Canada has many war heroes, but the only one to receive multiple awards for valour in both world wars, including the highest honour of the Victoria Cross, is a true child of the Maritimes: Captain Frederic Thornton “Fritz“ Peters, VC, DSO, DSC and bar, DSC (U.S.), RN.
Born in Charlottetown in 1889, Peters has a special place in the hearts of Prince Edward Islanders as the only P.E.I.-born Victoria Cross recipient, but he came from a family which also has an extraordinary impact on the history of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.
Three sides of his family were United Empire Loyalists who stayed loyal to King George the Third in the American Revolution, and had to move en masse to the Maritimes after the victory of the rebels. Both of Fritz`s grandfathers – Col. John Hamilton Gray and Judge James Horsfield Peters – were direct descendants of United Empire Loyalists, as was his paternal grandmother Mary Cunard. His other grandmother, Susan Ellen Bartley Pennefather, was born in Jamaica, raised in Anglo-Irish aristocracy, and was residing in India when she married John Hamilton Gray, who brought her to his native Prince Edward Island after resigning as a British cavalry officer.
Ancestor James Peters led a large group from Long Island, New York who settled in the future site of Saint John, New Brunswick in the spring of 1783. Later settling in Gagetown, New Brunswick, his sons and grandsons included attorneys general, magistrates, militia chiefs, lawyers and assembly members who would dominate public life in New Brunswick in the late 18th century and through the 19th century.
Judge James Horsfield Peters
Fritz Peters` paternal grandfather, Gagetown, N.B.-born Judge James Horsfield Peters, married Nova Scotian Mary Cunard of Bushville/Miramichi, who was a daughter of the famous Halifax-based industrialist Sir Samuel Cunard, and they settled in Charlottetown, where James Horsfield Peters was lawyer and agent for Cunards before his judicial appointment. Two of their sons – Fritz`s father Frederick Peters and his brother Arthur – would serve as premier and attorney general of P.E.I.
Fritz`s maternal grandfather, Charlottetown-born Col. John Hamilton Gray, earlier served as premier and had the distinction of hosting and chairing the famous Charlottetown Conference of 1864 that set the stage for the creation of Canada as a self-governing, sea-to-sea country. Gray`s father Col. Robert Gray was a Loyalist from Virginia who helped raise a King`s regiment and was in the thick of fighting against the rebels in the Revolutionary War.
Col. john Hamilton Gray, c. 1864
Sir Samuel Cunard
Another ancestor, Loyalist shipbuilder Abraham Cunard from Pennsylvania, met his future wife Margaret Murphy from South Carolina on a Loyalist evacuation voyage to Nova Scotia in 1783, and they settled in Halifax and later in Rawdon, N.S. Several of their sons were deeply involved in businesses that were central to economic development in all three Maritime provinces , most notably Sir Samuel Cunard, the founder of Cunard Steamship Lines and one of the greatest businessmen in Canadian history.
As a boy, Fritz Peters heard stories of his famous ancestors and resolved to live up to their standard of leadership, excellence and public involvement.
The biography titled “The Bravest Canadian – Fritz Peters VC: The Making of a Hero of Two World Wars“ by Fritz`s greatnephew Sam McBride is based on a recently-discovered treasure trove of family letters of the Grays and Peters going back to the 1700s, including 27 letters written by Fritz that give insight into his personality and motivations that resulted in exceptional courage and coolness in battle.
The author will sign books and meet with Maritime genealogy and history buffs in a book tour September 25-Octotber 5, 2013 through Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, including a presentation on Tuesday, Oct. 1st at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic in Halifax.