Black Loyalists in New Brunswick, 1783-1854: Thomas Peters

Thomas Peters

Born in 1738 (?) in West Africa, possibly present-day Nigeria; father and mother unknown; died 1792 in Sierra Leone.

Little is known about Thomas Peters until French slave traders brought him to Louisiana around 1760. A chronic runaway, Peters was sold by his master to the British American colony of North Carolina. During the 1770s, his new owner, William Campbell, became a supporter of the movement for colonial independence, which led to the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War.

Outnumbered and under siege, the supporters of the British Crown in America took drastic measures to crush the Revolution. One of these measures, Lord Dunmore’s 1775 proclamation, offered freedom to enslaved African Americans willing to desert their owners and serve in the British armed forces. Along with thousands of other slaves, Thomas Peters took advantage of this proclamation and served in the British forces throughout the war. Displaying leadership potential, Peters was promoted to the rank of sergeant in the Black Pioneers, a military unit composed of former slaves. At the end of the war, the British government promised these African American allies land and freedom in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.

At the conclusion of hostilities, about 3500 Black Loyalists migrated to the Maritimes. The vast majority of them settled at Birchtown, near the town of Shelburne, Nova Scotia. A smaller contingent moved to New Brunswick, a new colony carved out of Nova Scotia in 1784. Spending time in both Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, Peters emerged as a leader of the black communities in both colonies. He petitioned the Governor of New Brunswick, Thomas Carleton, for land, but this request was refused. Since other Black Loyalists also had their petitions for land dismissed and experienced other forms of discrimination from the white majority, they protested their treatment in a petition to the British government.

Selected by black families in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick to state their grievances to the British government, Peters wrote an important document that outlined the discrimination that black people faced in the Maritimes. In 1790, Peters traveled to Great Britain to continue his crusade for land and equal treatment with whites in their new homeland. While in Britain, a project to resettle emancipated slaves in Sierra Leone, a colony designed especially for them in Africa, took shape. The British government provided the funding for this venture and, in early 1792, 1200 Black Loyalists from Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, including Peters and his family, moved to Sierra Leone.

Before he could establish himself economically and politically, Thomas Peters died in the summer of 1792.