Francis Pfister


German-born Francis Pfister (about 1740-77) briefly lived and was held in Albany during the last decade of his short life. This sketch focuses on his actual time in Albany and leaves the military and settler parts of his life and career to others.

Said to have been trained as an engineer, he supposedly came to America with the British 60th Regiment during the Seven Years War. Serving primarily as a military engineer and cartographer, he soon found opportunities for personal advancement as well.

In April 1762, he was at Fort Stanwix and began informing his American patron, Sir William Johnson, on a number of business and military topics. By 1764, he was on duty at Fort Niagara. He also acted as a conduit for Richard Cartwright and other Albany-based traders. In March 1767, he was present at a meeting with the Six Nations at Johnson Hall. Also in that year, he was among those who founded the second Masonic lodge in Albany. Those brothers including his future father-in-law would be his New York support group for the rest of his life.

Beginning in 1766, he petitioned for substantial tracts of unimproved acreage in the Mohawk Valley, in what became Vermont, and in the area of Hoosick where he would ultimately settle.

About 1770, he married Anne Macomb, daughter of a Scots Irish trader living in Albany. The marriage probably produced a number of children whose christenings have thus far evaded our sweep of regional religious resources.

In March 1772, he became a naturalized subject of Great Britain. At that time, the Albany newspaper noted that he was a tenant in an Albany house located between that of Lydius and Ten Eyck. Shortly thereafter, he retired from the army and relocated his family to land he had acquired at Hoosick.

At the outbreak of hostilities, this "half pay British officer" came under the scrutiny of the eastern Albany revolutionaries. He was thought to have been raising a "Tory militia in the area." He is said to have had some persuasive influence on the German speaking settlers in the region. By mid-1776, he had been apprehended and was required to guarantee his "good behavior" by posting a bond. Over the next year, his exploits have been the subject of a number of speculative accounts.

In 1777, Pfister appears to have joined the British expedition from Canada as it moved south though the region. In August 1777, Francis Pfister was killed at the so-called battle of Bennington. His widow and father-in-law made their way to Detroit where she remarried and may have lived until 1820.

biography in-progress


the people of colonial Albany Sources: The life of Francis Pfister is CAP biography number 1467. This sketch is derived chiefly from family and community-based resources.

Probably because of it recent publication (2012) and biographical approach, we recommend The Battle of Bennington: Soldiers & Civilians by Michael P. Gabriel. See also, "FRANCIS PFISTER AND JOHN MACOMB OF HOOSICK," an online essay by Corinne Eldred. See also, compiled references in No Turning Point, by Theodore Corbett. Perhaps the most biographical detail is found in a newsletter of the royalyorkers" which requires a concerted document search!

His is acknowledged as the author of a "Map of the Province of New York, part of New England with a Part of New France" made in 1758 and in the online collection of the New York State Library. Among the imperfectly verified references to his mapwork, is an entry regarding his "colored plan of the city of Albany on Hudson's river" dated 1760 and said to have been in the Library of Congress.

NOTES from traditional sources: Online = Pfister arrived at Fort Niagara in the Spring of 1764 where he served as Assistant Engineer to Capt. John Montresor during the period when the Niagara portage was a key link in the movement of British troops and supplies west to Detroit and the campaign against the northwest Indians. At this time he may have designed, and certainly later maintained and ran, the remarkable wooden "railway" commonly called "Montresor's railway", that facilitated the movement of batteaux and cargo around the great falls. [(ref: G.D Scull ed.), "The Montresor Journals," New York Historical Society, "Collections", 1881, Journal 1764, to Niagara. Capt. John Montresor, pp154-264, 270-272.]

Pfister remained at Fort Niagara as Garrison Engineer until 1774; two excellent plans of the fort drawn in this period, reveal him to be a talented draftsman. He was even more talented, however in the acquisition of wealth. Going on half pay in 1764, he formed a partnership with John STEDMAN and thus was in a position, when the British army put its Niagara portage operation out to contract, to obtain the contract for himself and STEDMAN. He obtained major contracts for the repair of Fort Niagara. He built and operated a sawmill, the first to operated above the great falls and his house there served as an inn for the first early sightseers at the falls (may have been the WILSON's Tavern on Table Rock, destroyed by the retreating US army in 1814). He owned considerable property in the Hoosic Patent including another sawmill operated by his father-in-law (John MACOMB). Pfister's activities at Niagara may be traced in numerous references in the Papers of Sir Frederick Haldimand, 1758-1784, British Library.

first posted 7/20/14