John Peter Pruden

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John Peter Pruden
John Peter Pruden 1778 1868 with Irish Bagpipe.jpg
Born(1778-05-31)31 May 1778
Died28 May 1868(1868-05-28) (aged 89)
Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
OccupationHudson's Bay Co. fur-trader; Councillor of Assiniboia
Spouse(s)1. Patasegawisk, a.k.a. "Nancy"
2. Ann Armstrong
ChildrenElizabeth,[1] William, Charlotte, Peter, Maria, Cornelious, Arthur, James, John Peter, and Caroline
Parent(s)Peter Pruden and
Margaret Smith Fraser

John Peter Pruden, christened on 31 May 1778 at All Saints Parish Church in Edmonton, Middlesex, England, was an early pioneer of western Canada which at the time was known as Rupert's Land. During his many years of employment as a fur-trader with the Hudson's Bay Company (HBC), he had extensive interactions with such First Nations as the Cree and Blackfoot.[2] He was known to have spoken Cree fluently, a fact which was confirmed by HBC administrator Sir George Simpson in his famous but "sometimes erratic" 1832 Character Book.

It is unknown exactly how Pruden came to join the Company however, atypical amongst HBC "servants", it may have been through a possible link to Sir James Winter Lake, 3rd Baronet (c. 1745–1807), whose family controlled the Company during most of the eighteenth century, and whose estate at "The Firs" was near Tanner's End, near the junction of the New and Salmon Rivers, in Edmonton. No other boys from Edmonton ever appear to have been taken into the Company's service. Pruden's apprenticeship with the HBC was purchased for him through the good auspices of his (and Sir James Winter Lake's) local parish. Noted family historian Hal Pruden wrote: "The HBC took some of its eventual ships' captains from the Bluecoats charity school (Christ's Hospital) in London. (David Thompson was from the Greycoats school.) As far as I can tell, there were very, very few boys recruited into the HBC as apprentice clerks out of the thousands of work houses (poor houses) that existed across England and [John Peter Pruden] is the only one I have come across recruited from Edmonton. The [one] pound sterling paid by the [Edmonton] parish [for the cost of his apprenticeship] would be about $3,000 US dollars today." [3] Pruden appears to have been an impoverished orphan at the date of his entry as an employee of the Company, for his father, Peter Pruden, died in 1790 and his mother, Margaret Smith Fraser Pruden, passed in 1791 some short months after her husband Peter.

Pruden's employment in the Hudson’s Bay Company began in earnest in September 1791 when he arrived at York Factory by the Company's ship, Seahorse III, as a 13-year-old apprentice. He spent four years at York Factory. Four years later Pruden was an escort to James Curtis Bird who was being transferred to Carlton House, in the Saskatchewan District. He and Bird served in the Saskatchewan District under Inland Master William Tomison.[4] In May 1796 Pruden moved to a post called Fort Edmonton or Edmonton House. In 1798 Pruden became a writer, moving to Buckingham House in 1799 but returning to Edmonton House the next year. Upon arriving at Edmonton House, Pruden found that his old friend Bird had been given charge of the post. It was Bird who sent him to build a house (fur-trading post) half-way between Edmonton House and Rocky Mountain House.

The name Edmonton (now the capital city of Alberta, Canada) was originally suggested by Pruden as it was the home of both the deputy governor of the HBC Sir James Winter Lake and he, himself.[5]

By 1832, John Peter Pruden had served 41 years with the HBC. No Chief Factor serving at that time had more service years and only three of the Chief Traders then serving had accumulated more. One year after receiving his promotion to Chief Factor, Pruden, aged 59, retired to the Red River Colony (or Selkirk Settlement) (now Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada). He was appointed to the Council of Assiniboia in 1839. In 1844, he became a member of the Board of Public Works, being the executive committee of the Council of Assiniboia. He served on the quarterly court as part of his office and in 1851, Eden Colvile, the Associate Governor of Rupertsland offered him an appointment as a magistrate. However now at age 73 Pruden declined, citing his increasing age and ill health.

However, afterwards, Pruden went on to live more than a decade longer in his retirement at Red River. He died there on 28 May 1868 after a lengthy illness, at the age of almost 90. He was laid to rest at St. John's Cathedral Churchyard, in the Red River Colony.

A pioneer in every sense of the word, Pruden lived a long, full life and left behind at his death a large family of children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. His Métis (or mixed-blood) descendants frequently intermarried with children of other prominent Métis families. Pruden was also instrumental in furthering the fur trading career of his half-nephew, John Edward Harriott, who also came to be in service to the Hudson's Bay Company and who had a long and illustrious relationship of his own with his HBC employer.

JPP's "country" wife of almost 30 years, "Patasegawisk", also known as "Nancy Pruden", (probably from the old site of Norway House, now called Oxford House), had borne him many children and predeceased him in August 1838. His second wife, British schoolteacher Ann Armstrong, whom he married at Red River on 4 December 1839, was 49 years old at the time of their marriage and his second marriage was childless. By his will, John Peter Pruden left a number of bequests to family members, including a bequest to his wife Ann of a modest 250 English pounds and a further 30 pounds if she wished to return to England. By September, 1869, Ann did return to England. She died at Ore, near Hastings in Sussex, England in 1887.[6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Salt Lake City Family History Library, Repository (2009) [Microfilm]. (Sheet 09, Batch 9026881, Serial 00011)
  2. ^ John Peter Pruden’s Work History with the Hudson's Bay Company (PDF), Manitoba, Canada: Hudson's Bay Company Archives, 1999, retrieved 23 September 2019
  3. ^ Hal Pruden, Facebook comment, May 22, 2014
  4. ^ "Alberta Formed, Alberta Transformed", Payne, Wetherell & Cavanagh, University of Alberta Press, 2005 at p. 126
  5. ^ Frederick William Howay: Builders of the West (Ryerson, 1929)
  6. ^ MacDonald, Graham A. (2009). The Beaver Hills Country: A History of Land and Life, 55.

Further reading[edit]

  • Hargrave, Letitia MacTavish (May 8, 1969). Letters of Letitia Hargrave (MacLeod), 218.
  • Mitchell, Elaine (1961). "A Red River Gossip," The Beaver, pp. 4–11
  • Morton, Arthur S. (1939). A HISTORY OF THE CANADIAN WEST TO 1870-1871

External links[edit]