John Pintard: Forgotten Founding Father

It’s hard to think of anyone so important to American history yet as obscure as John Pintard (1759-1844). I only know about him because he founded New York’s oldest museum and library, the New-York Historical Society, where I worked for many years.

Pintard really has nothing to do with show business; I honor him here today as an outgrowth of the fact that my love for vaudeville, silent film, and such like is but a subset of my larger passion for reviving memories of the unjustly forgotten. Pintard answers that description big time. This little scrap about him was actually originally composed for my Pilgrims Progress piece last year, but was far too much of a digression and so it became part of the ocean of material that wound up on the cutting room floor. I have some personal reasons for celebrating him; but there are reasons why the wider American public ought to know about him too.

Like Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, Gouverneur Morris, and George Clinton, Pintard may be considered one of New York’s contingent of America’s Founding Fathers. He was educated at the College of New Jersey (now known as Princeton) and fought in the American Revolution. He then went on to make a fortune in the China Trade, which is how he was able to accomplish the things we describe:

As we mentioned, he founded the New-York Historical Society in 1804.

Pintard was also a founder of Tammany Hall. (My sons are descended from Clarkson Croelius, one of the Tammany Hall Sachems, one of my personal points of interest). Of course, Tammany Hall was the location of Tony Pastor’s, so there’s one direct relevancy already.

Pintard was of French Huguenot stock, which makes it especially ironic that he was interested in Sainthoods, a distinctly Catholic idea. One of the Saints he was instrumental in promoting was ST. NICHOLAS. He celebrated the feast of St. Nick at a time when almost no one else did in America. You like Christmas? Thank John Pintard. Pintard’s comrade in arms in hyping the jolly old elf was none other than his friend the New York author Washington Irving, along with, of course Clement Clarke Moore. Pintard and Irving were also both interested in bestowing a Sainthood upon Christopher Columbus, like it or not (this was one of the reasons I mentioned Pintard, or was going to, in Pilgrim’s Progress). Yet another “Sainthood” they sought was for Tamanend, the Native American leader for whom the Tammany Society was named.

Pintard was also instrumental in persuading Thomas Jefferson to make the Louisiana Purchase, based mostly on his enthusiasm for New Orleans, where Andrew Jackson was to become a war hero a decade later, changing the country forever. (Jackson of course later became President — with the support of Tammany Hall. Wheels within wheels!)

The Jackson piece was another reason I would include Pintard’s contribution in my Native American piece. Further, I am related to Jackson through my mother’s grandmother, and through this line I have another reason to honor Pintard, for he was treasurer and a founder of Sailors Snug Harbor in Staten Island where my great-great-great grandfather, a sea captain named Morris Jackson died.

This is not even the half of it: he was also one of the founders of the New York public school system, the Erie Canal, and the Massachusetts Historical Society, among much else.

At any rate, this one is for history geeks only, but I think you will perceive that Pintard’s legacy kind of trickles down through many important areas of American culture — including pop culture. You should know about him.