by Sam McBride
Among Fritz Peters` grandparents, three were direct descendants of United Empire Loyalists and the fourth was a daughter of the Anglo-Irish aristocracy.
His paternal grandparents were Judge James Horsfield Peters (1811-1891) and Mary Cunard (1817-1885), and his maternal grandparents were Col. John Hamilton Gray (1811-1887) and Susan Ellen Bartley Pennefather (c. 1825-1866). He would not have personally known any of them, as three died before he was born and the fourth died when he was a toddler, but the stories of their lives and their links with Canadian and British history were a major influence in his upbringing.
His best-known grandparent was grandfather Col. John Hamilton Gray (1811-1887), who was a career officer in the British Army, mostly with the Dragoon Guards. Gray`s father Col. Robert Gray from Scotland was a fervent Loyalist in Virginia who raised a regiment to fight the rebels in the American Revolutionary War. In appreciation of his service, he received appointments and land grants after the war and settled in Prince Edward Island.
To John Hamilton Gray`s great regret, his 21 years in the army coincided with an unusually long period of peace in Europe. When the Crimean War broke out in 1854, a year after his retirement, he tried to get back in the army, but his request for reinstatement was rejected. He was thrilled when his father-in-law, Gen. Sir John Lysaght Pennefather, took him on as a staff assistant, but by the time he got to the Crimea the war was over. He returned to Charlottetown and built Inkerman House, named in honour of his father-in-law`s victorious Battle of Inkerman in the Crimean War, and took charge of the island`s militia. In 1860 he served as aide-de-camp for the visit of the Prince of Wales (the future King Edward VII) to Prince Edward Island.Gray became Premier of P.E.I. in 1863. A year later he was host and chairman of the historic Charlottetown Conference that led to the formation of Canada as a self-governing dominion. A fervent supporter of Canadian confederation, he resigned as premier and gave up politics in 1865 when his Island colleagues backed off from their initial support of confederation. As it turned out, P.E.I. became a province in 1873, six years after Canada was established with the four provinces of Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.
Gray`s married his first wife, the widow Fanny Sewell Chamier, in India, where she died in childbirth. Gray had five children – all daughters – with his second wife Susan Ellen Bartley Pennefather, and two sons and a daughter with his third wife, Sarah Caroline Cambridge.
The link below is to the section on Col. John Hamilton Gray in the Canadian Dictionary of Biography.
Fritz`s maternal grandmother, Susan Ellen Bartley Pennefather, was born in about 1825 in Jamaica to Lieut. William Bartley and Margaret Carr. After her father died when Susan was a baby, his commanding officer, Major Sir John L. Pennefather, took care of the widow and child. He later married Margaret and she became Lady Pennefather.
Susan was 16 or 17 when she married 32-year-old John Hamilton Gray in India. Her parents told her just before her marriage that Pennefather was not her biological father, which was the first she had heard of it. She travelled with her husband on his military assignments, and he was proud of the fact that he had daughters born in each quarter of the globe – Harriet on a troop ship in the Red Sea on the way to India, Margaret in South Africa, Florence in England, and Mary (also known as Mim) in Charlottetown. The youngest daughter, Bertha, was also born in PEI.
Susan was known in Charlottetown for her work helping the poor. When her husband invited the Charlottetown Conference delegates to Inkerman House for a dinner party in September 1864, Susan was too ill to serve as hostess, so her teen-aged daughters Margaret and Florence filled in for her. Susan never recovered from her illness, dying at age 41 in 1866. Bertha was only four when she died, but had many memories of the mother she called “my deal little mama”.
Fritz`s paternal grandfather, James Horsfield Peters, was born in Saint John, New Brunswick. His grandparents were United Empire Loyalists James Peters and Margaret Lester from Hempstead, Long Island, New York who settled near Saint John after the American Revolutionary War. His father was the Hon. Thomas Horsfield Peters, a prosperous New Brunswick lawyer who was appointed Clerk of the Peace and Deputy Treasurer of the colony and served in the legislative council.
