PRUDEN, JOHN PETER, HBC chief factor and councillor of Assiniboia; baptized 31 May 1778 in Edmonton, Middlesex, England, son of Peter Pruden and Margaret Smith; m. first, sometime after 1800, Nancy, a half-breed woman, by whom he had six sons and five daughters, and secondly, 4 Dec. 1839, Ann Armstrong; d. 28 May 1868 at Winnipeg (Man.).
John Peter Pruden entered the Hudson’s Bay Company’s service as an apprentice in 1791 and arrived at York Factory on Hudson Bay in September. He was probably brought into the company through the influence of Sir James Winterlake, its deputy governor from 1792 to 1799, who owned land at Edmonton, Middlesex. In 1795 Pruden accompanied James Curtis Bird* to Carlton House, Saskatchewan District, and in May 1796 moved to Edmonton House; both posts had been built in the autumn of 1795. In 1798 he became a writer, moving in 1799 to Buckingham House and returning in 1800 to Edmonton House where Bird was now in charge. Bird then sent him with two others to build a house half-way between the Edmonton and Acton (Rocky Mountain) houses; it was probably the house noted on 7 May 1800 by David Thompson* of the rival North West Company on his way out from Rocky Mountain House.
Pruden seems to have spent the next few years in the Saskatchewan District. He was in charge of Acton House for the winter of 1805–6 and remained there until 1807 when he took over for one year a new settlement near the mouth of the north branch of the Saskatchewan. Between 1809 and 1824 Pruden apparently spent most of his time in charge of Carlton House, located after 1810 at the Crossing Place on the south branch of the Saskatchewan. In the autumn of 1819 Pruden entertained John Franklin* while his expedition was preparing for its journey to explore the north coast of America. On the amalgamation of the North West Company and the HBC in 1821 Pruden was appointed a chief trader. He went on leave because of ill health in 1824 and took three of his sons to England.
Pruden returned the following year to take charge of Norway House. In 1826 he again took over Carlton, where he remained, becoming chief factor in 1836, until he retired in 1837 to the Red River Settlement. There he married Ann Armstrong, the governess of Red River Academy. Letitia Hargrave [Mactavish*] wrote in 1846 that she had heard Pruden was “the best man in the Settlement”; but she had also heard scandalous tales about Ann’s conduct on her voyage out from England in 1835 and of Ann’s intention of returning to England because “her husband being so vulgar, she can’t live at peace with him.” Thomas Simpson of the HBC, on the other hand, described Ann in 1835 as “a pious, unaffected well read lady.”
Pruden was appointed a councillor of Assiniboia in 1839 and became a member of the Board of Public Works in 1844 and its chairman in 1847. In August 1845 he had accompanied Métis hunters from Red River on an expedition into American territory, perhaps in his capacity as councillor of Assiniboia to keep an eye on freelance half-breed traders. Stopped by American cavalry, the Métis were told they could no longer hunt on these lands unless they became American subjects. Already angry with the HBC over its opposition to their rights as free traders and conscious of the possibility of war between Britain and the United States as a result of the Oregon question and other irritants, the Métis were receptive to the American offer of protection if they settled on the United States side of the border at Pembina. On his return Pruden reported to governor Sir John Henry Pelly of the HBC: “If a war ensues there is no doubt what side the half-breeds will take. The Soldiers boasted they were now strong enough to thrash daddy England.” The arrival of 500 British troops in the Red River Settlement in 1846 did much to restrain this unrest.
Pruden lived in retirement until the age of 90. An imposing man, he was apparently of humble origin or at least limited education. His writing skill improved markedly with the passing of time and he seems to have made his way through the company ranks by competent and faithful service. In 1798, when he had been with the company only seven years, he was described as “A steady young man promises fair to make a Valuable Servant. . . .”
HBC Arch. B.20/a/1; B.60/a/1–5. PAM, MG 7, B7, register of baptisms, 1813–28, no.518; register of burials, 1821–75, no.635 (595). Somerset House (London), Probate Department, will of John Peter Pruden, 27 Feb. 1826 (copy at HBC Arch.). Private archives, A. G. Pruden (Winnipeg), Notes on John Peter Pruden. HBRS, I (Rich). Mactavish, Letters of Letitia Hargrave (MacLeod), 218. Thompson, Narrative (Tyrrell). A. S. Morton, History of the Canadian west. E. A. Mitchell, “A Red River gossip,” Beaver, outfit 291 (spring 1961), 9, 11.