Prominent advocate for Black Nova Scotians, New Brunswickers recognized as historic figure

David Peters of Saint John is an ancestor of Thomas Peters. (Jennifer Sweet/CBC - image credit)
David Peters of Saint John is an ancestor of Thomas Peters. (Jennifer Sweet/CBC - image credit)

A prominent leader for Black people in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick after the American Revolutionary War has been recognized by the federal government as a historic figure.

Thomas Peters has received the designation of national historic significance under Parks Canada's National Program of Historical Commemoration.

"I'm very pleased to hear that Thomas Peters is finally being officially recognized by the government," said David Peters, who is a descendant of Thomas.

Thomas Peters, who was born in what is now known as Nigeria to a noble Yoruba family in 1738, was captured and forced into slavery at a North Carolina plantation before escaping in 1776, according to information from Parks Canada.

He then joined the Black Pioneers in New York, rising to the rank of sergeant while fighting with the British during the American Revolutionary War. Afterwards, he and his family were evacuated to Nova Scotia, along with around 3,500 Black Loyalists.

Poor living conditions

Poor living conditions in Nova Scotia for Black people led Thomas Peters to petition the government for promised land and provisions. He would go on to do so twice more before being given 0.4 hectares of land in 1785.

The area wasn't enough for subsistence farming. He left with his family to go to New Brunswick, where he found that conditions were no better there.

David Peters, a Black history researcher, said his ancestor quickly learned how to speak English and French. He said that is why he was then put up as a representative to go seek an audience with King George III and describe the impoverished conditions Black people were living in after fighting for the Crown.

David Peters said Thomas Peters never did get to meet the king, but did learn that the Sierra Leone Company was aiming to establish a settlement of newly freed people of African descent from the Americas.

He served as a pivotal figure in recruiting Black people from Nova Scotia and New Brunswick to go to Sierra Leone and begin the settlement of Freetown, now the country's capital.

"This [was] not going back home to Africa, because thousands of them didn't even know where Africa was. They were born into slavery. He wasn't, but this is what caught his ear: going back home," said David Peters. "He was never a man that was a slave, he was a man that was put in bondage."

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.