A Tale of Two Identical Fathers of Confederation

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by Sam McBride

One of the great coincidences of Canadian history is that there were two unrelated Fathers of Confederation named John Hamilton Gray  — one in Prince Edward Island (born in Charlottetown in 1811 and died in Charlottetown in 1887) and the other in New Brunswick (born in Bermuda in 1814 and died in Victoria, B.C. in 1889).

The P.E.I. Gray was Fritz Peters` grandfather and my great-great-grandfather.  He had the more prominent role among the J.H. Gray`s at the Charlottetown Conference of September 1864 because, as head of the P.E.I. government at the time, he was the official host of the conference and was elected by delegates to be chairman of the conference.   Both J.H. Grays were fervent supporters of Confederation at a time when many of the men also known as Fathers of Confederation were lukewarm or actively opposing it.   The two men were also alike in qualifying for the title of Colonel Gray — the P.E.I. Gray as a career officer in the British cavalry, and the New Brunswick Gray as an Lieutenant-Colonel in his colony`s militia.

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ABOVE: Col. John Hamilton Gray of Prince Edward Island shown about the time of the Charlottetown Conference he hosted in 1864. BELOW: The P.E.I. Gray in later years.

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col gray high school

The high school in Charlottetown is named after John Hamilton Gray of P.E.I.

In 2014, as part of the commemoration of the 150th anniversary (sesquicentennial) of the Charlottetown Conference, a sculpture has been commissioned which will depict the two John Hamilton Grays interacting at the 1864 conference.   The artist doing the bronze work is Nathan Scott from Vancouver Island.   See the recent CBC report on the project http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/prince-edward-island/fathers-of-confederation-statue-to-be-unveiled-this-fall-1.2519721 and information on the artist http://www.sculpturebynathanscott.com/1/post/2013/11/canadian-artist-nathan-scotts-latest-public-commission-the-two-john-hamilton-grays.html

The fact that the artist is from Vancouver Island is interesting because Victoria, B.C. is part of the story of the two John Hamilton Grays and their descendants­.    In 1872 the New Brunswick Gray moved to Victoria to serve as a judge on the Supreme Court of B.C.   He died in Victoria in 1889 and was buried in Victoria`s historic Ross Bay Cemetery, which has the graves of most of the famous B.C. names of the 19th century.   The people who lead tours of the Ross Bay cemetery point out that this Gray was the only Father of Confederation buried west of Ontario.

other jh gray

ABOVE: The New Brunswick John Hamilton Gray shown around the time of the 1864 Charlottetown Conference. BELOW: The New Brunswick John Hamilton Gray is later years when he was a judge in British Columbia.

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I think it is ironic that the burial site and tombstone of the New Brunswick Gray in Ross Bay is in the Anglican section of the cemetery just a few yards from the grave and tombstone of former P.E.I. premier Frederick Peters, who was a son-in-law of the P.E.I. Gray.   The person who organized Frederick Peters` funeral and burial at Ross Bay in August 1919 was his son Lt. Frederic Thornton “Fritz“ Peters, DSO, DSC, RN, who took leave from Royal Navy service to travel to Victoria to look after arrangements on behalf of his widowed mother Bertha Gray Peters.  It is quite possible that Fritz — who later received the Victoria Cross and the U.S. Distinguished Service Cross for valour in the invasion of North Africa in 1942 — chose the gravesite because of its proximity to the “other“ Father of Confederation John Hamilton Gray.  While they were not related, there was a bond between Fritz`s grandfather and the other John Hamilton Gray as builders of Canada.

Last October while in Charlottetown for a book tour I visited the gravesite of my great-great-grandfather J.H. Gray at Sherwood Cemetery for the first time.   I had visited the Ross Bay Cemetery on the other coast of Canada several times in recent years, but I paid closer attention to the Gray tombstone when I visited a couple of weeks ago while in Victoria.   The Gray tombstone at Sherwood is much bigger than the one at Ross Bay, but is quite faded from the effects of weather and time, while the Ross Bay one is in good shape.  Something they have in common is a small accompanying plaque installed years ago by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada for deceased Fathers of Confederation.   As can be seen on the accompanying images, the wording on the federal plaques is exactly the same, as both men attended the Confederation gatherings at Charlottetown and Quebec City, but not the one in London: “A delegate to the Intercolonial Conferences of 1864 (Charlottetown and Quebec) at which the basis was laid for the federal union of the British North America provinces in a new nation.  This grave is marked by the Government of Canada.“

