Thomas Peters was a slave who was taken to America from somewhere along the West African coast. Credited for playing the leading role in settling Canadian blacks in the African colony of Sierra Leone, Peters, believed to have been born in Nigeria, found himself on a plantation in French-held Louisiana in 1769.
He later ended up on a plantation in Wilmington, North Carolina. Peters took advantage of the American Revolution and fled to North Carolina, where he joined the all-black regiment in the British Army called the Black Pioneers.
This group had become Black Loyalists after hearing that the British would offer them freedom for fighting.
Peters, in the course of the war, was promoted to the rank of sergeant despite being injured twice.
After the end of the Revolutionary War, the Black Pioneers were part of the thousands of Loyalists transported by the British Navy to the north shore of Nova Scotia and then on to New Brunswick.
Peters became the recognized leader of the New Brunswick and Nova Scotia black communities.
In 1791, many blacks in both Nova Scotia and New Brunswick had a lot of trouble being granted lands and farms. As their representative, Peters drafted many petitions for them.
When those petitions were rejected, he decided to travel to England to represent them to the Crown.
In the process, Peters met abolitionist Granville Sharp, who had then developed a plan to create a settlement of free blacks in Africa.
As part of moves to recruit additional settlers for his African colony, Sharp offered Peters and his Nova Scotian people a new promised land in the “Province of Freedom” Sierra Leone.
Peters later had to persuade thirty families (about 1,100 of the 3,500 blacks) to go to Sierra Leone, where they founded the settlement of Freetown in 1792.
But they soon began having problems in this new colony, as supplies promised them were inadequate and many of them could not cope with the climate and new agricultural conditions.
Historical accounts state that the black settlers had been promised land grants, no taxation on the lands of the first settlers, and a democratic government. But these became non-existent, and once again Peters had to protest for the black settlers.
Nevertheless, the black settlers blamed him for persuading them to come to Africa, only to be deceived.
With John Clarkson, Thomas’s younger brother and now a naval lieutenant on inactive duty being their leader, Peters lost his influence on the black settlers.
He was subsequently accused of theft when trying to collect a debt and convicted by a jury.
Peters fell ill soon after his conviction and died in Freetown, Sierra Leone in 1792.
Despite his unfortunate demise, Peters has been called the first African American hero and has been hailed as the founder of the first permanent ex-slave colony in West Africa which gained much influence throughout the region.
Peters, whose descendants are members of the Creole ethnic group that lives predominantly in Freetown, Sierra Leone, was in 1999 honoured by the Sierra Leone government as he was included in a movie celebrating the country’s national heroes.
Suggestions were also made in 2001 to rename Percival Street in Freetown in his honour.