John Ledyard

JOHN LEDYARD was born about 1750, at Groton, Mass., and after having received a good education, and passed some time among the Indians of America, for the purpose of studying their manners, went to Europe about the year 1776, and made the tour of the world with Captain Cook, as corporal of a troop of marines. On his return to England in 1780, he formed the design of penetrating from the north-western to the eastern coast of America and, after some conversation on the subject with Sir Joseph Banks, who furnished him with some money, which he expended in sea stores, with the intention of sailing to Nootka Sound, he altered his mind, and determined on traveling overland to Kamschatka, from whence the passage is very short to the opposite shore of America. Accordingly, towards the close of the year 1786, he started with only ten guineas in his pocket, and on his arrival at Stockholm, he attempted to traverse the gulf of Bothnia on the ice, but finding the water unfrozen, when he came to the middle, he returned to Stockholm, and proceeding northward, walked to the arctic circle, and passing round the head of the gulf, descended on its eastern side to St. Petersburgh, where he arrived in March, 1787, without shoes and stockings, which he was unable to purchase. In this state, however, he was treated with great attention by the Portuguese ambassador, who often invited him to dinner, and procured him an advance of twenty guineas on a bill drawn on Sir Joseph Banks, and finally obtained him permission to accompany a convoy of provisions to Yakutz, where he was recognized and kindly received by Captain Billings, whom he had known in Cook's vessel, and with whom he returned to Irkutsk.

From hence he proceeded to Ocsakow, on the coast of the Kamschatkan Sea, whence, in the spring, he intended to have passed over to that peninsula, and to have embarked on the eastern side, in one of the Russian vessels trading to America but finding the navigation obstructed he returned to Yakutz, to await the termination of the winter. His intentions, however, were suddenly frustrated by the arrival of an order from the empress for his arrest, which took place in January, 1788, without any reason being assigned for such a proceeding. He was deprived of his papers, placed in a sledge, and under the guard of two cossacks, conducted through the desert of Siberia and Tartary, to the frontiers of Poland, where he was left, covered with rags and vermin, and prohibited from returning to Russia on pain of death. In this situation he set out for Koenigsberg, on arriving at which town, he obtained five guineas, by drawing a bill in the same manner as before, with which sum he proceeded to England. On his arrival, he called on Sir Joseph Banks, who proposed to him to under take a voyage to Africa, to discover the source of the river Niger, at the expense of the society for making discoveries in that part of the world; an offer he accepted with avidity, and being asked when he would be ready to set out, he exclaimed, To-morrow morning!' On the 30th of June, 1788, he embarked for Calais, passed through France to Marseilles, reached Alexandria on the 5th of August, and on the 19th arrived at Cairo, where he had almost completed the preparations for his departure to Senar, when he was seized with a billions fever, and died in the latter end of the following October.

Mr. Ledyard was a man of extraordinary vigor both of mind and body, and no record exists of a more bold and perserving adventurer. In person he was of the middle stature, strong and active; and in manners, though unpolished, pleasing and urbane. ' Little attentive,' says his biographer, 'to deference of rank, he seemed to consider all men as his equals, and as such he respected them. His genius, though uncultivated and irregular, was original and comprehensive. Ardent in his wishes, yet calm in his deliberations; daring in his purposes, but guarded in his measures; impatient of control, yet capable of strong endurance; adventurous beyond the conception of ordinary men, yet wary and considerate, and attentive to all precautions; he seemed to be formed by nature for achievements of hardihood and peril.' He appears to have undergone much sufferings during his Siberian tour, and, like Mr. Park, more than once owed his life to the kindness of women. In wandering,' he says, in his journal, orve the plains of inhospitable Denmark, through honest Sweden, and frozen Lapland, rude and churlish Finland, unprincipled Russia, and the wide-spread regions of the wandering Tartar; if hungry, dry, cold, wet, or sick, the women have ever been friendly to me, and uniformly so; and to add to this virtue, these actions have been performed in so free and kind a manner, that if I was dry, I drank the sweetest draught; and if hungry, I ate the coarsest morsel with a double relish.'

He left some manuscripts behind, which were printed in London a few years after his death, in a work called Memoirs of the Society instituted for encouraging Discoveries in the Interior of Africa. A work, entitled Voyages de M M. Ledyard et Lucas, en Afrique, suivis d'extraits d'autres voyages, was also printed at Paris in 1804. Mr. Ledyard, in his journal, evinces great powers of observation, and a sound judgment and understanding. Some idea of his sufferings may be formed, in reading the following extract: I have known,' he writes, both hunger and nakedness to the utmost extremity of human suffering. I have known what it is to have food given me as charity to a madman; and I have at times been obliged to shelter myself under the miseries of that character, to avoid a heavier calamity. My distresses have been greater than I have ever owned, or ever will own, to any man. Such evils are terrible to bear but they never yet had power to turn me from my purpose. If I live, I will faithfully perform, in its utmost extent, my engagements to the Society; and if I perish in the attempt, my honor will still be safe, for death cancels all bonds.