres, where he and his sons raised wheat, tobacco, corn, and apples. Perkins died of the effects of paralysis in Louisa County on October 23, 1896. His place of burial is not known.