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John Pintard Papers

Call Number

MS 490


1750-1925 (bulk 1770-1890), inclusive



6.8 Linear feet

Language of Materials

The John Pintard Papers are written in English.


John Pintard was a prominent New York City merchant who helped found the New-York Historical Society in 1804. He contributed significantly to numerous civic, cultural, religious, and philanthropic groups in New York.

Pintard's Journal of Studies, 1797-1804, is digitized and available in the Shelby White and Leon Levy Digital Library.

Biographical/Historical Note

John Pintard was born in New York City May 18, 1759, son of John and Mary (Cannon) Pintard. Both his parents died within a year of his birth, and Pintard was brought up by his paternal uncle, Lewis Pintard (1732-1818), a New York merchant. Under the guidance of his uncle, John Pintard attended the classical school of Hempstead, Long Island, and entered the College of New Jersey (Princeton University) in the class of 1776. During the American Revolution he served as Assistant Agent for American Prisoners, under his uncle Lewis, and at the close of the war, joined Lewis's mercantile business. On November 12, 1784, he married a distant cousin, Elizabeth Brasher (1765-1838).

Pintard became established in New York City as its business revived after the Revolution, and by the time it became the capital of the United States under the new Constitution, he was active in the mercantile, social, and cultural life of the city. On May 10, 1787, he was appointed secretary of the Mutual Assurance Company for Insuring Houses from Loss by Fire in New York, until his resignation on February 14, 1792. He was elected an Assistant Alderman of the East (Second) Ward of the city, September 29, 1789, and was re-elected, serving actively until March 12, 1792. He represented New York in the 14th session of the State Assembly, January-March, 1791, held in New York City. In November, 1790, he was appointed by New Jersey one of five commissioners to erect bridges over the Hackensack and Passaic Rivers. In 1790 and 1791, he was secretary of the New-York Manufacturing Society.

Pintard's progress was halted by his disastrous financial involvement in the failure of William Duer (1747-1799), who became insolvent and was imprisoned for debt in 1792. Duer's economic ties were so wide in the area that his financial collapse set off the first financial panic in New York City. Pintard surrendered everything he possessed, but because of some unsatisfied creditors, was arrested and confined for debt in the Newark prison from July 15, 1797, until August 6, 1798. In September, 1800, John Pintard took advantage of the federal "Act to establish an uniform system of bankruptcy throughout the United States," approved April 4, 1800. Pintard made an extended visit to New Orleans in 1801, and his favorable letters about the city to Secretary of State Albert Gallatin influenced President Thomas Jefferson in his decision to purchase the Louisiana Territory.

Though never reaching his former level of wealth, John Pintard firmly re-established himself in New York City. In March, 1804, he was appointed New York City Inspector, and in May, 1807, Clerk to the Common Council of the City. In that year he was elected secretary of the Mutual Insurance Company, successor of the Mutual Assurance Company of which he had been secretary 1787-1792, and which became later in the century the Knickerbocker Fire Insurance Company. That salaried position was Pintard's chief source of income during the next twenty years, until his retirement in 1829.

John Pintard was one of the earliest and staunchest advocates for the preservation and study of the history of New York and the United States. Pintard began to work towards the establishment of a historical society in the city in early 1804, and he was the leader in the organization of the New-York Historical Society in November, 1804. He served as its Recording Secretary from 1805 to 1819, as its Librarian, 1810-1811, and as Treasurer, 1819-1827. His other social and cultural activities included serving as trustee of the New York Society Library, Senior Warden and then Master of Holland Lodge, Free and Accepted Masons. He also served as sagamore of the Tammany Society, which funded the American Museum, initially a single room exhibit space in old City Hall. John Pintard served as a trustee and secretary of the museum, which was sold from John Scudder to P.T. Barnum in 1841 and became Barnum's American Museum. Pintard was also actively involved in the American Academy of Fine Arts, the Chamber of Commerce, Sailors' Snug Harbor, free schools and Sunday schools, the American Bible Society, the Erie Canal, the first Bank for Savings in New York, the Episcopal Church, particularly the old French Huguenot Church of St. Esprit, and the General Theological Seminary.

