John Pintard
Witness to the Revolution

by Kerry J. Davidson, Sr.
(Used By Permission)

Revolutionary War Historical Article

John Pintard of New York
1759-1844

John Pintard was born in New York on May 18th, 1759, a descendant of Antoine Pintard, a Huguenot from La Rochelle, France. John was orphaned in his first year when his father, John, a seagoing merchant, and his mother, Mary Cannon, died on a voyage to Haiti. He was raised by his uncle, Lewis Pintard, and attended grammar school at Hempstead, Long Island, under his uncle by marriage, the Reverend Leonard Cutting.

John attended the College of New Jersey (now Princeton), but left school to join the patriot forces when the British attacked New York. He went on various expeditions to harass the enemy, but returned to school to receive the degree of A. B. in 1776. He wrote an account of the evacuation of New York when it was occupied by the British that same year. He served as deputy commissary of prisoners at New York under his uncle Lewis where his duties were to examine and relieve the wants of the prisoners. On November 12th, 1784, he married Elizabeth Brashear, daughter of Col. Abraham Brashear of Paramus, New Jersey. Col. Brashear was an ardent patriot and a close friend and confidant of General George Washington at Morristown.

John inherited a legacy from his maternal grandfather, John Cannon, which allowed him to go into the China and East India trade. Like his father and his grandfather before him, John served as an alderman to the City of New York. He was rated one of New York’s most successful and prosperous merchants, however, he lost his fortune in 1792 by engaging with William Duer in Alexander Hamilton’s scheme to fund the national debt. John had personally endorsed notes for over a million dollars and was imprisoned for the debt. He lived in Newark, New Jersey for eight years and declared bankruptcy in New York. He never recovered his old fortune, but his position and respect in the community enabled him to contribute generously to the projects he sponsored.

In 1803, Pintard went to New Orleans to renew his fortune but decided not to settle there. He returned to New York and filed a very favorable report of the French colony with Secretary of the Treasury Albert Gallatin and Minister to France James Monroe, another relative by marriage. Pintard’s report was instrumental in convincing Thomas Jefferson to purchase the Louisiana Territory.

Pintard’s great work was as a promoter and New York Governor DeWitt Clinton was always ready to enlist his support in any enterprise. He served as first city inspector for many years after 1804. In 1805 he began the efforts which became the present free school system in New York. He was also active in the movement that resulted in the building and completion of the Erie Canal. Pintard surveyed the plans for the streets and avenues in upper New York City. He was authorized by the Corporation of New York to issue fractional notes during the War of 1812. He was secretary of the Mutual Assurance Company from 1809 to 1829. From 1819 to 1829 he served as secretary of the New York Chamber of Commerce and as treasurer of the Sailor’s Snug Harbor from 1819 to 1823.

John Pintard was a founder of the New York Historical Society and the Massachusetts Historical Society, and is considered the father of historical societies in America. He also served as manager of the New York lotteries and was first sagamore of the Tammany Society when it was a benevolent organization. A deeply religious man, Pintard was one of the chief supporters of the General Theological Seminary and founded the American Bible Society. He was vestryman for the Huguenot Church of New York City for thirty-four years and his translation of the "Book of Common Prayer" from English to French is still used today. In 1822, the degree of LL.D. was conferred on him by Allegheny College.

On a curious note, John Pintard is considered by some to be the person who sparked the creation of the popular image of Santa Claus in America. The most famous member of the New York Historical Society was Pintard’s cousin Washington Irving, who made much of St. Nicholas in his 1809 book "Knickerbocker's History of New York", which was actually published on St. Nicholas Day. Pintard had previously introduced St. Nicholas as the symbolic patron saint of the Historical Society, which held annual dinners on December 6th, St. Nicholas Day. For the Historical Society's St. Nicholas Day dinner in 1810, John Pintard commissioned the publication of a broadside containing a picture of St. Nicholas in the form of a rather stern, magisterial bishop, bringing gifts for good children and punishments for bad ones. Two weeks later, and presumably in response to Pintard's broadside, a New York newspaper printed a poem about St. Nicholas. Clement C. Moore, a member of Pintard’s church, joined the New York Historical Society in 1813, and in 1820 wrote the now famous "A Visit from St. Nicholas (The Night before Christmas)." According to scholars who have investigated this subject, before Pintard's interventions there had been no evidence of Santa Claus rituals in the state of New York.

Encumbered by blindness in his later years, John Pintard died at the home of his daughter, Louise Pintard Servoss, in New York on June 21st, 1844.

 

References

Dictionary of American Biography , Volume VII, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York.

Appleton’s Cyclopaedia of American Biography , Appleton and Company, New York, 1891.

The Twentieth Century Biographical Dictionary of Notable Americans, The Biographical Society, Boston, 1904.

Letters from John Pintard to His Daughter, Volumes I - IV, New York Historical Society, New York, 1940.

Stephen Nissenbaum, The Battle for Christmas, 1996.

 

Editor's Note: John Pintard of New York is the patriot ancestor of Kerry J. Davidson, Sr.
Mr. Davidson is an eighth generation descendant of Mr. Pintard
.

 

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