John Pintard, Jr., merchant, philanthropist

John Pintard, Jr. (1759 – 1844) was a merchant and philanthropist. He was born in NY and orphaned by 18 months. He was raised by his uncle, Lewis Pintard, and attended grammar school in Hempstead, New York. He attended the university that would eventually become Princeton, but left school to join the patriot forces when the British arrived in New York. He went on various expeditions to harass the enemy. He served as deputy commissary of prisoners at New York.

He was rated as one of the most successful merchants in NYC 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. He never recovered his old fortune, but his position and respect in the community enabled him to contribute generously to the projects he sponsored.

Pintard was instrumental in convincing Thomas Jefferson to make the Louisiana Purchase. He also served in NYC as secretary of the Mutual Assurance Company and secretary of the New York Chamber of Commerce. He was a founder of the New-York Historical Society, helped found the free school system in NYC, was an active participant in getting the Erie Canal built, worked with the surveyors for the Upper Manhattan street plan, was one of the chief supporters of the General Theological Seminary and helped found the American Bible Society.

St. Nicholas by John Pintard (1810)

Though all of those accomplishments pale in comparison to his helping bring Santa Claus to popularity in the American culture. He celebrated the Dutch legend of Sinterklaas. His publication in 1810 of a pamphlet proposing St. Nicholas as the patron saint of New York City attracted his friend Washington Irving who published articles on Santa Claus for the Salmungundi Club.

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