Peter Pond newsletter :: MARCH 2001 :: #7

Peter Pond

Peter Pond

I hope everyone had a pleasant winter. A lot has happened so there is a lot to report. Hits are pushing 5,000 for starters. Best to get right to it. This will be a long one.


I have always been sorry that even though it is fairly certain Peter Pond died and was buried in Milford, he never had a headstone. So the location of his grave has remained unknown. His mother, Mary who died in 1761, has one and it's still standing. My theory has always been that he was buried near her, and the marker, if there was one, was not as durable as Mary's. Well, I've interested the Milford bureau chief of the CONNECTICUT POST newspaper, which is my employer, in Peter Pond enough to have him write an article about all this. The reporter, Frank Juliano, has also become a Peter Pond Society member. He has made some inquiries, to wit:



By Frank Juliano

MILFORD -- Members of the Peter Pond Society here want to find the grave of their namesake, an 18th century fur trader and explorer, but time, poor recordkeeping and a quirk of history are making that difficult.

Pond, a descendant of one of Milford's founding families, did not spend much of his adult life here, said city historian Richard Platt.

Genealogist Susan Abbott, in her "Families of the Early Founders of Milford" says he left Milford in 1773 and spent 17 years as a fur trader in upper Canada.

"His name appears on the citizen rolls of Montreal during that time," Platt said.

"Pond comeback to Milford in 1790, but in 1792, according to (Abott), he was a government) agent to the Indians in the Niagara district of New York," the historian said.

"He seems to have been a rather footloose character, and nowhere does it say that he died in Milford," Platt said, although the date of Peter Pond's death is agreed upon as March 6, 1807, when he was 67.

But Bill McDonald, head of the Peter Pond Society and a Connecticut Post sportswriter, is convinced that Pond is buried in the Old Milford Cemetery on Gulf Street, probably near his mother, who died in 1760.

Although Mary Pond has a headstone, her husband does not, even though he is believed to be buried next to her. McDonald said it is likely that Peter is buried nearby in the cemetery.

Although Peter Pond was a wealthy man in his day from shares of a fur trading company, historians believe he died nearly penniless after a life of dissolute living.

The local Veterans Graves Commission "will search for his grave and pay for an appropriate marker if he is accepted as a veteran, " McDonald said.

The quirk of history that could impede assigning a marker to Pond involves the fact that he served in the French and Indian War \\$E2 on the side of the British $E2 about 20 years before the American Revolution.

Whether that would qualify Pond as an American war veteran "is something that has to be researched, " said Linda Natoli of the city's veteran's commission.

"This is a possible project for us, but we would start with looking at old maps to see where the grave might be.

A Manchester engineering firm has specialized equipment that searches for unmarked graves by detecting "disturbed earth" that could indicate a buried structure, like a coffin.

But Natoli said such an outside firm would not be called in until other means were exhausted.

The commission has a $2,850 annual budget from the city, "and something like that would cost money.

Peter Pond's grave is not listed on the oldest maps of the town's burying grounds, said Raymond Scholl, sexton for Milford's two oldest cemeteries.

"There are lots of Ponds buried here, but in the early years, the graves were not laid out in sections or rows or even family plots, and it would be hard to find him without a headstone, " Scholl said.

Platt said the late Morris Abbott surveyed the founding families' grave sites and drew up a map in the 1940s, but that Peter Pond is not on it.

The explorer was twice charged with murder in his life and was known to have a fiery temper.

City resident Tim Clark, who has only a tenuous connection to Peter Pond (his father married into the Pond family, but then divorced and married Clark's mother), sees no problem with a memorial here.

"Our ancestors are gone, and if they had a checkered past while they were here, it's better than being dull, " Clark said.

