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Peters, John  

Vincent Carretta

was the husband of the African American poet Phillis Wheatley. Peters was a free man when he first appears in Massachusetts court records in 1776, identified as a Boston “Shopkeeper.” His place of birth is unknown and he may never have been a slave. Until very recently, what little was known about Peters is found in two very brief nineteenth-century accounts, which depict him as a pretentious, handsome ne’er-do-well con man, a fraudulent lawyer or physician, who abandoned his wife as she lay dying in desperate poverty. Peters epitomized how precarious the life of a person of African descent could be in New England during the eighteenth century.

When or where John Peters first met the African-American poet Phillis Wheatley (1753?–1784) remains unknown. On 1 April 1778 they announced their intention to marry later that year at the height of her international celebrity Their engagement may ...