Peter Pond Newletter :: February 2005 :: #21

Peter Pond

Peter Pond



Dr. Nicholas Bellantoni & Cynthia Trayling


Peter Pond has been a forgotten son of Milford, Connecticut, and North American history in general. Yet, his contributions to the exploration of the American West were enormous. Pond is a relatively important person in the story of 18th century Canadian fur trade. He is remembered in Canadian history as being the first white man to penetrate the Athabaska Region to which he came almost a decade prior to Alexander Mackenzie's advent. Although, most of what is known of this man is recorded by his rivals, and enemies, his achievements speak for themselves. Pond was a self-educated and self-made man, with extraordinary ambition and entrepreneurship. "As an explorer he was limited by his lack of duties and navigational instruments…will always be remembered for his pioneer maps of the north-west" (Daniels:1969, P: 40). Pond returned to his native Milford, Connecticut after being implicated in two murders, where he lived out the remained of his life in relative poverty. He died in 1807 and was most likely buried in the old Milford Cemetery, along with various member of his family, no tombstone has ever been located.

In 2002, the Peter Pond Society requested the Office of State Archaeology (OSA), University of Connecticut, to conduct a search for his grave. Previous geo-physical tests adjacent to the tombstone of Peter's mother Mary had determined that possibly three unmarked burials lay to the south of her in the Milford ancient burial. While the ground-penetrating radar can establish soil disturbances indicative of burial shafts, it is unable to determine any personal identification of the individuals buried within those shafts. To determine if the unmarked grave(s) located is that of Peter Pond, required archaeological exposure of the skeletal remains, coffin hardware and other associated material culture. The OSA conducted excavations from August 20th - 22nd 2003 with the assistance of the Friends of the Office of State Archaeology (FOSA), as well as University of Connecticut and Boston University students.

History of Peter Pond (1740-1807)

Peter Pond, the oldest son of Peter Pond (1718-1765) and Mary (Hubbard) Pond (1725-1761) was born on January 18th, 1740 in Milford, Connecticut (Figure #1). He was the grandson of Samuel Pond (1648-1718), who was one of the signers of the Branford, CT., Covenant on January 20th, 1667. Samuel was also signer of the New Plantation Covenant and church covenant, CT., (1688/9). Peter Pond's great grandfather, Samuel Pond (1609-1654), was the immigrant ancestor of the family. Samuel came to the United States from England and eventually migrated to what is today known as Windsor, Connecticut.

Peter and Mary Pond had nine children , all of which were born in Milford, Connecticut. Peter, the eldest child, was born in 1740. Zachariah, the second son, was born in 1742 and died in 1782. The third son, Charles was born in 1744 and died in 1832. Charles was a trader, solder, privateersman, and involved shipping. On one of his exploits, in 1776, Charles commanded the sloop Schuyler that ferried Nathan Hale across Long Island Sound on the secret mission that ended in Hale's execution as a spy.

Other children of Peter and Mary pond include Abigail (b. 1746); John (b. ca. 1746); Phineas (b. 1748); Samuel (b. 1752 d.1777); Mary (b.1755 d.1806); Susana (b.1757); and Jedediah (baptized 1761).

Mary Pond (the mother) died on June 16th, 1761 at age 37, she may have died giving birth to Jedediah. Mary is buried in the old burying ground on the southeast side of the Ye Olde Milford Cemetery near the railway in Lot L-11 (Appendix 1). Her tombstone bears the inscription: "Here lies ye body of Mary Pond, wife of Mr. Peter Pond, who died June ye 16th 1761 in ye 37th year of her age"(Figure 2).

Peter Pond's father was on a fur-trading voyage to Detroit when his wife Mary died. However, Milford public records suggest that Peter Pond (father) appears to have returned to Milford following the death of his wife and engaged in the shoemaking trade. His probate records, following his death, dated the 3rd Monday May 1765 lists three full pages which include items such as 35 pairs of men's shoes and pumps; 7 pair leather cut for women's shoes, etc., (Appendix 2). There is no record as to where Peter Pond (father) is buried.

Peter Pond was born January 18, 1740 in Milford, Connecticut. At age 16, against his parent's wishes, he began his military career in April of 1756. He returned home the winter of the same year, but would reenlist three times over the next four years participating in the French and Indian Wars including: General James Abercrombie's 1758 attack on Ticonderoga; the capture of Fort Niagara in 1759 and the isolation Montreal on September 8th 1760.

After this conquest (giving Britain possession of New France), Pond decided to try his fortunes at sea, as a sea trader. This career change was short lived, returning to Milford in 1761 to help raise his siblings, following his mother's death. Peter wrote about this time in his diary stating, "…take charge of a young fammaley til my father returned which I bent my mind after different objects and taread in Milford three years in one place sins I was sixteen years old up to sixtet…" (Gates: 1933).