All this may carry over in a fellow Peter Pond Society member's theory on where Jean Etienne Waden, who may have been killed by Pond in the early 1780's in the La Ronge, SK, area, could be buried. A little background first. Iris Warner used to live in La Ronge where her husband, Al, was a mechanic at Air La Ronge. A writer and amateur historian herself, she heard about Peter Pond and the possibility he may have shot Waden since both were competing fur traders. She wrote to the Milford Town Clerk inquiring about its wandering native in 1987, and it was by amazing coincidence that I was in the town clerk's office the same day making a Peter Pond inquiry about an old deed, when I was handed her letter. But by the time I arrived at La Ronge Airport in July 1988 for my Clearwater trip, since Horizons Unlimited, my outfitter, was 20 miles away in Missinippi, the Warners had retired to British Columbia. I still stopped in to get Al Warner's forwarding phone number, then, since Iris told me about it, swung by the stone marker where Waden had been killed at Waden Bay on Lac La Ronge. To make a long story short, I have since resumed correspondence with Iris who told me Al had died but she was still interested in Peter Pond. She is in fact, a charter member, doesn't have a computer, and is one of two charter members I don't mind snail mailing newsletters to.She told me to stop mailing out of concern for the postage. Maybe I will after I send her this one. But one thing she told me is that a skeleton was dug up in the late 1980's near the monument. Rumors flared that it was Waden, but it turned out to be an Indian woman who had been in the ground about 80 years. Now Iris believes Waden could be buried on a place called Lime Island not too far out on the lake and that a radar scanner could find him. Ric or Selmer, take note.


Here's some more interesting material on both Peter Pond and his star pupil, Mackenzie, from Natural Resources Canada Geomatics, an agency I would never have heard of if not for Iris. Incidentally, I intend to follow up on the status of Peter Pond's cairn at Prince Albert in another month, once winter leaves in earnest. To wit:

Dear Mr. McDonald,
Thank you for your query submitted to the Geographical Names web site maintained by the Department of Natural Resources Canada in Ottawa.

Two features have been named for the 18th century fur trader and explorer, Peter Pond. According to The Dictionary of Canadian Biography; Wallace, W.S.; MacMillan Company; Toronto: 1926, Pond established the first trading post on the Athabasca River in Alberta, reaching it via Lac La Loche (at one time Methy Lake) and the Methy Portage (now Portage La Loche). Pond was the author of one of the first maps of the North West.

Peter Pond Point (cape), Saskatchewan
Section 3 Township 49 Range 27 West of the 2nd Meridian
North Saskatchewan River, West of Prince Albert<
Latitude - Longitude : 53$B0 12' 00" N - 105$B0 52' 00" W
NTS Map : 73H/4
CGNDB Unique Identifier : HAHKA

"Named 22 October 1962 after Peter Pond who erected a fort at the site now marked by a national monument." and Peter Pond Lake (lake), Saskatchewan

Latitude - Longitude : 55$B0 55' 00" N - 108$B0 44' 00" W
NTS Map : 73N/15
CGNDB Unique Identifier : HAPTO

"Named 31 March 1924, confirmed 3 May 1932 after Peter Pond, first European to visit and map the area. Pond wintered on the Athabasca River 1778-84. NOT Beef Lake NOR Buffalo Lake NOR Little Buffalo Lake."

Thank you for your interest in Canadian geographical names. Best wishes.

Andrew Geggie, Toponymist
Geographical Names -- Natural Resources Canada<
615 Booth St., Room 634
Ottawa, ON Canada K1A 0E9
Tel: 613-947-1140
Fax : 613-943-8282
GeoNames Web site:

Mr. McDonald, Thank you for your query and for your continued interest in Canadian geographical names.

Mackenzie River was adopted in the 9th Report of the Geographic Board of Canada, 30 June 1910. Status changed to Dual Name when Fleuve Mackenzie was adopted 18 January l982 giving Mackenzie River and Fleuve Mackenzie equal status. Fleuve Mackenzie is given as the French form on the Treasury Board list of Names of Pan-Canadian Significance.

