Life And Travels Of John Ledyard
( Originally Published 1851 )
LEDYARD was an American. He was born at Groton, in Connecticut, in 1751. He was first designed for the law, a study which did not suit his romantic turn of mind; secondly, for a missionary among the Indians, which proved as uncongenial to his habits and dispositions. While prosecuting his theological studies at College, to relieve the tedium of the chapel and the lecture-rooms, he introduced the acting of plays, occasionally performing himself in a long gray beard. The missionary scheme was soon abandoned, and he made his escape from college in a canoe which he hollowed from the trunk of a tree; sailing alone, and dressed in a bear-skin, he reached home after performing a voyage of 140 miles on a dangerous river. His next profession was that of a common sailor on board a vessel bound for Gibraltar. Having heard his grandfather speak of some wealthy relation in England, he resolved on a journey to London; and accordingly setting out from New York, he was landed at Plymouth without a shilling or a single acquaintance. In company with an Irishman as thoughtless and poor as himself, and agreeing to take their turns in begging along the road, he reached London, where he discovered the house of his rich relation. His story, however, was dis-credited, and himself treated as an impostor, which roused his indignation to such a pitch that he abruptly left the house, resolved never to return. Upon further inquiry his friend became satisfied of the truth of the connexion, and sent Ledyard a kind invitation, which he haughtily declined. Ile even rejected a sum of money which his relation, on hearing of his distressed situation, had sent; desiring the servant to tell his master that he belonged not to the race of the Ledyards. His next function was that of a corporal of marines, on board the ship of Captain Cook, then preparing for his third and last voyage round the world; in which capacity he made the tour of the globe. Ile was present at Cook's death, and published a short narrative of the voyage. From a marine he was next converted into a fur-merchant, having his head full of romantic projects about a trading voyage to Nootka Sound. His main difficulty was in procuring a ship. He applied to various individuals in New York and Philadelphia, but all he got was a promise. Finding himself disappointed, and cursing the lack of enterprise among his own countrymen, he resolved to try his fortune in Europe. He visited Cadiz, Brest, L'Orient, and Paris, with no better success. At Paris he got acquainted with Paul Jones, an adventurer as enthusiastic as him-self, and with Sir James Hall, who generously gave him fifteen guineas, as he was now reduced to a sort of wandering vagabond, without employment, motive, or means of support. His next plan was a journey, by land, through the northern regions of Europe and Asia, then to cross Behring's Straits to the continent of America. While waiting for the permission of the Empress of Russia, he received an invitation to London from Sir James Hall, who had procured him a free passage in an English ship, bound for the Pacific Ocean, and permission to he put on shore at any spot he chose on the north-west coast. Sit James, moreover, gave him twenty guineas, with which Ledyard " bought two great dogs, an Indian pipe, and a hatchet," the only companions of his journey. The happy moment seemed now arrived when he was to open to his blinded countrymen the path to unbounded wealth but, on reaching Deptford, the vessel was seized by a custom house officer, brought back, and ex-chequered. This was a severe blow, but Ledyard was never without a resource: I shall make the tour of the globe, (says he,) from London east-ward, on foot," A subscription was raised by Sir Joseph Banks, Sir James Hall, and others, by which means he got over to Hamburgh, which he reached, he tells us, " in perfect health, and with ten guineas exactly," with which he had to traverse the vast continents of Europe and Asia. His ten guineas, however, were otherwise disposed of His host, at the tavern where he lodged, having informed him that a Major Langhorn, an American officer, and " a very good kind of man," had left Hamburgh for Copenhagen, " with only one spare shirt, and very few other articles of clothing," Ledyard concluded that the man must necessarily be in distress; and, moreover, that a person in this situation was just suited to be the companion of his travels. The sympathy was irresistible. I shall fly to him, (says he,) and lay my little all at his feet." Accordingly, though it was the dead of winter, and Copenhagen several hundred miles out of his way, he set out on this charitable expedition. After a tedious journey through Sweden and Finland, he reached the Danish capital, and discovered his countryman, the Major, shut up in his room, where he had been some time detained in captivity for want of money and a clean shirt. Ledyard's countenance glowed with joy as he disbursed the remains of his ten guineas into the palm of this needy adventurer. After staying a fort-night, he propounded to his friend the other grand object of' his visit, viz, that the Major should accompany him to St. Petersburgh. The proposition met with an abrupt refusal. " No," was the reply; " I esteem you, but no man on earth shall travel with me the way I do." This dissolved the intended association: and Ledyard, having patted with his friend and his last shilling, set out alone for the Russian capital. The passage by sea being impracticable, he as obliged to perform a journey of twelve hundred miles, round the Gulf of Bothnia, which, in a direct line, did not exceed fift y. We cannot here follow him in his route from St. Petersburgh across the regions of snow and desolation which he traversed on his way to Okotsk. After many hardships and delays, he reached Irkuitsk, where he was apprehended as a French spy, and put under arrest by an order from the Empress. Accompanied by a guard of soldiers, he was conveyed back to the frontiers of Poland, a distance of six thousand versts, in six weeks! " Thank Heaven!" he exclaimed, as he approached the boundaries of civilized Europe, petticoats appear, and the glimmerings of other features." Here the soldiers set him at liberty, giving him to understand that he might go where he pleased, only if he again returned to the dominions of the Em press, he would certainly he hanged. He contrived, by drawing on bis friends, to reach London, where he was introduced to Mr. Beaufoy, Secretary to the African Association. In a short time he set out on a mission of discovery to that ill-fated country; and was among the first that fell a Victim to the cause of African Geography. His plan was to proceed up the Nile as far as Senaar, and from thence to strike across the African continent to the coast of the Atlantic. He died, however, at Cairo, of a billions complaint, about the end of November, 1788, in the thirty-eighth year of his age.