Memorable Manitobans: John Pritchard (1777-1855)
Born in Shropshire, England on 1 January 1777, he came to Montreal in 1800 and, in 1802, joined Forsyth, Richardson and Company, part of the XY Company. He served near Lake Winnipeg until 1805, when he went to the Souris River (and became lost on the prairies, where he wandered for 40 days). He refused to resist the use of force by Miles Macdonell in 1814 and was forced to leave the North West Company service branded as a coward. Later the same year he went to Montreal and joined with Lord Selkirk. In Montreal, he warned Colin Robertson of the dangers to Red River, and with Robertson’s approval he returned to Red River during the winter of 1814-15, overland on snowshoes. He attempted to farm but soon found himself one of the leaders of the loyal colonists who retreated to Jack River House in the summer of 1815. In March 1816 he forcibly entered the North West Company establishment at Pembina with Sheriff Alex McDonell.
Pritchard had at least one son, William Pritchard (1813-1890), with his “country wife”, Marie. On 11 May 1815 he married Catherine MacGillvary McLean, the widow of Hector McLean of Mull (?-1813). Catherine and Hector had come to the Red River Settlement with the First Party of Selkirk Settlers in 1812. They had one daughter Mary (born June 1813) who later married Robert McBeth. John and Catherine Pritchard had ten children: John Pritchard, Catherine Pritchard (mother of Samuel Pritchard Matheson), Anne Pritchard, Archibald Pritchard (father of Edmund Charles Radiger [Radigar] Pritchard), Letitia Pritchard, Samuel Pritchard, Elizabeth Pritchard, Hugh Pritchard, Thomas Mortimer Pritchard, and Richard Pritchard.
He was among Governor Semple’s force at the Seven Oaks battle. Although wounded and captured, he urged Cuthbert Grant to spare the settlers from annihilation, and then returned to persuade the settlers to accede to Grant’s terms of capitulation. He was removed to Fort William, where he was liberated by Lord Selkirk. He subsequently testified in the fur-trade trials in Montreal and York. In 1819 he travelled to London to present a petition to Parliament on behalf of the settlers, which led to James Montgomery’s parliamentary speech that was printed as Substance of the Speech of Sir James Montgomery, Bart., in the House of Commons, on the 24th of June 1819, On Bringing Forward His Motion Relative to the Petition of Mr. John Pritchard, of the Red River Settlement (1819). This speech led Parliament to ask for the Colonial Office papers on the settlement and the fur-trade war, which were subsequently printed. Pritchard was one of those who pleaded for a schoolmaster, and he convinced the HBC to organize the Buffalo Wool Company with himself as general manager. George Simpson saw him as “a wild visionary speculative creature,” and indeed the Buffalo Wool Company soon failed.
On 29 May 1822 he was appointed a Councillor of Assiniboia. Pritchard later taught school at Middlechurch and was part of the tallow company disaster of the 1830s. He was a councillor of Assiniboia until 1848. He was a co-author of Narratives of John Pritchard, Pierre Chrysologue Pambrun, and Frederick Damien Heurter, Respecting the Aggressions of the North-West Company, against the Earl of Selkirk’s Settlement upon Red River (1810), and his letters were collected and edited by George Bryce as Glimpses of the Past in the Red River Settlement from Letters of Mr. John Pritchard, 1805-1836 (1892).
On 19 June 1845 he was appointed to the Committee of Economy, and became its secretary on 28 June 1847. He received from the Hudson’s Bay Company a life annuity of £20 for services rendered to the cause of religion and education. He was a member of the Presbyterian congregation at Frog Plain.
Pritchard died on 14 October 1855 and was buried in the St. John’s Cathedral churchyard.
He is commemorated by Pritchard Avenue and John Pritchard School in Winnipeg.
We thank Sydney MacKenna, a descendant of John Pritchard, for noting his death date as being in 1855, not 1856 as is recorded in several sources. A death notice was published in the 17 January 1856 issue of the London Times newspaper.
Pioneers and Early Citizens of Manitoba, Winnipeg: Manitoba Library Association, 1971.
Dictionary of Manitoba Biography by John M. “Jack” Bumsted, Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 1999.
This page was prepared by Gordon Goldsborough.
Page revised: 27 August 2020