According to Alan Rayburn (Naming Canada; University of Toronto Press; Toronto:1994; ISBN 0-8020-0569-1; pp.177-182), the river first appeared on a map as"Mac Kenzies River" in Mackenzie's 1801 book, Voyages from Montreal.

The name Mackenzie River was used by Sir John Franklin, on page 136 of his printed journal of his first voyage "to the shore of the Polar Sea &"; published in 1823. In the narrative of the 2nd expedition in 1828, Franklin says "In justice to the memory of Mackenzie, I hope the custom of calling this the Great River, which is in general use among the traders and voyagers will be discontinued, and that the name of its eminent discoverer may be universally adopted".

Franklin also named a small point near the mouth of the Coppermine River for Sir Alexander. His name was Cape Mackenzie, adopted 30 June 1910 in the 9th Report, but it was changed 31 March 1965 to Mackenzie Point.

Mackenzie Bay at the mouth of the Mackenzie River was also officially named in the 9th Report, 30 June 1910. The river's delta was named the Mackenzie Delta in 1948 (approved 5 July 1961).

Mackenzie Valley, Mackenzie Pass and Mount Mackenzie (93D/9), all named 2 July 1953, are features visited by Sir Alexander in the Bella Coola River district of British Columbia.

Mount Sir Alexander in the Cariboo district of the Rockies (93H/16) was approved in the 18th Report (31 March 1924). Its original name, Mount Alexander Mackenzie, had been adopted on September 6, 1916.

Sir Alexander Mackenzie Park, a provincial park in British Columbia, was established 10 February 1926 west of Bella Coola.

However, the Mackenzie Mountains, Yukon Territory, adopted 7 April 1945, commemorate Rt.Hon. Alexander Mackenzie, Prime Minister of Canada, 1873-78.

Best wishes!

Andrew Geggie, Toponymist

Remember my last newsletter on Judy Pond coming to Milford to interrogate me about her ancestor? It's set for April 14, and I'll give a full report on her visit afterward. Here's a story about her in the 2/16/01 Post by Juliano:

Descendant to probe life of Milford explorer


MILFORD -- The mysterious life of a celebrated 18th-century explorer has led a New Hampshire teacher here to look for answers. Judith Pond will travel here from Hanover, N.H., in April to research the life of her ancestor, Peter Pond, a locally born notable who helped map some of Canada's greatest, whitest, northernmost regions.

"I'm not sure what I'm going to find there, frankly, " said Pond, who has a \\$4,000 grant from the Hanover-Lebanon School District to conduct her research.

The historical record is ambiguous about what kind of man Peter Pond was. He helped find a route to the Pacific, played a role in shaping the U.S.border with Canada and negotiated a peace treaty between warring Indian tribes.

But he was also tough, foul-tempered and was twice accused of murder. "The questions I want to answer are, What evils have our forebears committed?' and How can we make amends in our own time?' " the eighth-grade teacher said.

Here in Milford, there's little to remember Peter Pond by -- even though he was born here in 1740 and died here, too. He died from consumption in 1807.

The bicentennial plaque on the city's green makes brief reference to him;historians believe his remains were interred in the Milford Cemetery.

Pond said she also plans to retrace her ancestor's route through the Methye Portage and the Athabasca River of northern Saskatchewan, Canada, this summer. She said Peter Pond was twice accused of murder -- once for killing a man in a duel and then for allegedly ordering the death of a business rival. He was never convicted, though.

"I know he had a bad temper, " she said. "I felt a personal version of the general white guilt my students feel as they learn about the mayhem our culture has wreaked on less technologically advanced ones."

Pond said her ancestor probably was good to the American Indians he met because his fortunes as a trapper and trader depended on them. "I don't think he handed out smallpox-infected blankets like you read some white people did, " she said.

Peter Pond's achievements were notable. Alberta and Saskatchewan, Canada, both have monuments dedicated to him.

He is credited with being the first white man at the southern edge of the Arctic Ocean and with helping explorer Alexander MacKenzie find a route to the Pacific Ocean 12 years before Lewis and Clark.