Peter Pond married Susannah Newell shortly after his mother's death in 1761. They had two known children, a son Peter born in 1763 and died in the West Indies at age 50 and a daughter Elizabeth, who was born in 1764. At the end of this three year period, (about 1764/5), perhaps prompted by his father's death, Peter to following in his father's footsteps beginning his life as a fur trader in the Detroit area. Peter would not return to his family in Milford for another six years, from then until 1788 his career evolved into fur trading and exploration.

Peter Pond was an explorer and well-known fur trader in the upper Mississippi country. The American Revolution cut off trade in war areas, which forced traders like Pond, who usually obtained goods from New York and Albany, to depend on Montreal. In Montreal, Pond discovered that it was easier to obtain certain goods, since the British interests were expanding the Montreal Fur Trade and thus developing knowledge of what specific goods Native Indians wanted. Pond, apt for exploration of new trade routes, subsequently became one of the explorers opened transportation paths along the Churchill River in Saskatchewan, Canada.

Peter Pond was the first known white man to have reached the Athabasca country in 1778. He crossed into the Athabasca from the Saskatchewan and Churchill lakes and rivers. This discovery marked the first known crossing of the La Loche or Methye Portage by a fur trader, signifying a new northern gateway which would open a new world for fur traders. Peter Pond set up a winter post know as "Pond's House" on Elk river, the only post in this part of the world until 1785, which some credit as laying the basis of the grand fur trade strategy of the west.

In 1783, Pond, other wintering traders and Montreal businessmen formed, which would become know as the, North West Fur Company . Pond, who was largely responsible for opening up the company's richest fur territory, was given one paltry share of the North West Fur Company, much less than others in the Company had received. Pond, upset by the treatment he received left Canada for a short time to return to his native Milford for a brief time. It was during this time that Pond made his original pitch to the young United States, to lead a trip west to the Pacific and left behind a copy of one of his maps, which was later found and transcribed by Crevecoeur. Getting no attention, Pond returned to Canada and stayed in Athabasca until he was relieved by Alexander Mckenzie

There is no question that Peter Pond was a very important figure in fur-trading history. However, his aggressive trading practices and volatile temper earned him a poor reputation. Pond was known as having the tendency to take the law into his own hands. He was implicated in at least two murders including, Jean-Etienne Waddens (1783) and John Ross (1786-7). It was the latter, which ultimately lead to Pond's forced retirement from Athabasca.

In October of 1787 Alexander Mackenzie arrived in Athabasca, ultimately to relieve Pond of his post. The relationship between Mackenzie and Pond seemed to be civil, which is an attribute to both Pond and Mackenzie considering their differences. Pond, knowing he was going to be replaced by a man half his age and known temperament. Mackenzie was a man with a softer personality, who tried to avoid violence.

Pond, left Athabasca for Montreal, and stayed until 1790. It was during this time that word had circulated that Mackenzie had made an unsuccessful attempt for the Pacific in 1789 and had ended up at the Beaufort Sea due to following Pond's directions (McDonald: 2005).

Peter Pond, now under a cloud, left Canada for good, returning to his native Connecticut around 1790/1 where he died in poverty in 1807. There is no indication as to where Peter Pond is buried.

Nonetheless, Pond inspired Alexander Mackenzie to become the first white man to reach the Pacific Ocean overland across North America in 1793, twelve years prior to Lewis and Clark. Mackenzie would later write a book about his explorations a where he credits Pond's role in his accomplishments. Mackenzie's book, eventually by President Thomas Jefferson, is though to be one of the influential factors launching the more famous Lewis and Clarke Expedition, which reached its objective in 1805.

Peter Pond led an adventurer's life and, left an autobiography relating to many of his exploits. Even though poorly written, it is an interesting and informative read and can be found in part in C.M. Gates' Five Fur-Traders of the North West (Minneapolis, 1933).


The Peter Pond Society requested the technical assistance of the Office of State Archaeology (ASO) to search for the grave of Peter Pond, the early historic explorer, in Milford Cemetery (Map). Immediately south of the tombstone of Peter's mother, Mary, is an area where no extant stones appear. This area has been long of containing the unmarked graves of Pond family members. As a result, the Peter Pond Society contracted with Fuss & O'Neill, Inc., consulting engineers, to conduct ground-penetrating radar (GPR) tests over the open area to Mary Pond's tombstone. Results of the GPR analysis concluded that there were:

"No anomalies …detected indicating remains of former bodies as would be expected based on our survey experience of historical burial grounds; however, GPR records did indicate that the area immediately south of Mary Pond's gravestone, where Peter is suspected of being buried, had been disturbed. Based on the size of the disturbed area south of Mary Pond's gravestone, it is possible that as many as three gravesites could be present in this area. GPR records conducted outside the suspected grave area show that similar underlying soils likely not been disturbed in contrast to the disturbed materials…

There is no way to determine the exact nature of the disturbed areas without other investigative methods. However, GPR records indicate that there is a distinct area south of Mary's gravestone where soils have been disturbed…and, could be the result of former grave excavation activities."
(Fuss & O'Neill Inc.) (Appendix 3).

