One of the most famous Loyalists of New Brunswick arrived as a ten year old girl in 1783, Charlotte Haines Peters. Despite her fame, she also one of the most mysterious. The legendary story of her lost slipper has been told for generations and was the subject of a recent work of fiction. The real Charlotte Haines, however, to date is lost to history.
When she died in 1851, the notice in the newspapers of the day and subsequently her tombstone state Charlotte Haines Peters’ age as 78, thus a birth date around 1773. She was possibly the daughter of John Haines who died prior to 1783. The story that little 10 year old Charlotte was tossed out of the family home by her Patriot father because she visited her Loyalist uncle and cousins strikes us harsh on one hand, and bad history on the other. The story is also often told of the young Charlotte coming ashore at Saint John and losing her slipper in the mud. Evidence of this is often shown to be a slipper in the collection of the New Brunswick Museum. The problem is that the said slipper is an adult one, not one belonging to a 10 year old child, and of a later style than 1783. Did Charlotte lose her slipper in the mud? Possibly. Did the slipper at the New Brunswick Museum belong to Charlotte? Possibly. Is the slipper at the museum the remaining one left from the 1783 mud incident? No. But it makes for a great story. What we know for sure is that some time prior to 1783 Charlotte lost both her parents and she came to New Brunswick with the Loyalists but with whom is an open question. She appears as one of the grantees of 84 lots on Long Island in 1786 along with several other prominent Loyalists even though she is only 13 at the time.
The mysterious Charlotte starts to become clearer from the time of her marriage to William Peters (c. 1772-1836), son of Thomas Peters and Susannah Palmer, 1 June 1791 by Reverend Richard Clarke, St. John’s Anglican Church, Gagetown. Charlotte and William subsequently had a large family: Sarah, Millicent, Samuel Leonard, Susan Ann Hunt, Carleton, Charlotte Mary, Thomas William, Frances Elizabeth, John Haines, Elizabeth Abigail, Margaret Anne, Isabel, Phebe Augusta, James Wellington and Caroline Augusta born in 1823 when Charlotte is fifty years old! Without the clear evidence of the baptismal entry at St. John’s Church, we’d be inclined to fuss about this bit of the story too; as it is, it at least raises an eyebrow!
Charlotte and William Peters farmed in and around Hampstead Parish for several years but in 1836, they relocated to Woodstock. Queens County Heritage is fortunate to possess a rare letter written in Charlotte’s hand from February 1836:
February th 3 1836
I take my pen to address a few lines to you to inquire after the health of you and all of your family. The grate distance we are from you prevents me from hearing. You heard of the death of your Father at Woodstock. He was confined to his bed two weeks when I got word that he was so ill. I went down as soon as I could get passage and I arrived the first of January in the morning and he lived until the fourth about three. He had been out of his head for two or three days and they thought he would not liv from one minit to the other but he had just come to his senses as I got their and knowed me and shok hands with me and bid me goodby and spok something of the children and said something I could not understand for he was very weak. He soon seemed esier and went to sleep and when he awoke seemed better and spoke better and breathed esier and eat and I thought he was getting better and would get well again but I was disappointed. He was not to rise any more. On Monday about three he droped away without a sigh or a grone. His complaint was the dropsy in the chest. He has gone to a better World I hope and trust to Rest from his troubles which was grate in this world. He has paid a debt that we must all pay and hapy are they that is prepared which is the gratis riches we can wish for.
I hop this may find you all well. I am not well. My head troubles me very much. There is not one day that it don’t ake so that I cant hardly stir. My cough is something better. James and Caroline is well and harty and quite contented hear. I like the place and if your Father has lived and been hear to see to it we might have made a good living. It is pleasant and a good place for business but we must try to due the best we can. The place is out of repair and soon would have been a common if we had not come hear. I should be glad if my friends was near to us. I don’t know as ever I shall see you all again. I thought to have gon to see you all before I came up hear but I was so sick that I could not go down to see you. James and Caroline wishes to be remembered to you and all the family. I desire to be remembered to Thomas and the children and tel them I should be glad to see them and you. Give my love to all inquiring friends and except a share for yourself.
This from you afectionet Mother
To Mrs Susan A.H. Tilley, Mrs. Thomas Tilley, Gagetown
Of equal importance to Queens County Heritage is that fact that Charlotte’s daughter, the above Mrs. Thomas Tilley, is Samuel Leonard Tilley’s mother, Susan Ann Hunt Peters who married Thomas Morgan Tilley, 5 April 1817 .
Despite her aches and pains in 1836, Charlotte Haines Peters lived another 15 years and died Wednesday morning, 5 February 1851, at Kingston, Kings County. Her funeral was held in the parlor of her daughter’s house, the Tilley House, on Saturday, 8 February and she was buried next door, a few yards away, in St. John’s Anglican Cemetery. Currently her large tombstone is laying flat, in the ground, and it is hoped that we will be able to get it upright or repaired at some time in the future. The least we can do for a famous Loyalist and the grandmother of a Father of Confederation!
For more information about Charlotte Haines Peters, or to see her letter in person, visit the Court House Museum. Even better, to meet her in “person”, occasionally Charlotte shows up now and again!