His sons died in youth, and his elder daughter Eliza Noel married, in 1810, a Kentuckian, Richard Davidson, and lived in Pinckneyville, Mississippi Territory and then New Orleans. His younger daughter, Louise Hall Pintard, married, on April 4, 1824, Thomas L. Servoss (1786-1866) son of Jacob and Isabella Servoss of Philadelphia, a widower with one son, Thomas Courtney Servoss. The Servoss family moved to New York, with Thomas engaged as a merchant, and Mr. and Mrs. Pintard lived in their home. Eliza died in 1833, and Mrs. Pintard died on October 13, 1838. John Pintard died in New York City, June 21, 1844, at the age of eighty-five. His remains were placed in the family vault under St. Clement's Church on Amity (West Third) Street, and were removed in June 1910, upon the demolition of the edifice, to St. Michael's Cemetery, Queens, NY.

Source: Pintard, J., & Barck, D.C. (1940). Letters from John Pintard to his daughter, Eliza Noel Pintard Davidson, 1816-1833. 4 Volumes. New York, Printed for the New-York Historical Society.

Arrangement Note

The John Pintard Papers are arranged in three series:

Each of these series includes subseries by document type.

Missing Title

  1. Series 1: Papers of John Pintard
  2. Series II: Papers of the Servoss Family
  3. Series III: Papers of Other Family and Associates

Scope and Content Note

The John Pintard Papers include the correspondence, financial and business records, legal records, journals, notes and ephemera of John Pintard and his family. John Pintard's correspondence, 1784-1842, deals with such matters as his business activities, his financial difficulties and bankruptcy in the 1790s, the election of 1812, politics throughout the period, family matters, death or illness of friends, and his interest in various academic, cultural, philanthropic, and religious organizations. Included in his diaries and journals is a detailed journal of his daily reading while in debtor's prison 1797-1798. The financial and business records of John Pintard include receipts, bills, and other documents pertaining to his personal and family finances and the finances of organizations he was active in, usually as secretary or treasurer, including the New-York Historical Society. The legal records of John Pintard include early evidences of proceedings undertaken toward bankruptcy protection soon after the law allowed it.

The Servoss Family Papers provide a thorough record of the domestic, mercantile, and institutional activities of John Pintard's daughter Louise's New York based family. The records cover mostly their immediate family and include the records of their children, and their childrens' adult activities and interests.

The records of Other Family and Associates includes materials created by individuals in the Pintard family or in the family's orbit. There are many family records pertaining to the generation prior to John Pintard, mainly those of his uncle Lewis Pintard. Frequently, there is correspondence between two or more of John Pintard's frequent correspondents.

Access Restrictions

Materials in this collection may be stored offsite. For more information on making arrangements to consult them, please visit

Use Restrictions

Taking images of documents from the library collections for reference purposes by using hand-held cameras and in accordance with the library's photography guidelines is encouraged. As an alternative, patrons may request up to 20 images per day from staff.

Application to use images from this collection for publication should be made in writing to: Department of Rights and Reproductions, The New-York Historical Society, 170 Central Park West, New York, NY 10024-5194, Phone: (212) 873-3400 ext. 282.

Copyrights and other proprietary rights may subsist in individuals and entities other than the New-York Historical Society, in which case the patron is responsible for securing permission from those parties. For fuller information about rights and reproductions from N-YHS visit:

Preferred Citation Note

This collection should be cited as the John Pintard Papers, MS 490, The New-York Historical Society.

Location of Materials

Materials in this collection may be stored offsite. For more information on making arrangements to consult them, please visit

Related Materials

The New-York Historical Society has in its manuscript collection the papers of William Duer (1747-1799), John Pintard's business partner in dealings that led to both men being imprisoned for debt in the 1790's.

The New-York Historical Society's New Orleans Collection includes records regarding the development of New Orleans in the early to mid nineteenth century contemporary with Pintard's writings and collection of data in New Orleans, and his daughter Eliza's residency there.

The New-York Historical Society has in its manuscript collection a single volume of DeWitt Clinton correspondence (1784-1828), as well as DeWitt Clinton's diaries (1777-1828). A frequent correspondent of John Pintard, Clinton served as Mayor of New York City (1803-1815) and Governor of New York State (1817-1822, 1825-1828), and worked closely with Pintard in the founding of the New-York Historical Society and the Erie Canal Commission.

Collection processed by

Richard T. Fischer

About this Guide

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on 2023-08-21 15:46:53 -0400.
Using Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language: Finding Aid is written in English.


New-York Historical Society
New-York Historical Society
170 Central Park West
New York, NY 10024