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John Ledyard, an American Traveller  (I751—I 789)
Additional Material -Southold's John Ledyard by Dr. Clanance Ashton Wood  NEW: Corrections To this article
                               John Ledyard The Traveler by Dr. Clanance Ashton Wood

    John Ledyard was among the earliest residents of Long Island to live in distant places. His Journal of Cook's Voyage is considered a valuable contribution to the history of exploration. Thomas Jefferson wrote in his autobiography:  "In 1786, while at Paris, I became acquainted with John Ledyard." He described him as "a man of genius, of some science, and of fearless courage and enterprise." These qualities carried Ledyard to Spain and to Russia.
    Thomas Jefferson supported John Ledyard in a dream to be the first recorded person to cross the American continent on foot. His plan was to go through Russia, cross into Alaska and walk to the Mississippi River. He planned to do it almost alone. He took two hunting dogs as companions. It seemed like a wild plan but who knows it might have worked had not Catherine the Great arrested him in Siberia.
    Ledyard's college career was a short and restless one. He chafed at the narrow academic offerings. In the spring of 1773 he chopped down a huge white pine near the banks of the Connecticut River and hacked out a 50-foot long, 3-feet wide dugout canoe - having learned this skill while living with the Iroquois. One of his Dartmouth Indian classmates carved him a paddle and with it he shoved off down the river carrying with him only two books for casual reading: the Greek Testament, and Ovid. Shortly after he left he wrote a letter to Wheelock in which he said, "Farewell, dear Dartmouth, may you flourish like the greenbay tree."  In all he had spent less than one year at Dartmouth.
   No matter what else is said it can be said with some certainty that this early Long Island resident, John Ledyard, travelled farther on land and sea around the globe than any other human being of the 18th century. At Gibralter he enlisted then deserted from the British Navy; served in the British Army and later as a British Marine. He sailed to the Barbary Coast, to the West Indies, and reported for duty with the famous scientist and explorer Captain Cook in Plymouth, England. With Cook he saw the Canary Islands, Cape Verde Island, the Cape of Good Hope, Tasmania, New Zealand, Tahiti, and what was later to become California and Oregon, Nootka Sound, the Bering Sea, Unalaska Island, the eastern coast of Siberia, China, and Java, all the while absorbing as much as he could of the native cultures. On land he walked through some of Scandinavia and almost two-thirds of the way across the vast Russian land mass before being arrested, returned under guard, and evicted to Poland. Quite a walk from Southold, Long Island!!

Ledyard Genealogy

Time-Line of the Life of John Ledyard

  John was born in Groton, Connecticut. After vainly trying law and theology, Ledyard adopted a seaman’s life, and, coming to London, was engaged as corporal of marines by Captain Cook for his third voyage (1776). On his return (1778) Ledyard had to give up to the Admiralty his copious journals, but afterwards published, from memory, a meagre narrative of his experiences— herein giving the only account of Cook’s death by an eye-witness (Hartford, U.S.A., 1783). He continued in the British service till 1782, when he escaped, off Long Island. In 1784 he revisited Europe, to organize an expedition to the American North-West. Having failed in his attempts, he decided to reach his goal by travelling across Europe and Asia. Baffled in his hopes of crossing the Baltic on the ice (Stockholm to Abo), he walked right round from Stockholm to St Petersburg, where he arrived barefoot and penniless (March 1787). Here he made friends with Pailas and others, and accompanied Dr Brown, a Scotch physician in the Russian service, to Siberia. Ledyard left Dr Brown at Barnaul, went on to Tomsk and Irkutsk, visited Lake Baikal, and descended the Lena to Yakutsk (18th of September 1787). With Captain Joseph Billings, whom he had known on Cook’s Resolution,” he returned to Irkutsk, where he was arrested, deported to the Polish frontier, and banished from Russia for ever. Reaching London, he was engaged by Sir Joseph Banks and the African Association to explore overland routes from Alexandria to the Niger, but in Cairo he died on January 10, 1789, at the age of thirty-eight years, at Cairo, Egyp of an overdose of vitriolic acid.  His body was buried beneath a simple marker.
1751 Born in Groton, Connecticut
1772 Enters Dartmouth College intending to train to be a missionary to Native Americans
April 1773 Quits Dartmouth, escapes down the Connecticut River by canoe
Late 1773 Employed as a sailor on the ship of Captain Richard Deshon, visits Barbary Coast and West Indies
Mid-1776 Enlists as corporal in the British Navy
1776-1780 Takes part in Captain Cook's third voyage to the Pacific--visits South Pacific islands, Alaska, Kamchatka, and south China 
October 1778 Meets Russian fur traders at Unalaska Island in first contact between Russians and Americans in the Pacific
February 1779 Captain Cook killed by Hawaiians
November 1785 Begins to plan a voyage across Russia, through Siberia, to Alaska, and across North America to Virginia
February 1786 Thomas Jefferson, U.S. minister to France, begins negotiating with Russian government concerning Ledyard's trip 
Winter 1786-1787 Ledyard walks from Stockholm, Sweden, around the Gulf of Bothnia to St. Petersburg--arrives in St. Petersburg in March
June 1787 Departs St. Petersburg for Siberia
September 1787 Arrives in Iakutsk, having hiked, hitched rides, and canoed across Siberia
January 1788 Arrested as a French spy in Irkutsk 
March 1788 Deported across the Russian border to Poland
1788 Speculates on the relationship between Asian and American aborigines 
June 1788 Leaves London to explore the Niger River in Africa
January 1789 Dies in Cairo, Egypt, at the age of thirty-seven