Thomas Peters (revolutionary)

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Thomas Peters
Thomas Peters Portrait.jpg
Thomas Peters, a Nigerian-born slave, and Black Loyalist soldier, in the British Black Company of Pioneers, early Black settler of the Province of Nova Scotia, British Canada, and one of the "Founding Fathers" of the Nova Scotian Settlers, Sierre Leone Colony in West Africa, from a painted portrait
BornThomas Potters
(1738-06-25)June 25, 1738
Freetown, Sierra Leone
Cause of deathMalaria
Resting placeFreetown, Sierra Leone
NationalityNigerian, American, Canadian, Sierra Leonean
CitizenshipCanadian, Sierra Leonean
Occupationslave, soldier, politician, colonizer
Known forbeing a colonizer, of the mass recruitment of former, African American, Nova Scotia settlers, from British Canada, Northern America, to Sierra Leone Colony, West Africa
Sally Peters (m. 1776)
ChildrenJohn Peters (son)
Clairy Peters (daughter)
5 other children
Military career
AllegianceUnited Kingdom
UnitBlack Company of Pioneers
Battles/warsAmerican Revolutionary War

Thomas Peters, born Thomas Potters (25 June 1738 – 1792), was one of the Black Loyalist "Founding Fathers" of the nation of Sierra Leone in West Africa. Peters, along with David George, Moses Wilkinson, Cato Perkins and Joseph Leonard, were influential Black Canadians, who recruited African settlers in the Province of Nova Scotia for the colonisation of Sierra Leone. Peters was a former African-American slave, who fled the Province of North Carolina with the British during the American Revolutionary War, having served as a Black Loyalist in the Black Company of Pioneers and later becoming a prominent, Black, colonial leader in Freetown. Thomas Peters has been called[by whom?] the "first, African-American hero".[1] Peters, like Elijah Johnson and Joseph Jenkins Roberts of Liberia, is considered the African-American founding father of a nation.[2][3][4][5][6]

Early life[edit]

Thomas Peters was born in Nigeria, West Africa, to the Yoruba tribe, of the Egba people clan.[4][7][8][9][10][11]


In 1760, a twenty-two-year-old Thomas Peters was captured by slave traders and sold as a slave to Colonial America on a French ship, the Henri Quatre. Upon arrival in North America, Peters was sold to a French owner in French Louisiana. Peters tried to escape three times before being sold to an Englishman or Scotsman in one of the Southern Colonies probably Campbell, an immigrant Scotsman, who had settled on the Cape Fear River in Wilmington, North Carolina.[9][10]

American Revolutionary War[edit]

In 1776, Peters fled his owner's flour mill near Wilmington[12] at the start of the American Revolutionary War and joined the Black Pioneers, a Black Loyalist unit made up of runaway African-American slaves. The British had previously promised freedom in exchange for supporting the war effort against the colonies that formed the new United States. Many former slaves joined the British after the United States had been established as a nation; therefore many were legally qualified to remain as American slaves.[13] Peters rose to the rank of sergeant in the regiment and he was twice wounded in battle. During this time, Thomas was married to Sally Peters, a slave from South Carolina and he had a son called John (born in 1781) and a daughter Clairy (born in 1771). There is a possibility that Sally and Peters were once slaves together in South Carolina and that they reunited during the war.

Resettled in Province of Nova Scotia, British Canada[edit]

After the war Peters and other former African-American slaves were taken by the British to Nova Scotia with Loyalists, where they stayed from 1783 to 1791. Initially after being evacuated from New York, Thomas Peters' Loyalist ship had been blown off course and the crew temporarily settled in Bermuda. Eventually Thomas Peters and his family settled in Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia. Peters and his fellow Black Pioneer, Murphy Steele petitioned the government for land together. Both Murphy Steele and Thomas Peters had developed a friendship during their service to the Black Pioneers.

Petition to settle in Sierra Leone Colony, West Africa[edit]

Peters became disheartened with what he saw as broken promises of land by the British government and he decided to travel to England to demand the land promised to him and others.[4] Peters gathered the signatures and marks of African-American settlers in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick before getting funds to travel to London (with the risk of being re-enslaved) and convince the Government to settle the blacks in Nova Scotia elsewhere. In 1791, Peters went to London, where he helped convince the Royal government (with the help of Granville Sharp) to allow them to settle a new colony in Sierra Leone that was to be Freetown, Sierra Leone. Peters was well received during his trip to London, and he was introduced to some notable people there by his former commander, General Henry Clinton, who was politically out of favour. It was decided in London that Peters and the Naval Officer John Clarkson, the brother of English abolitionist Thomas Clarkson, would assist in recruiting blacks to settle in Sierra Leone.[9][14]

Recruiting blacks for Sierra Leone[edit]

Peters returned to Nova Scotia triumphant in the quest he set out to do. Eventually Thomas Peters, David George, Moses Wilkinson, and Joseph Leonard, Cato Perkins, William Ash, John Ball, and Isiah Limerick were able to convince blacks in their various communities of Birchtown, Halifax, Shelbourne, and Annapolis Royal to consider the Sierra Leone offer. Peters and another Annapolis Royal black called David Edmons (Edmonds) petitioned John Clarkson for beef to celebrate their last Christmas in America in 1791. David Edmonds would eventually become a successful Nova Scotian settler in Sierra Leone and a friend of Paul Cuffe.

