Grand River Branch
United Empire Loyalists' Association of Canada
Selected Reprints from the
Grand River Branch Newsletter, Branches
"Letter of Mary Peters, Hebron Connecticut to Samuel Peters, Boston - October 1774"
Gary Peters, Chairman, February 1993, Vol.5 No.1, Pages 3-4
Some years ago, when I was researching my family history, I discovered several letters written during the Revolutionary War, by my great (x6) grandmother, Mary Peters. The correspondence was sent to her son, the Reverend Samuel Peters, who had fled first to Boston in 1774 and thence to England, shortly thereafter.
Born Mary Marks in September, 1698, in North Brookfield, Massachusetts, she married my great (x6) grandfather, John Peters in April, 1717 and they settled within a year, in Hebron, Connecticut. John and Mary Peters had twelve children before he died in 1754. The family prospered and some of the sons acquired considerable wealth and influence. During the 1730's, a dispute in the local Congregational church led to a schism in the community and some people declared for the Church of England. John and Mary Peters were among the founding families of St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Hebron, Connecticut. the decision to convert to Anglicanism was to have major and tragic consequences for the family forty years later at the outbreak of the American Revolution.
The Church of England in the colonies, the Episcopalians, were strong supporters of the Crown. On ordination to the preaching office, the clergy would take an oath of allegiance to the reigning monarch. By the mid-1770's, the parishioners and especially the clergy, were suffering increasing harassment and persecution from their neighbours. One of Mary Peters' sons, the Reverend Samuel Peters, the rector at St. Peter's Church in Hebron, was a loyalist who could not refrain from dabbling in the political disputes of the time. A vain, irascible and colourful character, he stood up to Governor Trumbell's "bully boys" and finally became a victim of the mobbings. Following a violent confrontation in New Haven with Benedict Arnold and a rebel mob and serious threats on his life, he fled to Boston in September, 1774 and sailed for England within the month, returning to America in the early 1800's.
Mary Peters not only outlived her husband by thirty years, she also saw several of her children die of such maladies as smallpox, and watched helplessly as three of her sons and one daughter were forced to flee their estates in Connecticut from 1774 on, never again to see their mother. Both frightened and bewildered by the events of 1770's, protection by her eldest son, John, an American patriot and an implacable enemy of his loyalist brothers and sister, she was able to cope with the loss, I believe, through her resolve and her Christian faith.
Mary Peters was no stranger to the violence of her time. Her father, Joseph Marks, had fought in the early colonial wars against the French and their Native allies, and at one point in the late 1600's, he was apparently held in captivity by the French for several years. Mary Peters also had first-hand experience with the rebel mobs in 1774 and received minor injuries during one mobbing at the hands of the Sons of Liberty in September of that year.
Mary Peters died in July, 1784 and is buried beside her husband in the old cemetery at the original location of St. Peter's Church in Hebron, Connecticut. About one year before her death, her son, John Peters wrote to a cousin in Medfield, Massachusetts...
Through her loyalist offspring, Mary Peters had her own version of "la revanche du berceau". Some of her immediate descendants found their way to the north shore of Lake Ontario and contributed to the founding of Upper Canada and to the development of a loyal and free monarchy. One daughter, Mercy, married Timothy Buell, a major in the King's Rangers. They settled in New Oswagatchie and their son, William Buell became the founder of Brockville. Another granddaughter, Hannah, the daughter of the Reverend Samuel Peters, married William Jarvis who served under John Graves Simcoe in the 1st American Regiment of Queen's Rangers. Jarvis became the first Provincial Secretary of early Upper Canada. Another grandson, John Peters of Connecticut and Vermont, married to Ann Barnet, commanded the Queen's Loyal Rangers at the Battle of Bennington in Vermont, during the ill-fated expedition of General John Burgoyne. One of his sons in turn, John Jr., married Mary Ann Rogers and settled in Sophiasburg, while other children eventually settled in Cape Breton.
Another grandson of Mary Peters, Samuel, married Huldah Youngs of Hebron, Connecticut, ca. 1770. Samuel's father, Joseph Peters, died of smallpox in Middletown, Connecticut in 1761. Samuel, his wife Huldah and their four sons immigrated to Upper Canada in 1793, following a few short years in New York and a longer more troubled time in Vermont, during the American Revolution. This family settled in Ernestown Township in Lennox-Addington County and there are still many Peters descendants of these early settlers in Ernestown and other parts of Ontario today.
I have often thought of loyalists as those who fled the colonies and the new republic, and who found refuge in England, the Canadas or the British Caribbean islands. Yet there were many people, among them Mary Peters, who, because of age, infirmity or circumstance, were simply unable to flee the harassment and persecution. On examining the correspondence and related documents, I have come to suspect that Mary Peters, from her vantage point inside the Revolution, had gleaned some intuitive insights into the rebellion and knew what was at stake. I might call them political notions, but even if they are more mine than hers, they still remain as useful lessons to be learned more than two centuries later.
Mary Peters acutely felt the loss of unity among the English-speaking people when that ancient accord, symbolized by language, culture and the Crown, was rendered asunder by the War of Independence. She sensed that the wound would not be healed for a long time and that the effects of the rupture would remain to damage and hinder the common interests and development of both old and new England.
My distant grandmother may also have intuitively understood that real political power is possessed by the Crown, at least in our heritage, and that governments are temporarily entrusted with that power. Freedom starts with this most fundamental check on the unrestricted and dangerous usurpation of power by governments, even those that we elect to office. The fathers of the American Constitution were, of course, aware of the problem. They formally introduced Montesquieu's concept of separation of powers, to deliberately curtail the misuse of power by any one branch of the government, but especially perhaps by the President -- an elected monarch.
Today, more than two centuries after the American War of Independence, Canada (and I might add, our "sister dominion", Australia) is at a cross-roads in its political development. The powers that be, primarily in politics and the media, are quietly but with determination, moving us towards a republic. In the short span of thirty years, the symbols of our loyalist patriotic and political culture and the quiet decorum and propriety that once graced the public life of our nation, have been systematically demolished. Those of us, who consider ourselves to be a part of Canada's "loyal heritage population", and I include in that category many of our French-speaking citizens in Québec and many recent immigrants, have felt powerless to stop the republican juggernaut and its grip on the political agenda.
In the 1770's, Mary Peters knew that part of the problem in America was too little government and the lack of any real capacity to enforce order and uphold the law. In modern Canada, we have far too much government, with an overkill capacity to control and manipulate the people and enforce the application of politically correct dogma. As the descendants of United Empire Loyalists, we must be knowledgeable about the sources of liberty, the limits of government and the necessity of preserving the monarchy as a fundamental restraint on the exercise of power. More importantly, we will have to become much more vociferous and politicized, if only to guard our great political heritage. I think my distant grandmother, Mary Peters, would understand.
1Mary Peters, Hebron, Conn., to Samuel Peters, [Boston], 2 October 1774. Excerpt from Peters Manuscripts, Letter Book I, copyright held by the Archives of the Episcopal Church and reproduced courtesy of the Archives.
2John Peters, Hebron, Conn., to William Peters, Medfield, Mass., 22 August 1783, quoted in E.F. Peters and E.B. Peters, compilers The Peters of New England (New York: Knickerbocker Press, 1903; Reprint, Salem, Mass.: Higginson Book Co., ), 159-160. Excerpt reproduced courtesy of the Higginson Book Co.
The editor kindly requests that this article, including the correspondence excerpts, not be reprinted or reproduced in any other publication.