PETERS, JOSEPH, soldier, schoolmaster, and postmaster; b. 11 Dec. 1729 in Dedham, Massachusetts, eldest child of William Peters and Hannah Chenery; m. Abigail Thompson and they had three children; d. 13 Feb. 1800 at Halifax, Nova Scotia.
Joseph Peters was brought up in Medfield, Massachusetts, and learned the trade of armourer in nearby Medway. Impressed into the provincial service of the colony as a foot soldier in 1752, he obtained his release in 1755 only to be “immediately kid-napped into Shirley’s Regiment [50th Foot].” He was later transferred to the 1st Foot. in which he spent the Seven Years’ War as a non-commissioned officer and saw service in 1758 at the capture of Louisbourg, Île Royale (Cape Breton Island). He was discharged in Nova Scotia in 1763. Between that date and his setting up as a schoolmaster in 1773 his activities are unknown, though he lived in Halifax and enjoyed a “settled livelyhood,” possibly as a government clerk, and pursued in his leisure an interest in astronomy and his duties as a Freemason. In 1774, some time after leaving the Congregational Church of his forefathers to become a member of the Church of England and vestry clerk of St Paul’s, Halifax, he was adopted by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel as its teacher in the capital. As schoolmaster Peters combined the usual functions of charity teaching and private instruction, but he found the SPG stipend small compensation for his trouble during the inflationary period of the American revolutionary war. He gave up the school in 1785, a decision which marked the end of SPG support for education in Halifax. In 1782 he had become unofficial postmaster of Nova Scotia and succeeded to the office of deputy postmaster general in 1785. He held the position until his death.
A highly opinionated, vitriolic critic of the British leaders of the local establishment such as the Reverend John Breynton and Governor John Parr, Peters looked with favour in the 1770s and 1780s on the acquisition by Nova Scotia of more New Englanders, this time as loyalist refugees. He became a regular correspondent of his cousin the Reverend Samuel Andrew Peters of Hebron, Connecticut, then a refugee in London, who acted as Joseph’s agent and used his influence to secure for his Nova Scotian cousin a share of the loyalist spoils. All this share really amounted to was the appointment at the post office, though Joseph never stopped dreaming of more exalted posts such as provincial secretary or naval officer for himself or his elder son. In return Joseph supported Samuel’s campaign to secure the new bishopric of Nova Scotia. Joseph’s acquaintance with the Church of England clergy in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Cape Breton, many of whom were New Englanders and his control of the official channels of communication, placed him in an excellent position to launch a campaign encouraging the Church of England congregations to demand a voice in the appointment of their bishop and to promote Samuel’s claim to the office. Unfortunately for the cause the local response left much to be desired, and the arrival of Charles Inglis* as bishop in 1787 deprived Joseph of tile prospect of an influential patron in the province.
As postmaster Peters’ main innovation was to initiate a regular courier service from Halifax to Annapolis Royal, where the mail was carried by water down-river to Digby, across the Bay of Fundy, and into the jurisdiction of his New Brunswick counterpart, Christopher Sower. By 1788 a regular service to Quebec was established to coincide with the visits of the New York-Falmouth packet at Halifax for eight months of the year [see Hugh Finlay*]. The irregularities, expenses, and frustrations of the postal service made Peters’ life as a public servant far from enviable. Military and naval officers refused to abide by office hours, and Governor Parr ran up a bill of £70 which was only settled finally by his executors. The General Post Office in London, “that unrelenting tyrant,” remained singularly unsympathetic to the pleas of the hard-pressed postmaster for a higher salary and reimbursement of the considerable expenses of his office. Although between 1785 and 1792 his stipend climbed from £50 to £250, financial anxiety constantly plagued him, as did his gout and the sluggish careers of his two sons. Failure to achieve a remunerative and comfortable niche in the civil establishment left him considerably embittered and probably confirmed his cynical opinion of 1785 that “Every dog must have his day to be sure, tho’ I never had a good one yet.”
Halifax County Court of Probate (Halifax), Book 3, pp.208–11 (will of Joseph Peters, 22 Dec. 1798) (mfm. at PANS). PANS, MG 1, 93 (Jacob Bailey docs.), vol.3. Protestant Episcopal Church in the U.S.A., Archives and Hist. Coll. – Episcopal Church (Austin, Tex.), Samuel Peters papers, Joseph Peters letters, 1779–99, in the custody of the Hist. Soc. of the Episcopal Church (Austin) (mfm. at PANS). St Paul’s Anglican Church (Halifax), Registers of baptisms, burials and marriages, 16 Feb. 1800 (mfm. at PANS). USPG, B, 25, nos. 184, 211, 221, 225, 242, 255, 269, 270; Journal of SPG, 20, pp.266, 268. Nova-Scotia Gazette and the Weekly Chronicle (Halifax), 19 Dec. 1780. Royal Gazette and the Nova-Scotia Advertiser (Halifax), 18 Feb. 1800. Judith Fingard, The Anglican design in loyalist Nova Scotia, 1783–1816 (London, 1972), 13–38. C. M. Jephcott et al., The postal history of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, 1754–1867 (Toronto, 1964), 13–43. Judith Fingard, “Attitudes towards the education of the poor in colonial Halifax,” Acadiensis, II (1972–73), no.2, 16.