Peter Pond newsletter :: NOVEMBER 2001 :: #10

Peter Pond Society editor Bill McDonald
Peter Pond Society editor Bill McDonald

IMPROVED PETER POND WEBSITE

It's done. It's ready. The new, improved Peter Pond Society web site is up and running. And with a name that's easier to remember. It's through the help with minimal cost of my only goddaughter, Katie Tyson, a May 2000 Duke graduate with a BS in Electrical Engineering, now living in Coral Springs, Fla. pursuing a Digital Design career who knows more about websites than I do. So she whipped things around to make it more compartmentalized and easier to find without all that scrolling down. It doesn't cost much to have that web domain name. But do you mind that advertising across the top? It would cost more to go without it.

Two topics to discuss this time. One is my recent well-publicized grave search for Peter Pond which didn't quite hit the jackpot but left me knowing more than before. The other is the dedication of the new Peter Pond cairn in Prince Albert, SK, postponed because the cairn wasn't ready.

As most of you probably know through my special emailing (it pays to be a Peter Pond Society member so you get such treatment), the grave search with the help of a state of the art ground radar scanner took place 10/25/01. I already sent the web address where TV coverage can be seen and it's one of the links on the new Peter Pond Society site. The CONNECTICUT POST story can be found below. I also made sure to include on the scene two helpful Milford residents: Municipal Historian Richard Platt and Susan D'Ambrosio and her husband Bob. Susan has a fine fur trade library and can trace her ancestry both to Roderick Mackenzie (wee Sandy's cousin) and John George McTavish, Simon McTavish descendant and colleague of Sir George Simpson, longtime HBC president. John and George are buried next to each other at Mount Royal Cemetery, Montreal. Bob is an electrical engineer who loved watching the radar scanner work.

The POST story is pretty complete. Don Wilson of Fuss and O'Neill operated the scanner like a vacuum cleaner. I'm told I will get a full report of the findings which I will pass on to you. The whole process took about 45 minutes of his scanning around the area of the gravestone of Peter Pond's mother, Mary. There are obvious gaps between her's and other stones so it seemed the logical place to look. The outcome was there are three graves right next to each other by her stone. One is probably her plus two more that are unmarked.

So who are those two others? The answer is probably any of her eight children, Peter Pond being the oldest. Or one can be her husband, also named Peter who Peter Pond followed in the fur trade out west and who also has no marker.

But Charles Pond, the second oldest of Peter Pond's siblings, we know is not there. A prominent Revolutionary War ship's captain who ferried Nathan Hale across the Sound to his reward, is buried about 50 yards away with a nice stone surrounded by his wife and children. Dick Platt suggested looking over there but I decided not to – too many stones accounting for what seemed the right amount of people with no gaps in between. Milford honors Charles Pond today with a Children of the American Revolution (CAR) chapter named for him.

So the bottom line is interesting – one stone with three graves. They came across on Wilson's screen as disturbed earth. I was hoping for some kind of Indian artifact like knife, tomahawk or arrowhead could have shown up. But Platt said they weren't that vain in those days, just a body in a wooden coffin, all of which are dust by now. If they're in a metal vault, that would show up, like unmarked underground oil tanks this scanner is mostly used for.

How did I feel during this exercise? It was fairly dramatic, if not tense. There was a kind of hushed sense of expectancy with all of us looking for the grave of someone long departed. It was a little strange, but all I can hope for is that I am serving history. I feel I've done all that current technology can allow. Maybe the mystique of this controversial, enigmatic man is better served if no one knows where he ended up.

Here is the CONNECTICUT POST story

Whose final resting place is this?

Article Last Updated: Saturday, October 27, 2001 - 8:23:56 AM MST
By FRANK JULIANO

MILFORD -- It sounds like one of those trick riddles: "Who's buried in Peter Pond's grave?"

The answer, of course, ought to be Peter Pond, a fabled 18th-century explorer and a member of one of the city's founding families.

But not necessarily. It could be one of Pond's seven siblings, or someone else.

What is known is that Pond died here, and many suspect his body is interred in the Pond family plot in the Milford Cemetery on Gulf Street.

On Thursday, Don Wilson, a technician from a Manchester engineering firm, used ground-penetrating radar to search for the unmarked grave.

The vacuum cleaner-sized device Wilson ran over the ground around Mary Pond's grave found three nearby "voids," or open spaces that are probably graves.

Mary Pond, the explorer's mother, has the only actual headstone in the plot, which lies in the oldest section of the cemetery.

"There is no coffin, no bones, nothing but disturbed earth," said Bill McDonald, head of the Peter Pond Society.

The group is dedicated to ensuring that the man credited with mapping most of Upper Canada and opening the vast area to exploration gets his rightful place in history.

