BIOGRAPHY and GENEALOGY
(b. 1812 d.1883)
Jefferson County, Alabama
While no railroad had opened to commerce the land-locked mineral wealth of Alabama, Major Thomas Peters traveled on foot across the mountains of ore and coal, and the valleys of limestone between and wrote a narrative of what he saw. His narrative persuaded men of means and enterprise to come and see for themselves, to buy and take up their abode in Alabama.
Thomas Peters was born October 29, 1812 in Wake County, North Carolina. His English ancestors came to Virginia and settled near Petersburg during the reign of Charles II. His father was James P. Peters and when Thomas was three years old, the family moved from Wake County, North Carolina to Maury County, Tennessee near Spring Hill. They moved to Henry County fifteen years later.
Thomas Peters received a limited education in the common schools of thinly-populated Tennessee which was at the time mostly forest. He entered a business career as a clerk on a steamer plying between Nashville and New Orleans on the Mississippi River. Several thousand bales of cotton and one or two hundred passengers, many of these the owners of the cotton, made up a boat load for first-class craft. The planters, with their wives and daughters, were bound for New Orleans to sell their crops and buy a twelve-month supply for the family.
Often on these boats, professional sports and gambling ran high and the celebrated Bowie knife was seen to settle many disputes arising from the games. In this trying environment, Thomas Peters learned to be patient, brave and temperate and he was able to observe human nature. He learned the strength and weaknesses of men with great accuracy.
At the age of twenty-one Thomas Peters was successfully engaged in buying and selling lands in the southwestern states from the Indians in the northern counties of Mississippi, who sold possessions in preparation of their removal to reservations.
He married at the age of twenty-five, Ann Eliza Glasgow of Tennessee in 1837, moved to a plantation and became a cotton grower. Five years later, his wife died, childless. Nine years from the date of his first marriage, he married Miss Sarah Jane Irion in 1846. She died in 1859, after thirteen years, leaving a daughter, Amelia L. Peters as the only offspring.
Amelia L. Peters grew into a beautiful and accomplished woman and became the wife of Robert H. Henley, the first mayor of Birmingham. She died October 25, 1874 and is buried in Oak Hill Cemetery in Birmingham, Jefferson County Alabama. Robert H. Henley died April 22, 1873.
Thomas Peters served as a contractor for thirty-five miles of the Memphis & Charleston Railroad. At the time, he was living in Memphis as a real estate broker and besides the railroad work, he took contracts on levee building along the Mississippi.
The war broke out while he was living in Memphis in 1861 and he was even though he was forty-nine, he entered it with zeal and was appointed by the Governor of Tennessee as chief quartermaster of the State troops. When the Confederate army was organized, he was commissioned Major and assigned to the duties of quartermaster on the staff of Major General Leonidas Polk. He remained in the field as quartermaster until the fall of General Polk and the assumption of the command of the Army of Tennessee by General Hood. Peters was ordered to Selma, Alabama to take command of army transportation under General Richard Taylor in 1864 and he remained there after the Confederacy surrendered.
There was a Confederate arsenal at Selma, and Alabama iron was used there for casting cannon and other military purposes. Due to the excellent quality of the metal, Major Peters decided to investigate the supply. After his parole in April, 1865, he promptly directed his energies toward explorations for ores and coal into the mountains of Alabama. He spoke urgently of his faith to all who would listen.
Major Peters was too poor to buy a horse, so he walked alone on his mission. Penniless and on foot he traversed the unknown forests, locating mineral lands, and making the way plain to men of wealth to see the mineral lands with him. Having accomplished all that he could before the railroads penetrated the favored lands, Major Peters went to reside in Minnesota with his son-in-law, Mr. Henley, who was forced to try that climate for his failing health.
Major Thomas Peters next went to Savannah, Georgia to engage in the cotton trade but in 1869 he returned permanently to Jefferson County, Alabama. Birmingham was not then on the map but he settled in Elyton, the county seat and engaged in mineral land speculations in Jefferson County.
In 1883, Major Peters, at the age of seventy-one, he was invited to display specimens of the mineral and other resources in Alabama at the Louisville Exposition. Against the protest of friends, who worried about his health, he went to take charge of the large exhibit made by the Alabama railroads from their lands. He developed an acute attack of cold during this trip and died in Louisville. His remains were brought to Birmingham for interment. Major Peters was so respected in Birmingham that the businesses in the city were closed and a great procession escorted his casket to the city cemetery. Major Peters was buried at Oak Hill Cemetery in Birmingham, Alabama.
Major Peters had been an active member of the Methodist Episcopal Church South for many years and his unobtrusive charity in deeds, and entire absence of slander from his tongue, and the purity of his life, erected a character beloved by all classes and trusted everywhere.
- Notable Men of Alabama – Joel Campbell Dubose vol I
- Find A Grave.com Memorial # 25414585 # 108579997 # 7026662
This biography is included in the Book Biographies of Notable and Not-so-Notable Alabama Pioneers Vol. III
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