Peter Pond is also credited with negotiating a peace treaty with warring Indian tribes, said Bill McDonald, a Connecticut Post sportswriter who heads the Peter Pond Society. "He was rough and tough and took no guff, " McDonald said.

Peter Pond also had a role in settling the U.S.-Canada border in 1794. He presented his hand-drawn map of upper Canada to the U.S. Congress in 1785, McDonald said.

But the amateur historian said he's not sure what he can show Judith Pond when she visits, since the explorer died penniless and is buried in an unmarked grave.

The name Pond remains a notable one in Milford. The local Daughters of the American Revolution chapter named its children's group in honor of Charles Pond, Peter's brother. But members have done little research on Peter himself, DAR spokeswoman Pamela Hudak said.

"Captain Charles Pond fought in the Revolution, but he was a bit of a scamp too, " Hudak said. "As an elderly man he chased after thieves who stole his boat, and caught them."

The DAR spokeswoman offered some comfort to Judith Pond. "You can't pick your relatives, " she said. But a generation after Peter and Charles, a family member named Charles Hobby Pond of Milford was elected governor of Connecticut, Hudak said.

Frank Juliano, Milford bureau chief, can be reached at 878-2130.

Finally, a tribute to a recently departed modern-day namesake. See if you can draw comparisons besides "fascinating, difficult, wonderful." You could probably say they were both adventurers, too. I spoke to this gentleman only once, never met him. People here in Milford remember him since he used to work at the YMCA. I was given the phone number for his sister, Pam, who lives in Bethlehem about an hour north of here. She gave me his number in Providence. He said he didn't know much about his ancestor but was the family representative while still in seminary at the cairn dedication in Prince Albert in the 1950's. Read on about his own interesting life. Pam alerted me to it. It's interesting how many Ponds I've found with connections to Yale. Small wonder Peter Pond the trader's diary ended up there.

COMMENTARY - R.I.'s Schindler of the Killing Fields

DATE: 07-31-2000
PUBLICATION: Providence Journal Company
PAGE: B-05

A FASCINATING, DIFFICULT, WONDERFUL Rhode Islander a great Rhode Islander died June 20. The Rev. Peter Pond was born to privilege and wealth 67 years ago in Connecticut. He went to the Pomfret School, to Yale University, and then on to the Yale Divinity School. Even as a young man, his sense of activism was profound, and he showed a characteristic boldness that stayed with him throughout his life. As a divinity school student, during the Hungarian Revolution, in 1956, he flew to Hungary to establish a camp to takecare of children displaced by the violence.

After graduation, as a Congregational minister (late in life, he became a Roman Catholic), he went to Puerto Rico, where he established recreational centers for children in the barrios. He ran an outdoor exploration and mountain-climbing school in the White Mountains for inner-city children. And, years later, he tackled Southeast Asian gang problems here in Providence,through his hands-on work for the Indo-Chinese Advocacy Project.

But Peter's most blessed work took place far away, in a dark and terrible time, in a place few Americans cared about.

Many years ago, Peter's mother was married to Amb. Edwin Stanton of the U.S. Foreign Service, one of the fabled "China Hands." The ambassador thought that America was backing the wrong side in China, and that Chiang Kai Shek was corrupt and would lose. For this heresy, Ambassador Stanton was sent off to Thailand. There, Peter's mother fell in love with Thailand, and when her husband died she stayed on as an American expatriate. She became a tutor to the Thai royal family, and she had access to the royal compound, and to the royal family itself, that no other Westerner obtained.

Her love of Southeast Asia was transmitted to Peter Pond, providentially for thousands of Cambodians.

In 1975, Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge took over the government of Cambodia and began one of the most appalling mass murders in human history. In its intensity and scope, it was more ravaging even than the Nazi atrocities of World War II. Anyone with education, professional training, or even mechanical skills was marked for murder. In a small country with a population of less than eight million, it is estimated that Pol Pot and his monstrous regime murdered nearly two million people. No one knows for sure, because the "Killing Fields" were so many, and so brutal, and so few records were kept.

