David Peters: Living in Victorian England

David Peters is my 3rd great grandfather through my paternal grandmother’s line. He is the first in my 52 Ancestors series to not be American. He was born, lived, and died in England. There is no birth certificate for David, but he was baptized on the 20th of August, 1829 in Steyning, Sussex, England, the son of Philip Peters and Eleanor Evans. The Anglican parish church in Steyning where he was baptized, St. Andrew (and St. Cuthman), is also where King Alfred the Great’s father, King Aethelwulf of Wessex, was originally buried. The next time we see David he is living with his parents in Upper Beeding in the 1841 English census.

Ten years later, in 1851, David is living in Lower Lancing as a lodger in the household of Thomas Hacker and is employed as a “Garden Laborer”. Less than a month later, on April 19, David would wed Thomas’ daughter Amy in the parish church of Lancing. David and Amy lived in Lancing for the rest of their long lives. They had nine children, five girls and four boys. Right in the middle of the pack was my great great grandfather David Herbert Peters, who emigrated to the United States around 1885. Why the younger David chose to emigrate to the United States, I don’t really know. I’m sure he could have been well off working in the family business. Perhaps he had a falling out with the family, or maybe he believed America offered better opportunities for him or his children, or maybe he was just the adventuresome sort.

David Peters and Amy Hacker’s Wedding Record

In the 1861 census the elder David is still listed as an agricultural laborer, but by the time of the 1871 census, he had become a coal merchant. David ran a successful coal business for the rest of his life and passed it down to his son-in-law. One of David’s daughter, Emma, married a man named George Lisher. David’s son Thomas, along with George Lisher took over the family business, and even expanded into dairy and eggs as well. Eventually, after Thomas’ death, the Lisher family took over the entire business. George’s granddaughter, Evelyn Farrant, remembered the coal and dairy business in a local history piece that ran in the West Sussex Gazette.

1871 Census showing David as a Coal Merchant living at the Railway Hotel.

 At first glance it may seem like David did not live a very exciting life. We see him baptized, grow up in the censuses, get married, have children of his own, start his own business, and grow old. But I’m sure David’s life was full of joy and sorrow, expectations and disappointments. Most of his life was lived during the reign of Queen Victoria. Perhaps he wondered if Great Britain would take aside in the American Civil War. What did he think when he heard the news of the Boer Wars or the Boxer Rebellion? The advent of British Rail system probably allowed him to become a successful merchant in coal. In fact, the first time he listed in the census as a coal merchant, he is living in the railway hotel, probably to be close to his client base. David died when he was 79 yeas old, on the 29th of July 1909, essentially of old age. His wife Amy would follow two years later.  His life was long and full, and he was a part of history.

Queen Victoria (r. 1837-1901) – David’s Queen for the majority of his life.

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