John Pitman, ca. 1726 - 1768


Occupation

chairmaker

Place of work

Newport, Rhode Island

Biography

John Pitman, son of Benjamin Pitman (1697–1762) and Mary Pitman (ca. 1697–1746), was born in Newport, Rhode Island, in or around 1726.(1) He probably began working as a chairmaker around 1747, when he would have completed his apprenticeship. On May 6, 1750, he married Abigail Nichols (ca. 1727–1780), the daughter of Andrew Nichols and Abigail Plaisted.(2)

John Pitman’s paternal great grandfather, Henry Pitman (ca. 1640–c. 1684), was one of the first settlers of Nassau on the island of New Providence in the Bahamas. His paternal grandfather, John Pitman (1663–1711), who married Mary Saunders (ca. 1666–1711), remained on his father’s land, where he erected a shipyard and built several vessels. The land was officially granted to him by the island’s Lords Proprietors in January of 1699. His father, Benjamin Pitman, was born in New Providence, but his family soon relocated when their house was burned during a 1703 raid by Spanish and French forces. In 1710, they settled in Newport, Rhode Island, after living for a time on Current Island and Thesa Island in the Bahamas.(3)

Several members of the Pitman family were involved in the woodworking trades. John Pitman’s uncle Joseph Pitman (1695–1731) was also a chairmaker. His brother James Pitman (1700–1769) was a Newport joiner, whose sons James (1740–1784) and William (1746–1784) were both Newport shop joiners. John Pitman’s sons were also craftsmen: John Pitman, Jr. (1757–1809), apprenticed as a joiner and is later referred to in land deeds and court records alternately as a carpenter and a housewright, and Benjamin Pitman (1766–1811) was a housewright. There was also a Benjamin Pitman working in Newport as a joiner in 1745, who may have been John Pitman’s father.

Although undoubtedly working earlier, the first known reference to John Pitman as a Newport chairmaker is October 11, 1764, when he was appointed as one of the administrators of the estate of Newport mariner Edward Harris.(4) Then, on March 2, 1767, he was again identified as a chairmaker when appointed an administrator of the estate of Newport widow Ann Morgan.(5) A November 1767 court case reveals that Pitman also worked as a shopkeeper. In the suit brought against him in by North Kingston yeoman Nathaniel Tibbetts for money due by note, he is referred to as a "shopkeeper alias chairmaker."(6) In a May 19, 1768, note signed by Pitman, he promised to pay Tibbets 437.6.0.(7) He made one payment of 107.16.8 on July 7, 1768, and another of 8 on October 8, 1768. When Pitman defaulted on a payment of 30, he was sued by Tibbetts, and ordered by the court to pay the balance of the debt plus court costs.

John Pitman died on December 27, 1768.(8) The will was proved on February 6, 1769, and an inventory valued John Pitman’s personal estate at 487.10.0.(9) Despite the not insubstantial value of John Pitman’s assets, there was not enough money to pay his creditors. In July 1769, Abigail Pitman appeared at a town council meeting to declare her late husband’s estate insolvent.(10)

In November 1769, John Pitman’s son John was sued for defaulting on a debt incurred by his father.(11) John Pitman, Jr., who would have been twelve at the time and was already apprenticing as a joiner, was referred to in the suit as "joyner Son and Heir at Law of John Pitman late of said Newport Chairmaker." It is likely that he apprenticed with one of his cousins, Newport shop joiners James and William Pitman.

JNJ and PEK


1. Charles Myrick Thurston, Descendants of John Pitman: The First of the Name in the Colony of Rhode Island (New York: The Trow & Smith Book Manufacturing Co., 1868), p. 11.

2. Thurston, Descendants of John Pitman, p. 11. Abigail Pitman may have been from Boston, where her parents were married on March 10, 1725. See A Report of the Record Commissioners of the City of Boston Containing the Boston Marriages from 1700 to 1751 (Boston: Municipal Printing Office, 1898), p. 128.

3. Thurston, Descendants of John Pitman, pp. 7–8. After the death of John Pitman (grandfather to the chairmaker) in 1711, the Nassau estate was leased within the family. The lease had apparently expired by 1762, when the family began to collect evidence to support their claim to the property. Disputes arose, however, and they failed to act in time. The Revolution began and the estate was lost under the British statute of limitations. See Thurston, Descendants of John Pitman, p. 9.

4. Newport Probate Administration Bonds, vol. 2, p. 93, microfilm no. 94200, Family History Library, Salt Lake City.

5. Newport Probate Administration Bonds, vol. 2, p. 221, microfilm no. 94200, Family History Library, Salt Lake City

6. Nathaniel Tibbets, North Kingston, yeoman v. John Pitman, Newport, shopkeeper, alias chairmaker, Inferior Court of Common Pleas, Newport County, Record Book, vol. H, p. 211, November 1768 term, case 147, Judicial Archives, Supreme Court Judicial Records Center, Pawtucket, R.I.

7. Note, May 19, 1768, in Tibbetts v. Pitman.

8. Thurston, Descendants of John Pitman, p. 11.

9. Will of John Pitman, Newport, chairmaker, December 26, 1768, Newport Town Council and Probate, microfilm no. 945000, vol. 15, pp. 15–16, Family History Library, Salt Lake City. Although the son of Benjamin Pitman, John Pitman is referred to in his inventory as "John Pitman jun[io]r." In the eighteenth century, "junior" and "senior" were used to distinguish between two men with the same name, either in the same family or town, and did not necessarily indicate a father-son relationship. See George E. McCracken, "Terms of Relationship in Colonial Times" in American Genealogist 55 (1979): 53.

10. Newport Town Council and Probate, microfilm no. 0945000, vol. 16, pp. 65, 80, Family History Library, Salt Lake City.

11. William Crossing, Newport, gentleman v. John Pitman, Newport, joyner, Inferior Court of Common Pleas, Newport County, Record Book, vol. h, p. 435, November 1769 term, case 362, Judicial Archives, Supreme Court Judicial Records Center, Pawtucket, R.I.