Ledyard, John

, a native of America, of a very enterprising turn, was born at Groton in Connecticut. | Having lost his father in his infancy, he was taken undef the care of a relation, who sent him to a grammar-school, and he studied for some time at Dartmouth college, in New Hampshire. Here it appears to have been his intention to apply to theological studies, l>ut the friend who sent him to college being dead, he was obliged to quit it, and by means of a canoe of Ins own const ruction, he found his way to Hartford, and thence to New York, where he went on board ship as a common sailor, and in this capacity arrived at London in 1771. When at college, there were several young Indians there for their education, with whom he used to associate, and learned their manners and hearing of capt. Cook’s intentions to sail on his third voyage, Ledyard engaged himself with him in the situation of a corporal of marines and on his return from that memorable voyage, during which his curiosity was rather excited than gratified, feeling an anxious desire of penetrating from the north-western coast of America, which Cook had partly explored, to the eastern coast, with which he himself was perfectly familiar, he determined to traverse the vast continent from the Pacific to the Atlantic ocean. His first plan for the purpose was that of embarking in a vessel, which was then preparing to sail, on a voyage of commercial adventure, to Nootka sound, on the western coast of America; and with this view he expended in sea-stores the greatest part of the money with which he had been supplied by the liberality of sirJoseph Banks, who has eminently distinguished himself in this way on other occasions for the promotion of every kind of useful science. But this scheme was frustrated by the rapacity of a customhouse officer; and therefore Mr. Ledyard determined to travel over land to Kamtschatka, from whence the passage is extremely short to the opposite coast of America. Accordingly, with no more than ten guineas in his purse, which was all that he had left, he crossed the British channel to Ostend, towards the close of 1786, and by the way of Denmark and the Sound, proceeded to the capital of Sweden. As it was winter, he attempted to traverse the gulf of Bothnia on the ice, in order to reach Kamtschatka by the shortest course; but finding, when he came to the middle of the sea, that the water was not frozen, he returned to Stockholm, and taking his course northward, walked to the Arctic circle, and passing round the head of the gulf, descended on its eastern side to Petersburg, | where he arrived in the beginning of March 1787. Here fae was noticed as a person of an extraordinary character; and though he had neither stockings nor shoes, nor means to provide himself with any, he received and accepted an, invitation to dine with the Portuguese ambassador. From him he obtained twenty guineas for a bill, which he took the liberty, without being previously authorized, to draw on sir Joseph Banks, concluding, from his well-known disposition, that he would not be unwilling to pay it. By the interest of the ambassador, as we may conceive to have been probably the case, he obtained permission to accompany a detachment of stores, winch the empress had ordered to be sent to Yakutz, for the use of Mr. Billings, an Englishman, at that time in her service. Thus accommodated, he left Petersburg on the 2 1st of May, and travelling eastward through Siberia, reached Irkutsk in August; and from thence he proceeded to Yakutz, where he was kindly received by Mr. Billings, whom he recollected on board captain Cook’s ship, in the situation of the astronomer’s servant, but who was now entrusted by the empress in accomplishing her schemes of discovery. He returned to Irkutsk, where he spent part of the winter; and in the spring proceeded to Oczakow, on the coast of the Kamtschatkan sea, intending, in the spring, to have passed over to that peninsula, and to have embarked on the eastern side in one of the Russian vessels that trade to the western shores of America; but, finding that the navigation was completely obstructed, he returned to Yakutz, in order to wait for the termination of the winter. But whilst he was amusing himself with these prospects, an express arrived, in January 1788, from the empress, and he was seized, for reasons that have not been explained, by two Russian soldiers, who conveyed him in a sledge through the deserts of Northern Tartary to Moscow, without his clothes, money, and papers. From Moscow he was removed to the city of Moialoff, in White Russia, and from thence to the town of Tolochin, on the frontiers of the Polish dominions. As his conductors parted with him, they informed him, that if he returned to Russia he would be hanged, but that if he chose to go back to England, they wished him a pleasant journey. Distressed by poverty, covered with rags, infested with the usual accompaniments of such clothing, harassed with continual hardships, exhausted by disease, without friends, without credit, | unknown, and reduced to the most wretched state, he found his way to Konigsberg. In this hour of deep distress, he resolved once more to have recourse to his former benefactor, and fortunately found a person who was willing to take his draft for five guineas on the president of the royal society. With this assistance he arrived in England, and immediately waited on sir Joseph Banks. Sir Joseph, knowing his disposition, and conceiving, as we may well imagine, that he would be gratified by the information, told him, that he could recommend him, as he believed, to an adventure almost as perilous as that from which he had just returned; and then communicated to him the wishes of the Association for discovering the Inland Countries of Africa. Mr. Ledyard replied, that he had always determined to traverse the continent of Africa, as soon as he had explored the interior of North America, and with a letter of introduction by sir Joseph Banks, he waited on Henry Beaufoy, esq. an active member of the fore-mentioned association. Mr. Beaufoy spread before him a map of Africa, and tracing a line from Cairo to Sennar, and from thence westward in the latitude and supposed direction of the Niger, informed him that this was the route by which he was anxious that Africa might, if possible, be explored. Mr. Ledyard expressed great pleasure in the hope of being employed in this adventure. Being asked when he would set out? “To-morrow morning” was his answer. The committee of the society assigned to him, at his own desire, as an enterprise of obvious peril and of difficult success, the task of traversing from east to west, in the latitude attributed to the Niger, the widest part of the continent of Africa. On the 30th of June 1788, Mr. Ledyard left London; and after a journey of thirty-six days, seven of which were consumed at Paris, and two at Marseilles, he arrived in the city of Alexandria. On die 14th of August, at midnight, he left Alexandria, and sailing up the Nile, arrived at Cairo on the 19th. From Cairo he communicated to the committee of the society all the information which he was able to collect during his stay there: and they were thus sufficiently apprized of the ardent spirit of inquiry, the unwearied attention, the persevering research, and the laborious, indefatigable, anxious zeal, with which he pursued the object of his mission. The next dispatch which they were led to expect, was to be dated at Sennar; the terms of his passage had been | settied, and the day of his departure was appointed. The committee, however, after having expected with impatience the description of his journey, received with great concern and grievous disappointment, by letters from Egypt, the melancholy tidings of his death. By a bilious complaint, occasioned probably by vexatious delay at Cairo, and by too free an use of the acid of vitriol and tartar emetic, the termination of his life was hastened. He was decently interred in the neighbourhood of such of the English as had ended their days in the capital of Egypt,

Mr. Ledyard, as to his person, scarcely exceeded the middle size, but he manifested very remarkable activity and strength: and as to his manners, though they were unpolished, they were neither uncivil nor unpleasing. “Little attentive to difference of rank,” says his biographer, “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 controul, yet capable of strong endurance; adventurous beyond the conception of ordinary men, yet wary and considerate, and attentive to all precautions, he appeared to be formed by nature for achievements of hardihood and peril.1


Proceedings of the Association for promoting the discovery of the interior parts of Africa, 1790.