The PEI Gray was long-retired and died of a lingering illness in bed at his home Inkerman House on August 13, 1887.  It must have been a difficult time for his daughter Bertha, who was about to give birth to her first child, Helen (my maternal grandmother), who was born August 31, 1887.   At age 75, the New Brunswick Gray was still serving as a judge in B.C. when he collapsed on June 6, 1889 while walking down a street in Victoria, according to a report the following day in the Colonist newspaper.   He was looking forward to a visit from his old friend (and fellow New Brunswick Father of Confederation) Samuel Leonard Tilley, who held the post of Lieutenant Governor of New Brunswick at the time.  Tilley arrived to find that Gray had died while he was en route.   Tilley served as a pallbearer at Gray`s funeral, along with several Victoria judges, including the most famous of B.C.`s pioneer judges, Sir Matthew Baillie Begbie, also known as “The Hanging Judge“, who would die five years later on June 11, 1894 and be buried at Ross Bay Cemetery just a few yards from the New Brunswick John Hamilton Gray.   Interestingly, Frederick Peters` father James Horsfield Peters was also an actively-serving judge when he died in Charlottetown on June 20, 1891 — in fact, at 80 years of age he had the distinction of being the oldest serving judge in Canada in the year he died.  http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/peters_james_horsfield_12E.html

Ancestry-wise, no one has ever established a family connection between the two John Hamilton Grays.  The New Brunswick Gray had roots in England, while the PEI Gray was the son of Robert Gray, a United Empire Loyalist from Virginia who was born near Glasgow, Scotland.  The PEI Gray`s mother, Mary Burns, was a descendant of the Burns family in Scotland, and the Stukeley and Browne families in England.   Robert Gray was a penniless young man with no prospects in Scotland when he was hired as an agent in Colonial America by the Hamilton family of tobacco traders.  He expressed his appreciation to his benefactors by naming his youngest son John Hamilton Gray. http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/gray_robert_1828_6E.html  I do not have equivalent information regarding the naming of the New Brunswick John Hamilton Gray.

SHERWOOD PARK CEMETERY, CHARLOTTETOWN, PEI

The P.E.I. Gray tombstone at Sherwood in Charlottetown reads “John Hamilton Gray entered into rest Aug. 13, 1887.  Erected as a loving trbute to his most beloved memory by his wife and children.  Looking unto Jesus the auther (sic) and finisher of our faith.“  The wife who decided on the tombstone inscription was his third wife, Sarah Caroline Cambridge.   His first wife, Fanny Sewell Chamier, died in her first childbirth.   The second wife, Susan Ellen Bartley Pennefather, was mother to five daughters: Harriet Gray Stokes, Margaret Gray Lord, Florence Gray Poole, Mary Gray Abbott and Bertha Hamilton Gray Peters.  Sarah Cambridge Gray was mother to daughter Rosie Gray, son Arthur Cavendish Bentinck Hamilton Gray and son Hamilton Edward Jarvis Gray (born in 1880 when his father was age 69).   Of Sarah`s children, only Arthur survived to adulthood.

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The author Sam McBride beside the tombstone of his great-great-grandfather John Hamilton Gray of P.E.I. in October 2013

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Father of Confederation plaque beside the J.H. Gray tombstone in Sherwood Cemetery in Charlottetown.

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close-up of text on Gray tombstone at Sherwood

rosie gray stone

Buried next to the P.E.I. Gray at Sherwood Cemetery in Charlottetown is his daughter Rosie Gray, who died at age three in 1874.

http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/gray_john_hamilton_1811_87_11E.html

ROSS BAY CEMETERY, VICTORIA, B.C.

The tombstone of the New Brunswick Father of Confederation Gray says “John Hamilton Gray, D.C.L.  17 years a Judge of the Supreme Court of B.C.  Eldest son of Wm Gray H.M. Vice Consul for Virginia U.S.A.  Died June 5, 1889.   Also, Eliza, his wife, daughter of Lt. Col. Ormondo H.M. 30th Regt Died Dec. 3, 1895.  Aged 75.“

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the tombstone and Father of Confederation plaque for J.H. Gray of New Brunswick at Ross Bay cemetery in Victoria, B.C.  One of the crosses behind the tombstone is for former P.E.I. premier Frederick Peters, son-in-law of the “other“ Father of Confederation named John Hamilton Gray.

close up of stone for the nb jh gray

Close-up of text on the Ross Bay tombstone.  The D.C.L. refers to the law degree Gray earned in New Brunswick.

father of confred plaque

Father of Confederation plaque at Ross Bay

http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/gray_john_hamilton_1814_89_11E.html

fred peters grave with jh gray in back

The grave of Frederick Peters at Ross Bay, with the tombstone of John Hamilton Gray near the trees behind it.

