- Written by William McDonald
Explorer who always found way back to Milford
No matter how far a field Peter Pond traveled during his eventful lifetime, he always found his hometown of Milford as a place to which he could return.
Enlisting against his parents’ wishes at age 16 in 1756 to fight in the French and Indian War, he took part in four different campaigns. At the end of each he would return home as the oldest in a shoemaker’s family of eight children.
Since Milford was and is a seaport town, Pond took a trading voyage to the West Indies in 1761 at age 21. That was the same year his mother died, and he found himself as head of the large family while his father apparently dropped shoemaking and went off trading furs in the Detroit area.
In 1762, he married Susanna Newell and soon had two children, Peter Jr. and Elizabeth. He stayed in Milford three years, a period that turned out to be, as stated in his colorful phonetically spelled memoirs “the ondlay three years of my life I was three years in one plase since I was sixteen years old up to sixtey.” He followed his father into the fur trade, a profession he kept for the rest of his life until retiring to Milford in 1790.
Pond first started trading along the Mississippi River valley and found he was good at it. He had an affinity for dealing with the Indians with whom he traded their furs for his trinkets and tools, and a love of living outdoors, even through harsh winters. In 1775, he headed for Canada where the colder winters made for thicker furs. In 1778, Pond was chosen among a group of traders who had wintered along the Saskatchewan River to gather all their trade goods and push out of the Hudson’s Bay watershed where the rivers flowed east, into the Athabasca River watershed where the rivers flowed north and west, and where no white man had ever been.
With four birch bark canoes and 16 men, Pond’s brigade crossed the torturous 12-mile Methye Portage that connected the two watersheds carrying packs and boats on their backs. In establishing his first trading post on the Athabasca River just south of the huge Lake Athabasca, he was the first white man to settle so far west at the time, about 400 miles due north of present-day Montana. This venture produced the thickest and richest fur pelts anyone had ever seen. Indians were eager to trade, happy that the white men had come to them. Before this, Indians traveled great distances east to trade with the white man along the Saskatchewan River and as far as Hudson Bay.
Pond brought back to Montreal as many furs as his four canoes could carry, which was only half the amount gathered, the rest left behind in an Indian lodge to be retrieved the following season. He gathered a group of Montreal businessmen who saw an opportunity to cash in on these rich furs, including the highly sought beaver pelts that went into making the popular beaver hats of the time. This was the start of the North West Company that was soon to become a stern competitor with the venerable Hudson’s Bay Company that had been trading in the Hudson Bay watershed since 1670.
But Pond, a man of short temper, felt slighted after being offered only one share as the company expanded around 1785. He left Canada for Milford to ponder his next move. There is no record of how he was received by his wife and children after being away for so long.
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