James Peters was born in Salford on 7th August, 1879. His father, George Peters, was from the West Indies. He worked in a circus until he was killed in a lion's cage.
He played cricket and rugby at school. He was also an outstanding athlete winning the 100 yards, mile, long jump, high jump and walking races in 1894.
After leaving school Peters worked in the printing trade. He moved to Bristol in 1898 and two years later joined Knowle Rugby Club. Some members objected to the inclusion of a black man and resigned from the club.
In 1902 Peters moved to Plymouth where he found work in the Devonport Dockyards as a carpenter. He played for Devon and in 1906 the South African tourists refused to take the field to play the county when they discovered they had a black man in the team.
When Devon won the County Championship journalists began to campaign for Peters to play for England. On 17th March, 1907, Peters played for England against Scotland. The newspapers at the time made no reference to the fact that he was the first black man to be selected to play in a English international game. Although The Sportsman commented that the "dusky Plymouth man did many good things, especially in passing." The Yorkshire Post praised his performance but pointed out that "his selection is by no means popular on racial grounds."
In his next game against France he scored a try in England's 35-8 victory. He was not picked on racial grounds for the next game against South Africa. Peters returned to the team for the next two games against Scotland and Wales. However, he was dropped for the game against Ireland on 8th February 1908.
In 1910 Peters lost three fingers in a dockyard accident. He continued to play rugby until 1912 when he was suspended after it was discovered he had been paid by Devon Rugby Club. Peters now became a professional playing Rugby League games for Barrow and St. Helens.
James Peters died on 26th March, 1954.