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The number 26 at top side of the map is the location at Ross Bay Cemetery of the grave of John Hamilton Gray of New Brunswick. The X beside it on the right is the location of the Frederick Peters grave.

fred peters at about age 40

Frederick Peters, born in 1852 in Charlottetown, married Bertha Gray in 1886, died 1919 in Prince Rupert, B.C., buried in Ross Bay Cemetery in Victoria B.C., served as premier of P.E.I. 1891-1897. He was a lawyer with the Tupper and Peters firm in Victoria and later was city solicitor and city clerk in Prince Rupert. His son F.T. “Fritz“ Peters won the Victoria Cross.

side stone for gerald

Text on a side of the base of the Frederick Peters tombstone in honour of his son Gerald who died in WW1.   The other side of the stone has a tribute to son Jack Peters who also died in action in WW1.  Both boys were among the dead at Ypres with no graves and no identified remains.

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Photo of the Frederick Peters gravesite and memorials soon after they were put in place at Ross Bay Cemetery after his funeral in August 1919. The small flat cross stone was in memory of daughter Violet who died at age 6 in 1905 due to a fireplace accident. Today that cross stone has disappeared — it either sank into the soft ground over time, or was stolen.

edgar tombstone

The other Gray/Peters family connection at Ross Bay Cemetery is the burial site of the Hon. Edgar Dewdney (1835-1916), senior Western Canada minister in Sir John. A. Macdonald governments and Lieut. Governor of B.C. in the 1890s. Dewdney was uncle and legal guardian of Edgar Edwin Lawrence “Ted“ Dewdney, who married Helen Peters (daughter of Frederick Peters and Bertha Gray) in Victoria in 1912.   As a widow, Bertha came to live full-time in the West Kootenay region of southeastern B.C. with her daughter Helen`s family, which grew to include son Peter Dewdney and daughters Eve Fingland and Dee Dee McBride.  The Edgar Dewdney grave is near the Frederick Peters grave in the Anglican section of the Ross Bay cemetery.

close up of edgar plaque

Family of Frederic Thornton Peters — Part One: his father, the Hon. Frederick Peters, Q.C.

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by Sam McBride

Frederick Peters was born Charlottetown on April 8, 1851, the son of Judge James H. Peters of the Supreme Court of Prince Edward Island, and Mary Cunard, eldest daughter of Sir Samuel Cunard. He received his early education in Charlottetown schools and at Prince of Wales College before gaining a Bachelor of Arts degree from King’s College in Nova Scotia.


Following his graduation, Peters studied law in England and later returned to Charlottetown where he set up his first law practice. He was called to the bar at the Inner Temple, London in 1876, and to the bar of Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia the same year.  In England he articled under Lord Alverstone, who later said Peters was the most brilliant student he ever had.  He established a law practice in Charlottetown with his brother Arthur Peters, who followed Fred`s schooling and legal career, almost step for step.

Famous ancestors, from top left: Mary Cunard, Sir Samuel Cunard, Loyalist James Peters, Tudor secretary of state William Petre, Judge James Horsfield Peters, the Rev. Hugh Peters, (McBride Collection)

Always a supporter of the Liberal Party, Peters was first elected to the House of Assembly in 1890. One year later, after a series of by-elections, the government of Neil McLeod found itself in a minority position and Peters was asked to take over the Premiership and form a government.  He became PEI`s sixth premier since Confederation, serving also as attorney general.  He was the first Liberal to lead the province.
Perhaps the most significant act during his term as Premier of Prince Edward Island was a bill changing the form of the Island Legislature. Previous to his administration, the Legislature consisted of two houses, a Legislative Council and a House of Assembly, much the same as the Senate and the House of Commons in the federal government of today. This system became unnecessary in Prince Edward Island and abolition of the Legislative Council was seriously looked at as a solution. However, such a bill did not have a chance of passing the Upper House so Premier Peters offered a compromise by abolishing both Houses and creating a Legislative Assembly in which members were referred to as Councillors and Assemblymen.

He served as premier and attorney general until resigning in October 1897 to move to British Columbia.  He retained his seat in the Prince Edward Island legislature until 1899 despite no longer residing in the province.  His brother Arthur became premier and attorney general in 1901, serving until his death in office in 1907.

