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He was a descendant of Antoine Pintard, a Huguenot from La Rochelle, France. He was orphaned when his mother died when he was "a fortnight old" and his father died when he was about eighteen months old according to p 102 of "Letters from John Pintard". His father, John, was a seagoing merchant, and his mother was Mary Cannon. He was raised by his uncle, Lewis Pintard, and attended grammar school under the Reverend Leonard Cutting at Hempstead, Long Island.
He attended the College at New Jersey (which later became Princeton University), but left school to join the patriot forces when the British arrived at New York. He went on various expeditions to harass the enemy. He returned to school briefly and received the degree of A.B. in 1776. He served as deputy commissary of prisoners at New York under his uncle Lewis. His duties were to examine and relieve the wants of the prisoners. On November 12, 1784, he married Elizabeth Brashear, daughter of Col. Abraham Brashear of Paramus, New Jersey.
Pintard had inherited a legacy from his maternal grandfather, John Cannon, and this 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 as one of New York’s most successful and prosperous merchants when in 1792 he lost his fortune by engaging with William Duer in Alexander Hamilton’s scheme to fund the national debt. He had personally endorsed notes for over a million dollars and was imprisoned for the debt. John Pintard resided 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, John Pintard went to New Orleans to seek his fortune but decided not to settle there. He filed a very favorable report of the French colony to Albert Gallatin, secretary of the treasury, and minister to France James Monroe, a relative by marriage to his wife’s aunt. Pintard’s report was instrumental in convincing Thomas Jefferson to purchase the Louisiana Territory. He served as first city inspector of New York City for many years after 1804, and was authorized by the corporation of New York to issue fractional notes during the War of 1812.
John 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. He served as treasurer of the Sailor’s Snug Harbor from 1819 to 1823 and was instrumental in the purchase of the property on Staten Island where the home is now located. He also was a founder of the New York Historical Society and the Massachusetts Historical Society. John Pintard served as manager of the state lotteries and was first sagamore of the Tammany Society.
On February 19, 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. John Pintard surveyed the plans for the streets and avenues in upper New York City. A deeply religious man, he was one of the chief supporters of the General Theological Seminary and helped found the American Bible Society, which he always called his "brat." 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.
Pintard was an active Freemason, serving as Master for his Lodge in New York.
Perhaps his greatest contribution to American society, however, was his role in establishing the modern popular conception of Santa Claus based upon the Dutch legend of Sinterklaas. His papers demonstrate that he personally observed the feast of St. Nicholas in an era when such remembrances were still frequently considered "hagiolatry" in America and when almanacs of the day omitted reference to such a feast day. His publication of a pamphlet proposing St. Nicholas as the patron saint of New York City became a theme later expounded upon by Washington Irving.
According to Dr. Niels Henry Sonne, former director of the library, John Pintard also was a patron of the library of the General Theological Seminary in New York, and helped establish their first collection of books.
Blind in his later years, he died at the home of his daughter, Louise, in New York on June 21, 1844.
- History of the City of New York; Its Origin Rise, and Progress by Mrs. Martha J. Lamb and Mrs. Burton Harrison, p.506
- John Pintard Witness to the Revolution by Kerry J. Davidson, Sr.
- Bicentenial Commemorative Volume of Holland Lodge No. 8, Published by the Lodge, New York, 1988
- Knickerbocker Santa Claus
- Sonne, Niels H. John Pintard and the Early Years of the General Theological Seminary Library. New York: s.n.], 1961. Reprinted with revisions from the Bulletin of the General Theological Seminary, v. 47, no. 1 (February, 1961).
- "Letters from John Pintard to his Daughter", Vol I, p 102