James Horsfield Peters trained in law and settled in Charlottetown, where he married Mary Cunard, eldest daughter of prominent Halifax businessman Samuel Cunard, in 1837. It was the second marital connection between the Peters and Cunard families, as four years earlier James’ older sister Mary Peters married Samuel’s brother Joseph Cunard.
From 1838 until his appointment as assistant judge of the Supreme Court in 1848, James Horsfield Peters was lawyer and agent for the Prince Edward Island interests of his father-in-law Cunard. He then served as a judge in P.E.I. for 43 years. In his final years he held the distinction of being the oldest serving judge in the Dominion of Canada.
A man of many talents and interests, Judge Peters was known for his concern for the rights of the accused, for agricultural improvements in the island such as crop rotation, and for designing a better and safer iceboat for winter travel to and from the mainland. Despite these achievements, he never lived down the stories of his early days as a land agent carrying four stylish pistols with him as he knocked on doors collecting rent for the Cunards.
The link below is to the section on James Horsfield Peters in the Canadian Dictionary of Biography.
His wife Mary Cunard`s ancestors were among the first Germans to settle in North America – the only significant non-British line in Fritz Peters’ roots. Known then as Kunders, they were part of a group of Quakers from Krefield in the Rhine region who settled near today’s Philadelphia in the 1680s. Ninety years later, the family was split in its response to the Revolution. Samuel’s father Abraham — a successful Pennsylvania shipbuilder who regularly dealt with the Royal Navy in his work — and his brother Robert Cunard stayed loyal to the King while everyone else in the family sided with the rebels. Abraham met his future wife, Ireland-born Margaret Murphy of South Carolina, during the Loyalist evacuation voyage to Nova Scotia in the spring of 1783 after the rebel colonies gained independence and evicted their adversaries.
Born in Halifax in 1787, their son Samuel would become a giant of international commerce, pioneering the new industry of steam-driven trans-Atlantic passenger service. Though short in stature, he would dominate a room with his energy, charm and eloquence. In 1840, Cunard was greeted as a hero by New Englanders when his first steamship Britannia brought mail from Britain to Boston. However, American politicians were aghast to see a foreigner dominating a vital new industry. Congress provided a large subsidy to Edward Knight Collins to establish American dominance in the industry, but Collins’ emphasis on speed over safety resulted in numerous well-publicized wrecks, while Cunard maintained leadership in passenger travel through a record of safety and reliability. The Cunard line’s stellar record for passenger safety over three-quarters of a century was shattered with the sinking of the liner RMS Lusitania by a German torpedo in May 1915.
Cunard was knighted by Queen Victoria in appreciation for the steamships he provided at short notice for transporting troops to the Crimean War. Thus began a Cunard Steamship Lines tradition of seconding passenger ships for Britain’s wartime needs, memorably with the Queen Mary in camouflage paint carrying up to 15,000 soldiers at a time across the Atlantic in World War Two. In addition to a fleet of more than 40 ships, Sir Samuel Cunard invested widely in the tea business and a variety of other ventures such as forests and farmland in Prince Edward Island.
The link below is to the section on Sir Samuel Cunard in the Canadian Dictionary of Biography.
Mary and Sir Samuel`s other daughters each received twenty thousand pounds after his death in 1865. This enabled the Peters family to be among the leaders of PEI society. James Horsfield Peters and Mary
Cunard had six children, including sons Frederick and Arthur who both became lawyers and served as Premier and Attorney General of P.E.I.
Mary was known for being generous with her wealth in donations to charity and giving extra money to household staff.
The link below is to the section on Arthur Peters in the Canadian Dictionary of Biography. To date, his brother Frederick Peters has not rated a piece in the Dictionary of Biographies, which also has write-ups on his cousins William Tyng Peters and Charles Jeffrey Peters.