Charlottetown newspaper report of his 1886 marriage to Bertha Gray

Fred Peters was senior counsel for Great Britain against the United States of America in the Behring Sea Sealing Dispute.  Americans laid claim to all seal harvesting in the Bering Sea based on their purchase of Alaska from the Russians, but this was disputed by Britain, Canada and other countries. Peters` co-counsel was federal Conservative Marine and Fisheries Minister Charles Hibbert Tupper of Halifax. Tupper was a son of the Nova Scotia Premier and Father of Confederation Sir Charles Tupper who served briefly as Prime Minister of Canada in 1896. The August 1893 decision of an international arbitration panel solidly in favour of Britain’s position was a feather in the cap for Peters and Tupper, who was knighted.  Peters and Tupper also subsequently served as counsel in the Bering Sea Claims Commission.

In 1896 Frederick Peters attended the founding meeting of the Canadian Bar Association in Montreal and was elected as a vice president of the new organization.

While in Victoria, British Columbia for hearings in the Bering Sea sealing case, Peters and Tupper were impressed with the city`s scenery, mild weather and positive economic prospects, and vowed to move there some time in the future with their families.  Their plan to move across the continent and establish a law practice in Victoria was speeded up by excitement associated with the Klondike Gold Rush in the Yukon in the spring of 1897.  The paid wanted to get in on the prosperity of the gold rush in some way. They saw that the city of Victoria stood to gain as a supply point for people and goods going to and from the Klondike. Peters resigned as premier as of October 27, 1897.  He and Hibbert Tupper crossed Canada by train and arrived in Victoria on November 11, 1897.  Their law firm in the west coast capital was established as Tupper, Peters & Potts.

Clockwise, from top left: Fred and Bertha as a young couple, two photographs of Fred, and Fred shown in about 1889 with his daughter Helen and a cat. (McBride Collection)

Impressive homes were built on adjoining lots in 1898 for the Tupper and Peters families in the recently-developed community of Oak Bay, east of Victoria.

Peters invested heavily in mining ventures which faded away as the stampeders left the Yukon for new gold finds in Alaska. This was the start of money problems that would dog him and his family for the rest of his life. By 1902, Peters and Tupper had parted ways in their law firm.

The outcome of the Alaska Boundary Dispute in October 1903 was a huge disappointment for Canadians, especially for Peters, whose reputation suffered because of his involvement with the case as a researcher and his longtime association with Britain’s arbitrator Lord Alverstone, who stunned Canadians by casting the deciding vote for the Americans, who were still angry about losing the seal hunt arbitration a decade earlier.  U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt had threatened to send in the marines if the boundary dispute did not go his way, and Britain was not interested in battling the Americans so far away at a time when their focus was on the rising power of Germany close to home.

Peters found his law work bringing in much less income than he expected and needed, particularly as his wife Bertha wanted their children to attend private school in England.  In 1911 Peters took a job as Solicitor (lawyer) for the new city of Prince Rupert, which looked like it was about to boom as a result of the Grand Trunk Railway establishing a major port that would rival Vancouver in the extent of its business.   However, the boom never happened, and Peters found himself struggling each year to keep Prince Rupert from bankruptcy.  He took on the higher position of City Clerk in 1916.

Clockwise, from centre bottom, Fred in about 1917 visiting his wife and daughter in New Denver; the Peters home in Oak Bay named Garrison House, c. 1900; Prince Rupert newspaper announces his death; his faded tombstone at Ross Bay Cemetery in Victoria in 2008; the tombstone when he was buried in 1919. (McBride Collection)

During the Great War Peters was regularly called upon to deliver speeches supporting the war effort to Prince Rupert community groups.  While he was proud of the honours won during the war by his eldest son Frederic Thornton “Fritz” Peters serving with the Royal Navy, the war hit his family hard, as son Private John Francklyn “Jack” Peters died in the Second Battle of Ypres in April 1915 and son Lieutenant Gerald Hamilton Peters died a year later in the Battle of Mount Sorrel.  His wife Bertha was in England when she learned of the death of her sons.  Instead of returning to Prince Rupert, where she would be haunted by the memories of her dead sons, she chose to live with her daughter Helen Dewdney in New Denver, B.C.  Fred Peters visited his wife at least once in New Denver, and the couple got together for a short holiday in the spring of 1919, but Fred was already in ill health by then.  He died July 29, 1919 alone in Prince Rupert.  According to his wishes, his funeral was in Victoria and he was buried at historic Ross Bay Cemetery in Victoria.