By Sam McBride
For many years in my family tree study, the only information I had on Dr. Charles Valentine Peters – the first of Fritz Peters’ ancestors of the Peters line to settle in North America – was from the book “A Peters Lineage: Five Generations of the Descendants of Dr. Charles Peters of Hempstead” by Martha Bocke Flint,
Published in 1896, the Flint book was well-read by Fritz and other members of his family as a comprehensive source of information on their cousins and ancestors. Dr. Peters and his wife Mary Hewlett were great-great-great-great-grandparents of Fritz and his brothers and sisters.
The Flint book did not mention the extraordinary, documented story of Dr. Peters’ first wife, and what happened after the couple left England for the colony of New York. Articles by John G. Hunt on the subject were in the quarterly publication The American Genealogist in 1967 and 1968.
In an article titled “Two Eighteen Century New Yorkers: Giles Shelley ‘Pirate’ and Dr. Charles Peters”, genealogical researcher Hunt notes that the surgeon Dr. Charles Peters was the son of William Valentine and Ann Peters of St. Clement Dane, London. Records in England show that Charles married Mary Kake at St. Dunstan in the West, Middlesex in about 1699 when he was 22 and she 18. One child was born, a daughter. Some time in the next three years they emigrated to America. Hunt notes that by September 1702 Mary Kake had left Charles and taken up with the highly successful (but already married) merchant/pirate Giles Shelley, who was a close friend of soon-to-be-hanged Captain William Kidd. Like the infamous Captain Kidd, Giles Shelley was licensed by the King to take booty on the high seas from non-British ships.
Shelley included Mary Peters In his will dated September 22, 1702, specifying that upon his death she would receive 50 pounds, and then 50 pounds per year for ten years “free from the control of her husband.” The will stipulated that Mary – still legally married to Dr. Charles Peters – would be granted use of Shelley’s house and furnishings for the rest of her life.
The affair became well known in 1705 as a result of a court case launched by Shelley’s ignored wife Hillegond. As the cuckolded husband, the situation of his wife living openly with another man must have been extremely embarrassing for Charles Peters in the conservative New York society. And obtaining a divorce from an English court was virtually impossible from distant America at the time.
In 1710, Shelley adjusted his will to note that Mary Kake Peters had died. There is no record of how or when she died. With her dead, Charles was free to marry again. There is also no record of the death of the daughter, but Hunt suggests she probably died at young age.
Sometime between 1710 and 1712, Charles Peters moved to Long Island and married Mary Hewlett, whose grandparents arrived in New York when it was known as New Amsterdam and controlled by the Dutch. Apparently, Mary Hewlett and her relatives were unaware of Charles’ disastrous first marriage. The couple had eight children and were accepted into the establishment of the community of Hempstead. Charles died in 1733, and Mary Hewlett died 11 years later.
Their son Valentine Hewlett Peters (1716-1786) was a United Empire Loyalist in the American Revolution, as was his son James Peters (1746-1820). After the rebels won, James (Fritz’s great-great-grandfather) was a leader in the Loyalist evacuation to New Brunswick. As he was elderly, Valentine decided to stay in New York in the new country known as the United States. The image below is of James Peters as a young Loyalist.
There is no mention of an earlier marriage of Dr.Charles Peters in the writings of James Peters, or in the writings of his descendants. In that era of primitive communication, it appears Dr. Peters’ cover-up of his first wife and her scandalous affair with a pirate was successful – at least until original records were identified and interpreted in the 1960s.
It appears that Dr. Charles Peters was concerned that the details of his parents and ancestry could lead his in-laws and neighbours in Hempstead to discover the fiasco of his first marriage. This led him to fabricate the connection to the famous Puritan Rev. Hugh Peters and his brothers William and Thomas who came to colonial America in the 1630s. Hugh returned to England in 1642 and never returned to America, as he became a senior lieutenant of Oliver Cromwell in the English Civil War. William was the only one of the three brothers to have sons, so over the years many in the Peters family tree assumed that William was the direct ancestor. Flint found no records of any such connection, and chose to avoid the controversy of Dr. Charles’ ancestry. She began the family tree listings with his marriage to Mary Hewlett and her ancestry, but had no details on his parentage.
John G. Hunt, “Two Eighteenth Century New Yorkers: Giles Shelley ‘Pirate’ and Dr. Charles Peters”, The American Genealogist, Vol. 43, 1967:p. 163-7.
And John G. Hunt, “Addenda and Corrigenda”, The American Genealogist, Vol. 44, April 1968, p. 111
LINKS OF INTEREST: