Peters, William Smalling (1779–1853)

By: Harry E. Wade

Type: Biography

Published: May 1, 1995

William S. Peters, the founder of the Peters colony of Texas, was born in Devonshire, England, in 1779 to John Peters. He moved to the New World from near Plymouth in the south of England in 1827 with his wife and six of his children, spent some time in Canada as a military bandmaster, absorbed the ideas of William Godwin and Thomas Paine, and was forty-eight years old when he arrived in the United States. He was preceded by his oldest son, John, who settled in Blairsville, Pennsylvania, in 1823 or 1824 and by his middle son, William C., who immigrated to the United States in 1825 and became a musician in Pittsburgh. Peters joined his oldest son in Blairsville, remained there until 1836, and then moved to Pittsburgh to teach music and help William D. Smith organize the Pittsburgh Sacred Music Society. In 1839 he moved to Louisville to join his son William, who had left Pittsburgh in 1832, and his son-in-law, Samuel Browning, in a musical firm called Peters, Browning, and Company. The firm was dissolved within a few months, when William S. Peters and Samuel Browning left Louisville to find investors for what became known as the Peters colony.

Peters located the original twenty investors, who petitioned the Fifth Congress of the Republic of Texas to pass the law of February 4, 1841, that authorized the president of the Republic of Texas to enter into an empresario contract with Peters and his associates. Half of the petitioners were Englishmen, and the other half were Americans. Of the Americans six were related to Peters-three sons and three sons-in-law. During the 1840s Peters made at least one trip to England to organize and contact immigration associations that might send immigrants to the Texas colony. He tried unsuccessfully to interest the English socialist Robert Owen in his project, but he did manage to convince the Frenchman Étienne Cabet that the Icarian colony should be established in North Texas. The land specified in Peters's agreement with Cabet was a tract the state had granted the colonization company in alternate sections on the condition that they secure immigrants. The company in turn granted the Icarians the privilege of acquiring half of each of its sections. Therefore the lots the colonists eventually owned were not contiguous. Although Peters may have originally envisioned the colony as a philanthropic project populated by industrial middle-class English, it was ultimately settled by Americans. He resided in Pittsburgh in the early 1840s but returned to Blairsville later in the decade and lived there until his death, on December 23, 1853.

Seymour V. Connor, The Peters Colony of Texas: A History and Biographical Sketches of the Early Settlers (Austin: Texas State Historical Association, 1959). Peters Colony Scrapbook, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin. Jules Jean Prudhommeaux, Icarie et son fondateur, Étienne Cabet (Paris: Cornély, 1907; rpt., Philadelphia: Porcupine, 1972). Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.


  • Peoples
  • English
  • Founders and Pioneers

Time Periods:

  • Republic of Texas

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Harry E. Wade, “Peters, William Smalling,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed October 28, 2021,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

May 1, 1995