Based on the GPR test, the OSA conducted field excavations in August 2003. The field techniques consisted of setting up a grid system and excavating a single 7 ft by 7 ft square encompassing the area where GPR indicated grave shaft disturbances. (Figure 3) Excavation was conducted using hand tools consisting of shovels, mason trowels, brushes and bamboo picks to the depth of the burials. Soil coloration changes below the topsoil indicated the location of grave shaft features.

Sampled soils were screened through a ¼ inch hardware mesh (Figure 4). During excavation, no skeletal elements were removed, but simply exposed and recorded. A sample of coffin nails and shroud pins were taken for hardware analyses. (Figure 5) Field inspection of surviving skeletal remains consisted of standard forensic examination for estimates of age, sex, biological affiliation, trauma, disease, and stature. Burial records include the attitude of the body, positioning of the arms and legs. These records vary based on degree of organic preservation encountered.

Burial One

Evidence of Burial #1 appeared at a depth of 32 inches below the ground surface. Soils consisted of fine silty sand exhibiting a strong brown coloration (Munsell Soil Color Chart 5.7 YR 4-4). Based on decomposing wood stains, the coffin was relatively small (17 inches in length and 6 inches in width) and contained the of an infant Orientation of the coffin is east/west with the head to the west, consistent with head and foot stone placements in this area of the cemetery (Appendix 5).

A portion of the cranial vault (i.e., frontal bone) and a fragment of the mid-shaft of the right tibia were the only skeletal elements surviving. Infant's skeletal development has very little bone density, so to uncover some skeletal remains shows remarkable organic preservation. Adhering nails and shroud pins may have this condition. Accurate age and sex estimates were not possible due to the fragmentary condition of the bone. No physical signs of dentition were seen.

Nonetheless, coffin nails were recovered from the head and footboards, and hardware screws from the right side board (Appendix 6). In addition, 18 shroud pins were uncovered associated with the area of the chest and abdomen. This is the largest quantity of shroud pins we have ever recovered in any previous burial, including the remains of adult individuals (Figure 6). The pins were aligned, as to suggest bringing together a cloth around the waist. Due to the enhancement of organic preservation by copper salts leaching into the surrounding environment, textile fragments were also recovered.

Historic records suggest that Mary Pond may have died in childbirth bearing her son, Jedediah, who died as an infant. Burial #1 is in close proximity to Mary's tombstone, less than a foot and a half to the south. The burial feature stain suggests that both burials are close enough to occupy the same shaft. It is plausible that the burial is Jedediah Pond, who may have been laid next to his mother. While Mary died, Jedediah may have survived his birth and passed away shortly afterward, but not before having been baptized. At times, when-infant deaths occur simultaneously, they are often buried together in the same coffin. The discovery of the infant next to Mary suggests the child lived long enough to have a separate burial next to his mother. Since historical records indicate both Mary and Jedediah Pond died in 1761, if our contention is correct, the infant's skeletal remains have been in the ground for 240 years.

Burial Two

Burial #2 is located 16 inches Southeast of Burial #1 (Appendix 7). The headboard of the coffin is aligned with the footboard of Burial #1. No organic remains, including coffin wood and human remains, have survived from this burial feature. The burial was identified based on recovery of seven coffin nails situated to another small coffin 23 inches in length (Appendix 8). Width of the coffin was not determined as surviving nails appear at the head, foot and right side regions. The coffin is oriented east/west and is assumed that the head toward the west. Two coffin nails were taken as samples for analysis.

