John Pintard was born in New York on May 18, 1759, a descendant of Antoine Pintard, a Huguenot from La Rochelle, France. He was orphaned in his first year when both his parents died on a voyage to Haiti. He was raised by his uncle, Lewis Pintard. He attended the College at New Jersey (later 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. On November 12, 1784, he married Elizabeth Brashear, daughter of Col. Abraham Brashear of Paramus, New Jersey.
John 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. John had personally endorsed notes for over a million dollars and was imprisoned for the debt.
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. Pintard’s report was instrumental in convincing Thomas Jefferson to purchase the Louisiana Territory.
He served as first city inspector for many years after 1804, and 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. He also was a founder of the New York Historical Society and the Massachusetts Historical Society. John Pintard served as manager of the New York lotteries.
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 of the Erie Canal. John Pintard surveyed the plans for the streets and avenues in upper New York City. He was one of the chief supporters of the General Theological Seminary and founded 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.
Encumbered by blindness in his later years, John Pintard died at the home of his daughter, Louise, in New York on June 21, 1844.