Into this bloodbath stepped Peter Pond. The activism and boldness that marked Peter Pond also marked his humanitarian response to the Cambodian killing machine. He could not stop it, but he could get people out. Perhaps you have seen the movie Schindler's List; Peter became the Schindler of Cambodia. He used his skill and determination, his personal wealth, his Southeast Asian contacts and connections, and his considerable personal courage to run truck convoys full of Cambodians across the border to safety in Thailand. When the convoys were stopped, Peter bribed or bluffed their way through.

As his work came to the attention of the Cambodian regime, they told him to stop it. He trusted that they were not yet serious, and continued to send truck convoys full of Cambodian families to safety. Finally, the Pol Pot regime told him to stop it and this time they meant it, but Peter misjudged.

Peter went to Site 8, a border Khmer Rouge camp, in an attempt to work with people trapped there who wanted to get away. He was building a library, looking for reasonable leaders he could deal with. He and a driver were headed to the nearest town to buy supplies when their car was stopped and Peter was shot. His driver took him back to Site 8, where the medical aides administered plasma, stopped the bleeding and contacted the Red Cross, crying as they worked on him. Although he survived and returned to work, his health was undermined, and he was never after as vigorous. Eventually, he developed serious health problems from the shooting.

I saw the scars that the bullet wounds left on Peter, and it frankly is amazing that he could have survived. His body was stitched with wounds. But survive he did, and he returned to his work, this time in the refugee camps across the border in Thailand. Here, Cambodian refugees were often the victims of plunder, extortion, rape and other forms of abuse. Peter fought and begged and protested and prayed and in general made a fuss about what was happening to the Cambodian refugees. At Camp Sakeo, staying after the camp closed at night and all U.N. workers left, Peter found that the camp was being used as a rest-and-recreation facility for Khmer soldiers.

The Thai military directed that camp men and boys should go back into Cambodia to fight the invading Vietnamese communists, as a buffer to protect their country from Hanoi. Peter announced, and handed out flyers,that the temple was a sanctuary and people did not have to leave. The people stayed, and the Thai military arrested Peter. Peter languished in prison in Thailand until he was finally released by a royal pardon issued by Queen Sirikit of Thailand.

As Cambodia stabilized, Peter maintained his interest in that country's affairs, and he remained involved for the rest of his life with Cambodian politicians who were trying to rebuild a government from the ashes left by Pol Pot.

Here in Providence, Peter was active in the Southeast Asian community, and with the Indo-Chinese Advocacy Project. This project, well ahead of its time, worked with kids involved in gangs and other misbehavior to try to end the violence before it started, or hold people accountable for the violence once it was done.

Peter's most enduring legacy, however, will be his children: He and Mrs. Pond had eight children of their own or from previous marriages, and they adopted 15 Southeast Asian children. When Queen Sirikit visited Peter in prison, she said that, as in a fairy tale, she wanted to grant him three wishes. He asked that three Cambodian orphans be allowed to go to the United States. They were Arn, Lakhana and Soneath, the first three adoptive children to come to the family. The willingness of the Ponds to open their hearts and home so wide, for so many, is a measure of this exceptional family, and this exceptional man.

Much of what he did, he did far away, in a continent and country America had turned its back on. Few people know what he did. But he was exceptional, and he lived among us, and we should mark his passing.

Sheldon Whitehouse is the attorney general of Rhode Island. Mr. Whitehouse's father, Charles Whitehouse, was U.S. ambassador to Thailand and Laos during the 1970s. He also served as deputy ambassador to South Vietnam. In the 1950s, he served in Cambodia as a Foreign Service officer, when Sheldon Whitehouse lived in Pnom Penh.

Peter Pond Society editor Bill McDonald

That's enough for now. Stay in touch.
Au revoir,