Burial #2, though slightly longer than Burial #1, also appears to be that of an infant. The burials proximity to each other suggests that both infants were interred fairly close in time. One family candidate as possibly lying in Burial #2 is Charlotte Pond, who was the granddaughter of Mary and Peter Pond, the daughter of Charles and Martha (Miles) Pond and the niece of Peter Pond for whom we search. Charlotte was born on June 19, 1772 and died July 8, 1772 at the age of 19 days. A tombstone was erected for Charlotte and cemetery records indicate that she was buried next to her grandmother, Mary, however, the extant stone for Charlotte is today located four and a half feet east, and three and a half feet north, behind Mary's stone, not next to it (Appendix 11). However, burying grounds often have tombstones removed and placed elsewhere in the cemetery. It remains possible that Burial #2 situated next to burial #1 and Maryh3

Burial Three

Burial #3 is located east of Burial #1 and not in the same north-south row as Burial #1 & #2 and was encountered at a depth of 34.5 inches (Appendix 9) The coffin is considerably longer than the previous two burials, through at 35 inches in length and 14 inches in width, it still represents a child. Coffin wood stains were apparently clearly outlined the feature. Eight coffin nails were recovered. At least one nail represented each of the four sides of the rectangular coffin. A single shroud pin survived. Similar to the other, coffin is oriented east/west with the head to the west (Figure 8). Munsell Soil Color from the burial feature indicated dark yellowish brown hue (10YR 4/6) and a fine sandy matrix. A quartz flake discharged from a stone core during stone tool making processes was recovered to the immediate south of the cranium. Native American manufactured lithic debitage was recovered from the grave shaft fill above all the burials. The stone flake was intrusive to the burial. That is, it collapsed into the coffin area from above when the wood deteriorated. The cemetery location had long served as a pre-Contact Indian campsite. No diagnostic Native American artifacts were found and no age to the stone flakes were estimated.

Though poorly preserved, skeletal remains consist of cranial vault and craniofacial elements, including the frontal, maxilla and mandible, a fragment of the left humerus, and portion of the right and left tibia mid-shaft. Burial #3 was the only burial with surviving dentition, including all deciduous teeth excluding the right medial maxillary incisor. Permanent incisors could be seen in information within the maxilla bone without root development (Figure 9). Based on Ubelaker (1978), dentition is consistent with a child 5 to 6 years of age.

No Pond family genealogical candidate is suggested through historical records. Though the coffin appears immediately south of the foot of Mary Pond's grave, the child may represent a non-relative to the Pond family, or a child not recorded in the family genealogy.


The search for Peter Pond proved unsuccessful. He clearly is not lying next to his mother in the Milford Cemetery. Instead, the archaeological excavation and analysis suggest two infants and a child 2-3 years of age reside in the graves adjacent to Mary Pond. Further, we suggest that the two infants are very likely the remains of Jedediah Pond (Burial #1) and Charlotte Pond (Burial #2). The child in Burial #3 remains unidentified. The search for Peter Pond, fur trader and explorer, continues.


I would like to take this opportunity to thank Friends of the Office of State Archaeology (FOSA) and the students from the University of Boston and the University of Connecticut, who helped conduct the field excavations in August of 2003. I would like to say a special thank you to Bill McDonald of the Peter Pond Society for all of his efforts set forth, in completing this task. I would like to thank you Ruthie Brown and Roger Thompson for the personal research and insight. Thank you to Susan Deblasio and John Spaulding for the photographs that make up such integral part of this report. Thank you to the Milford Historical society and the Milford Cemetery Association. Finally, I would like to extend a special thank you to all the Pond family members who have helped with the accuracy of the Pond family genealogy.


  • Bass, W.H. 1995. Human Osteology: A Laboratory and Field Manual of the Human Skeleton (4th Ed.) Columbia, MO: Missouri Archaeological Society.
  • Brown, Ruthie. 2004/2005. Personal transcripts and Personal Communication. - Connecticut, USA.
  • Daniells, Roy. 1969. Alexander Mackenzie and the North West, New York: Barnes and Noble.
  • Gates, Charles M., 1964. Five Fur Traders of the Northwest, St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society.
  • Gough, Barry M. 1997. First Across the Continent: Sir Alexander Mackenzie. - Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press.
  • Hale Index. 1943. Hale Cemeteries State of Connecticut. Hartford, CT: Connecticut State Library.
  • Innis, Harold Adams. 1999. The Fur Trade in Canada, Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
  • Mackenzie Esq., Sir Alexander. 1967. Voyage to the Pacific Ocean in 1793. New York: The Citadel Press, Inc.
  • McDonald, Bill. 2004/2005. Personal Transcripts and Personal Communication. - Connecticut, USA.
  • Pond Snyder, Betty. Pioneer Pond People. Chelsea, MI: Bookcrafters.
  • Puckle, Bertram S. 1968. Funeral Customs: Their Origin and Development. MI
  • Ross, Eric. 1970. Beyond the River and the Bay. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
  • Spaulding, John. 2003-2005. Personal Transcripts and Personal Communication. - Connecticut, USA.
  • Thompson, Roger. 2003-2005. Personal Transcripts and Personal Communication. - Connecticut, USA.
  • Websites
Peter Pond Society editor Bill McDonald

Au revoir,