Thomas Peters (also known as Thomas Potters) (25 June 1738 in Nigeria – 1792 in Freetown, Sierra Leone) was one of the Black Loyalists Founding Fathers of Sierra Leone. Peters, along with David George, Moses Wilkinson, Cato Perkins, and Joseph Leonard, were influential blacks who recruited African settlers in Nova Scotia for colonisation of Sierra Leone. Peters himself was a former African-American slave who fled North Carolina with the British during the American Revolutionary War and later ended up as a leader in Freetown. Thomas Peters has been called the first African-American hero. Peters, like Elijah Johnson and Joseph Jenkins Roberts of Liberia, is considered the African-American founding father of a nation.
Thomas Peters was born in Nigeria, and was an ethnic Yoruba of the Egba people clan. 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 and it is Campbell, an immigrant Scotsman, who had settled on the Cape Fear River in Wilmington, North Carolina.
In 1776, Peters fled his owner’s flour mill near Wilmington 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. 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 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. 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.
After convincing over 1,100 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. 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.
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. His descendants are members of the Creole ethnic group that lives predominantly in Freetown, Sierra Leone. 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.