Peter Pond was born on 18 January 1740, in Milford
(Connecticut), to parents Peter and Mary Hubbard. Pond
was a colourful, brash character, and while he was applauded for
his strong work ethic, he also became well-known for possessing
what David Thompson described as a "violent temper and
unprincipled character." Although apprenticed as a shoemaker,
Pond sought – and found – a life of adventure. At various
points he was a soldier, fur trader, explorer and cartographer.
Against the wishes of his parents, Pond’s military career began
in April of 1756. He enlisted in the 1st Connecticut Regiment’s
seventh company, under the command of David Baldwin. There, young
Peter would participate in the preparations for what would prove
to be an abortive strike against the French at Fort Carillon (New
York), forcing him to return home. He would, however, reenlist
three times over the next four years, participating in James
Abercrombie’s 1758 attack on Carillon; the 1759 capture of Fort
Niagara; and the capture of Montreal on 8 September 1760. By this
point, Pond, whose determination had impressed his superiors, had
achieved the rank of Officer.
After the Conquest, Peter Pond set his sights on a career as a
sea trader. This, however, would prove to be a short-lived
endeavor, as he made just one trip to the West Indies in 1761,
before returning home to Milford to help raise his young siblings
following the death of their mother. It was around this period that Pond married Susanna Newell. It is known that they had
at least two children.
Restless, Pond settled upon following in his father’s
footsteps by plunging into the fur trade. From about 1765 until
the spring of 1775, he was engaged in the trade between
Michilimackinac (Michigan) and the Mississippi River. During this
period, Pond learned to deal successfully with native peoples –
in 1775 he helped to broker peace between the Sioux and Ojibwa
–, to create partnerships with other traders, and to carve-out a
life in the rugged wilderness.
In the months following his experiences with the Sioux, Pond,
no doubt influenced by the movements of the Hudson’s Bay
Company (HBC), and Montreal traders, such as the Frobishers, began to
shift his gaze towards the northwest. He would spend the next few
years travelling between Grand Portage and Cumberland House (in
present-day Saskatchewan), and points in between, such as Dauphin,
where he had established his own small trading fort. He also spent
the winters of 1776-77 and 1777-78 at the confluence of the
Sturgeon and North Saskatchewan Rivers. It was in the spring of
1778, however, that he would begin his adventures in the future
province of Alberta.
Peter Pond was engaged to lead an expedition deep into the
northwest to establish new trade links with the local aboriginal
peoples. The journey was largely funded through the resources of
Montreal traders McTavish & Company, along with Benjamin and
Joseph Frobisher. All had been inspired by Thomas Frobisher’s
success at Île-à-la-Crosse the previous year. Pond reached the
Athabasca River – the first white man to do so –, where he
found Cree and Chipewyan, who were more than willing to trade with
him in order to avoid the arduous journey to posts further east.
It was here at the river, about 40 miles from Lake Athabasca, that
he would establish Pond House. That first season produced some
8,400 made beaver, much of which Pond was forced to cache before
his return trip to Grand Portage in the spring of 1779.
Peter Pond would continue his trading and explorations in the
northwest throughout the next nine years. His accomplishments
during this period, representing the zenith of his life’s work,
were many. He was probably the first European to penetrate the
Athabasca country, and operated as far as the Peace River. He was
also the first non-native to observe the Athabasca oil sands. In
1783-84, he was among those who formed the North West Company (NWC),
which had grown out of the McTavish / Frobisher partnership of
that first expedition. It was then Pond’s determination, along
with the relationships he forged with the First Nations people,
that helped grow the NWC into the region’s dominant player –
one that would cause the Hudson's Bay Company many headaches. Moreover, it was
during this period, in 1784-85, that Pond mapped the far
northwest, providing the first indication of what would eventually
come to be known as the Mackenzie River system. Despite these
accomplishments, however, it would be Peter Pond’s own
personality that would end his career as the
region’s most pre-eminent fur trader and explorer.
A cloud of suspicion had hung over Pond since the March, 1782
murder of Jean-Étienne Waddens, at Lac La Ronge (northeastern
Saskatchewan). The trading interests that Pond and Waddens
represented were loosely affiliated, although the only arrangement
the sides made was for the two men to trade concurrently in La
Ronge over the winter. Personal animosities escalated and Waddens was shot and killed in early
March. Although Waddens’ widow pressed charges, the historical
record is unclear as to whether a trial actually took place. In
any event, no verdict was ever established.
Pond drew more suspicion in the winter of 1786-87, when
competition in the Athabasca region had reached a boiling point.
One of Pond’s rivals, John Ross, was shot and killed during a
confrontation. While two of Pond’s men were arrested, they would
both be acquitted and the killer’s identity never established, although
Peter Fidler identified him as a man named Péché.
This incident, added to the Waddens murder,
effectively ended Peter Pond’s career. Replaced by a young
Alexander Mackenzie, he would leave the northwest for the final
time in the spring of 1788.
Peter Pond sold his share in the NWC in 1790. He spent some
time attempting to capitalize on his cartographical work by
offering his maps for sale to various governments, although there
were few takers. He also spent time in the employ of the U.S.
government. It is also known that in January of 1792, Pond was
asked by the U.S. Secretary of War to help broker a peace between
natives in Niagara and Detroit. That he actually took part in the
ensuing process, however, is unclear.
Peter Pond died in 1807, back home in Milford.