Prominent advocate for the Black Nova Scotians, New Brunswickers, recognized as a historical figure

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

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

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

Thomas Peters has been designated National Historic Significance under Parks Canada’s National Program of Historical Commemoration.

“I am delighted to hear that Thomas Peters is finally being officially recognized by the government,” said David Peters, who is a descendant of Thomas.

Thomas Peters, born in 1738 in present-day Nigeria to a Yoruba noble family, was captured and forced into slavery on a North Carolina plantation, according to Parks Canada, before fleeing in 1776.

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

Bad living conditions

Poor living conditions for black people in Nova Scotia prompted Thomas Peters to seek promised land and provisions from the government. He would do this twice more before receiving 0.4 hectares of land in 1785.

The area was not sufficient for subsistence farming. He took his family to New Brunswick, where he found conditions were no better there.

David Peters, a black historian, said his ancestor quickly learned to speak English and French. He said that’s why he was then put up as representative to seek an audience with King George III and to describe the impoverished conditions in which black people lived after fighting for the crown.

David Peters said Thomas Peters never met the king but learned that the Sierra Leone Company aimed to establish a settlement for newly freed people of African descent from America.

He served as a key figure in recruiting blacks from Nova Scotia and New Brunswick to go to Sierra Leone and begin settling Freetown, now the country’s capital.

“The [was] didn’t go back to Africa because thousands of them didn’t even know where Africa was. They were born into slavery. He wasn’t, but that’s what struck him: to return home,” said David Peters. “He was never a man who was a slave, he was a man who was brought into bondage.”

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





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