James Peters was the first Black man in England to play union rugby. Peters was a schoolboy who enjoyed playing cricket and rugby. He was an exceptional athlete who excelled in long jump, high jump, walking races, and just about any other event he participated in.
Peters was born in the English city of Salford. George Peters, his father, was from the West Indies and worked in a circus until he was murdered by a lion in a cage. Because his mother was struggling to care for him, she permitted him to join another circus troupe. After breaking his arm at the age of 11, Peters was abandoned by the circus, and he ended up at Fegan’s orphanage in Southwark, followed by Little Wanderers’ Home in Greenwich.
He was the captain of several sports teams in Greenwich, and the Greenwich Admirals Rugby League Club currently celebrates Peters with an annual challenge game.
Peters got a job as a printer after graduating from high school. He came to Bristol in 1989 and played for the Bristol Rugby Club from 1900 to 1903. Later, Peters relocated to Plymouth and played rugby union for Devon, where he faced the South Africans in front of 20,000 people at the Plymouth County Ground in 1906.
However, due to bigotry displayed by some of the white players, several of them withdrew from the team, believing that black individuals should not be allowed in. When Devon won the County Championship, though, the public began to call for Peters to play for England.
When England met Scotland on March 17, 1907, Peters became the first Black man to play rugby in an international game. During this time, however, he was never recognized for his outstanding achievements. Peters lost three fingers in a dockyard accident in 1910. Despite this, he continued to play until 1912, when he was compelled to retire due to political reasons. He was suspended after it was discovered that he had been paid by Devon Rugby Club for amateur matches, which is against rugby union rules.
Peters was allowed into the professional rugby league at the age of 34. He played for Barrow in 1913 before moving to St. Helens in 1914, where he remained until his retirement.