Sierra Leone[edit]

After convincing over 1,100[15] of the 3,500 American blacks to return to Africa, in 1792 they arrived at St. George Bay Harbor. Legend has it that Thomas Peters led the newly named Nova Scotians ashore singing an old Christian hymn (though most likely it was other more influential religious leaders). Peters soon became at odds with the newly established Governor John Clarkson and he called himself the "Speaker General" of the Annapolis Royal Nova Scotia settlers. Although he received support from influential figures amongst the previous settlers like Abraham Elliot Griffiths and Henry Beverhout,[16]:97 eventually the overwhelming majority of Nova Scotians chose John Clarkson as their true leader and Peters became disheartened. Soon after Peters died of malaria in Freetown during the first rainy season in 1792.[4]

Peters died leaving a wife and seven children. A number of Krios can claim descent from Thomas Peters and he is considered by most to be a "George Washington" figure of Freetown, Sierra Leone. Legend has given Thomas Peters a noble birth in West Africa, whence he was supposedly kidnapped as a young man and brought as a slave to the American colonies. The earliest documentary evidence places him in 1776 as the 38-year-old slave of William Campbell in Wilmington, North Carolina. In that year, encouraged by the proclamation issued by Governor Lord Dunmore of Virginia in 1775 promising freedom to rebel-owned slaves who joined the loyalist forces, Peters fled Campbell's plantation and enlisted in the Black Pioneers in New York. In 1779, in response to a new invitation to rebel-owned slaves to place themselves under British protection whether they wished to bear arms for the crown or not, a 26-year-old woman named Sally from Charleston, South Carolina, appeared in a British camp, and she too joined the Black Pioneers. In that service she met Peters, who by 1779 had been promoted sergeant, and they were married.[17]

Descendants and legacy[edit]

His descendants are members of the Creole ethnic group that lives predominantly in Freetown, Sierra Leone. Some of his descendants also live in Canada.[4] During 1999 Peters was honoured by the Sierra Leone government by being included in a movie celebrating the country's national heroes. In 2001 it was suggested that Percival Street (specifically Settler Town, Sierra Leone, where Peter's Nova Scotians settled) in Freetown was to be renamed in his honour, but this has yet to be done.[18]

Peters was portrayed by Leo Wringer in the BBC television series Rough Crossings (2007).

A statue of Thomas Peters was erected in Freetown in 2011 by the Krio Descendants Union A Tribute to Thomas Peters

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Shabaka Reveals The "Black Moses", Thomas Peters, America's First African-American Hero.
  2. ^ Rough Crossings –
  3. ^ "Peters, Thomas (1738–1792)". BlackPast. Retrieved November 14, 2014.
  4. ^ a b c d e Redmond Shannon (April 13, 2016). "Saint John historian illuminates story of Thomas Peters, prominent black loyalist". New Brunswick: CBC News. Retrieved November 22, 2016.
  5. ^ Aphra Behn (March 7, 2007). "Black History:Thomas Peters, Founder of Nations". Daily Kos. Retrieved November 22, 2016.
  6. ^ Bobby Gilmer Moss; Michael C. Scoggins (2005). African American loyalists in the southern campaign of the American Revolution. Scotia-Hibernia Press (University of Wisconsin - Madison). p. 240. ISBN 978-0-9762162-0-9.
  7. ^ Sanneh (2001), p. 50.
  8. ^ John Coleman De Graft-Johnson (1986). African Glory: The Story of Vanished Negro Civilizations. Black Classic Press. p. 163. ISBN 978-0-933121-03-4.
  9. ^ a b c Stewart J. Brown; Timothy Tackett (2006). The Cambridge History of Christianity (Enlightenment, Reawakening and Revolution 1660–1815). 7. Cambridge University Press. p. 421. ISBN 978-0-521-81605-2.
  10. ^ a b William Dillon Piersen (1993). Black Legacy: America's Hidden Heritage. University of Massachusetts Press. p. 94. ISBN 978-0-87023-859-8.
  11. ^ Massala Reffell (2012). Echoes of Footsteps: Birth of a Negro Nation. Xlibris Corporation. p. 239. ISBN 978-1-4771-3026-1.[self-published source]
  12. ^ Online Personal Albums by Ekahau –
  13. ^ "Black History: Thomas Peters, Founder of Nations (Pt 2)". Daily Kos.
  14. ^ Mary Louise Clifford (2006). From Slavery to Freetown: Black Loyalists After the American Revolution. McFarland. ISBN 978-0-7864-2557-0. Retrieved November 15, 2014.
  15. ^ Peter Fryer (1984). Staying Power: The History of Black People in Britain. University of Alberta. p. 203. ISBN 978-0-86104-749-9. Retrieved November 14, 2014.
  16. ^ Wilson, Ellen Gibson (1980). John Clarkson and the African Adventure. London: Macmillan Press.
  17. ^ "PETERS (Petters), THOMAS". Dictionary of Canadian Biography. University of Toronto. 4. Retrieved November 15, 2014.
  18. ^ BBC NEWS | World | Africa | S Leone honours Africa slave campaigners