Ledyard, John (DNB00)
LEDYARD, JOHN (1761–1788), traveller, was born at Groton in Connecticut, U.S.A., in 1761. His father, master of a merchantman in the West India trade, died young, leaving a widow, with four children poorly provided for. She found a home with her father in Long Island, but soon married again, and John, the eldest boy, was brought up at Hartford by his paternal grandfather, was educated at first with a view to following the legal profession ; afterwards, in 1772, he spent a year at a college at Dartmouth in Massachusetts, training as a missionary to the Indians ; next he was for some time a divinity student, and early in 1733 entered as a sailor on board a ship bound from New London to Gibraltar. At Gibraltar he enlisted in a line regiment, but on his captain's representations he was allowed to return to his ship, in which he went to the West Indies and thence back to New London. He was at this time more than twenty-two, with no means of livelihood and no inclination to earn one. He determined to travel, and to that end made his way to New York, worked his passage to Plymouth in England, and tramped to London, where he arrived destitute. He had some wealthy relations, collaterally descended, it would appear, from his great-grandfather, but when he called on them he was disgusted to be met with a request for some proof of his story. He therefore enlisted in the marines, was made a corporal, apparently by Captain Cook's interest, and embarked on board the Resolution, which sailed from Plymouth in July 1776 [see Cook, James].
During the voyage Ledyard kept a journal, which, on the return of the ships to England, was, with all other journals, lodged with the admiralty, to prevent the official history of the expedition being forestalled. For two years longer Ledyard continued serving as a marine, but in 1782, being embarked on board a ship sent out to North America, he took an opportunity of deserting and returned to his family at Hartford. He was pressed to publish his journal of Cook's voyage, and as it was still at the admiralty, he wrote an account from memory, filling it in with help from a short sketch that had been published in England. His book was issued in Hartford as 'A Journal of Captain Cook's last Voyage to the Pacific Ocean,' 8vo, 1783, and though it cannot rank with accounts transcribed from strictly contemporary journals, it is of value as the story of events from the point of view of a corporal of marines, and supplies the only account of Cook's death by an eye-witness.
After this Ledyard made a vain endeavour to obtain the support of some capitalist in opening up the trade to the north-west coast of America. He imagined that the furs would find a ready and extremely profitable market at Canton. Makinghis way to Cadiz and thence to L'Orient and Paris, he appealed to the French government to support his project, and at one time had agreed on a scheme of co-operation with Paul Jones [see Jones, John Paul], who was then in France. His plan included a pedestrian expedition with a couple of dogs, from Nootka Sound, across North America, to Virginia. When the negotiations with Jones broke down, he went to London, resolved to travel on foot to the East of Asia as a preliminary to his walk through America. He was penniless, but, with some few pounds advanced him by Sir Joseph Banks [q. v.], he landed at Hamburg, went on to Copenhagen, and thence to Stockholm in December 1786. Unable to cross the Gulf of Bothnia owing to the mildness of the season, Ledyard walked round the head of the gulf, a distance of about fifteen hundred miles. It was in the depth of winter. He had no companion and made no special provision either for lodging or feeding. He arrived at St. Petersburg in about seven weeks, January-March 1787, having travelled at an average rate of thirty miles a day. He does not seem to have communicated any account of the journey, but he was not known to have had any conveyance, and he certainly had not the money to hire one.
After waiting some time at St. Petersburg for a passport, a government official drove him as far as Barnaoul, and thence he made his way, principally — if not entirely — on foot, to Yakutsk. At Yakutsk he was detained by the governor, who insisted that the season was too advanced for him to travel; this was probably a mere pretext at the instigation, it has been supposed, of the Russian American Company, who were jealous of an outsider visiting their trading stations. While waiting at Yakutsk he met Joseph Billings [q. v.], whom he had formerly known on board the Resolution, and returned with him to Irkutsk. Here he was arrested by an order newly come from St. Petersburg, was hastily carried back to Moscow, was subjected to some sort of examination — of which we have no account — and, in a very summary manner, was passed over the frontier through Poland. He drew on Banks for a small sum, succeeded in getting the bill cashed, and so returned to London, deeply disappointed at the frustration of his voyage when success was so near. Banks received him with great kindness and introduced him to Henry Beaufoy [q. v.], who proposed that he should undertake a journey of exploration in Africa, on behalf of the African Association, the scheme being, in general terms, that he should land at Alexandria and make his way as he best could to the mouth of the Niger. This he readily undertook, but at Cairo, being indisposed, he took a dose of 'vitriol,' which killed instead of curing. He died in the end of November 1788.
[Memoirs of the Life and Travels of J. Ledyard, by Jared Sparks.]