Unfortunately, the search for Pond's final resting-place may already have hit a dead end, McDonald said.

"Mary Pond had eight children and there is no way to know who was buried in these spots. It could be Peter, one of his siblings, or even his father," he said.

It appears there's nothing left to exhume, anyway. The ravages of time apparently did away with any earthly remains in the plot.

And even if a bone or a tooth turned up to study, performing a DNA match against Pond's living descendents could do little but confirm that it belonged to someone in the Pond family, McDonald said.

"The technology just isn't there yet," he said. "We can't bring a backhoe in here or exhume a grave without knowing what we're looking for."

Wilson, dressed in jeans and a light jacket, sat cross-legged on the ground as he studied the images on the device's suitcase-sized monitor. Among the even lines showing layers of dirt there were patches that formed herringbone patterns.

"Definitely disturbed earth," Wilson said. "Could be settling, backfilling, excavation" -- or the collapsed ground when a coffin and body inside turns to dust.

Wilson's Manchester firm, Fuss and O'Neill, donated the service, which can cost $1,500 and is usually used to locate underground fuel tanks.

But the firm has been pressed into service to find old graves before. Wilson and another technician spent six days last fall mapping Hartford's Old South Cemetery, and another four days analyzing the data.

"We found at least six spots where it is likely slaves were buried in the rear portion of the cemetery," he said.

Susan D'Ambrosio, a descendant of an associate of Peter Pond and a historian of the Canadian fur trade, said Milford children should know about Peter Pond, warts and all.

"He saw land white people had never seen before," D'Ambrosio said as Wilson mapped the grave. "He reportedly had quite a temper and was twice accused of murder."

He had two disputes with business associates and felt he was being bilked. So, he pulled out a knife, stabbed and killed the two men, who were both associates of his fur trading company. The two incidents took place years apart in Canada. He stood trial at least once and was acquitted.

Pond may even have been an indirect inspiration for the Lewis and Clark expedition, said D'Ambrosio, a member of the Peter Pond Society.

Members of Pond's company, the Northwest Fur Trading Co. reached the Pacific Ocean before Lewis and Clark mapped the American west on their famous trip, she said.

Pond was born in Milford in 1740 and died here in 1807, after squandering his profits from the fur trade. He died broke, said McDonald, of Milford.

Raymond Scholl, Milford Cemetery superintendent, said the burial customs of nearly 200 years ago were quite different.

"The bodies were behind the stones, not in front of them as they are today," he said. "The writing on both the headstone and the footstone faced out, away from the body."

As for the Peter Pond cairn dedication set for Oct. 12 in Prince Albert, all I have on that is the news story seen below about it's postponement. I have emailed the reporter who wrote the story (Thomas Porter) as well as the government people in charge of the cairn for an update, but no reply. I get the feeling that nothing is going to happen until spring what with winter starting to set in around that area now. Any Peter Pond Society members up that way want to be present whenever the dedication takes place? Would be nice to see your own report of how things went. For the record, Larry Zepp, identified below as a member of the Peter Pond Monument Association, is a Peter Pond Society member whose email recently has been returned as undeliverable. It would be nice to re-connect with him.

PETER POND MONUMENT DELAYED

I believe I sent this out before, around the time of the postponement. But here it is again:

Unveiling of new location for Peter Pond monument delayed due to rock cairn

Prince Albert Daily Herald…Oct. 12, 2001
THOMAS PORTER

After more than a year of planning and negotiation, the Peter Pond/Fort Sturgeon monument will be getting a new home.

Formerly located on the bank of the North Saskatchewan River northwest of Prince Albert, the monument faced riverbank erosion and repeated vandalism. Problems at the former site prompted the monument's removal in 1999.

Since then, stakeholders in the acreage area near the monument have fought to have it reinstalled at a safe location nearby.

Larry Zepp with the Peter Pond Monument Association said Thursday he is happy with the federal government's final resolution to re-establish the monument in the rail line right-of-way on the old Shellbrook highway.

"It's been a long time coming but (the association and Parks Canada) are getting along well now," said Zepp.

An unveiling of the new monument was expected today but the construction of the large rock cairn has been delayed. Officials with Parks Canada said the structure should be completed in the coming weeks with an unveiling ceremony to follow.

"We expect the cairn to be built in the next two weeks," said Flo Miller, Parks Canada cultural resources manager. "Our goal has been to have it up before the snow flies."

Miller said the association and area stakeholders have permission to begin planning the unveiling ceremony.

Zepp said the group hopes the community will come out en masse to witness the historic event.

"We hope to have representation from the local school boards, mayor and council, the reeve of the RM (of Buckland) and officials from Parks (Canada)," said Zepp. "Everybody wins here. This is an educational and historic event here."

That's all for now. Happy Holidays if we don't correspond before then.
Au revoir,
Bill