John Ledyard The Traveler
by Dr. Clanance Ashton Wood 1954

     John Ledyard the Traveler, of whom I have previously written, was the son of Captain John Ledyard and Abigail Hempstead Ledyard, of Southold lineage and birth. He was born at their Groton, Ct. home in 1751, the first child after their runaway marriage at Setauket. His mother was the daughter of Squire Robert Hempstead, and his father a son of the one-time mayor of Hartford, Ct.
     After the death at sea of her husband in 1762, Abigail and her four children removed to Southold where she there after lived, first on her father's farm but after her marriage to Dr. Micah Moore, Southold's village physician, at his home which stood half a mile east of the Hempstead homestead.
     Shortly after the death of Dr. Moore, young John went to live with his Grandfather Ledyard at Hartford. Following the latter's death he was taken into the Hartford home of his guardian, Thomas Seymour, a lawyer and a brother-in-law of the elder Ledyard.
     During his stay at Southold John attended school there, later in Hartford and still later he read law in the office of his guardian. In the spring of 1772 he entered Dartmouth College, recently established chiefly as an Indian school, at Hanover, N. H., by the Rev. Eleazer Wheelock. Within a few months, however, he left that institution and journeyed many miles through the wilderness, as far as Canada, living among the Indians and learning their language, manners and customs which infatuated him. Among other things, he learned how to make a dugout from the trunk of a tree using fire and sharp stones.
     Upon returning to college after an absence of several months he and some Indian students built such a dugout fifty feet long and three feet in width. As late as 1836 the stump of the tree from which the crude craft was shaped stood on Dartmouth's campus. After completing the dugout, John again pushed off down the winding river, carrying among other things provisions, a bearskin, a Greek testament and a copy of Ovid's Latin classic.
     Reaching Preston, Ct., John took up residence with his cousin young Dr. Isaac Ledyard and there decided to begin preparing for the ministry. He was encouraged in this by the village pastor, a Rev. Hart, possibly the same Joshua Hart who later preached on Long Island and ran a boys' school at Fort Salonga during the Revolution. On Hart's advice, Ledyard returned to Long Island and at Southold suddenly surprised his mother, brothers and sisters whom he had not seen for several years. Approving of his plans to become a preacher, his mother sent him to her local pastor, the Rev. John Storrs from whom he received a letter of recommendation. (Thirteen years later John was to write from Paris to his mother, who later sponsored Methodism at Southold, severely criticizing her for carrying her religious notions "to the most ridiculous and absurd lengths").
     On this visit to the scenes of his boyhood, John tarried but a day, then crossed Boisseau's ferry from Conklin's Point at Ashamomoque to Shelter Island, traversed that island to the South ferry and thence reached Sag Harbor. At East Hampton, he presented his recommendatiors to Dr. Samuel Buell, moderater of the Long Island Synod, with whom he spent a month in intense study of theology. Dr. Buell it was who advised John to seek a teaching post while continuing his theological preparations.
     Fortified with another "good letter" from the Reverend Doctor, Ledyard rode westward astride his horse Rosinante, stopping at Bridgehampton, Southampton and Fireplace (Southaven), thence to Setauket where his parents had plighted their troth two decades earlier. Later he passed through Smithtown, reached Huntington and there "feasted" for about twelve days in the library of the Rev. Ebenezer Prime who had taken as his second wife Experience Youngs of Southold, a sister of John's Grandmother Hempstead.
     From Huntington Ledyard returned to East Hampton where he again spent a short time with Dr. Buell before returning to his cousin's home at Preston, Ct. Here, having received no encouragement from President Wheelock of Dartmouth or others to whom he wrote, he abandoned all thought of becoming a minister. A few weeks later he signed up at New London, Ct. with a Capt. Deshon and sailed as common seaman on a vessel bound for the Mediterranean.
     At Gibralter he enlisted in a British regiment but was released at the request of Capt. Deshon on whose ship he returned to New London, a year later. Thus at twenty two John Ledyard, who was later to win fame as a traveler, had tried the law and the pulpit without success. Soon bidding farewell to local friends and relatives, he journeyed to New York and from there worked his way to Plymouth, England. Reaching London on foot, he there met Captain James Cook, the navigator who was about to set sail on his third and final voyage of exploration.
     Ledyard signed up as a corporal of marines and sailed July 12, 1776, with Cook who on February 14, 1779 was killed by cannibals in the Sandwich (Hawaiian) Islands. After an absence of four years and three months, the onetime Southold youth reached London October 6, 1780.
     During the next two years Ledyard served in the British navy, never reaching America until the closing months of the Revolution when in December 1782 his ship came to anchor at Huntington which was then held by the British. From there on a seven-day leave he visited Southold and his mother, brothers and sisters whom he had not seen for eight years. This was the last time he ever saw any of them. Nevertheless. He was eulogized at Southold's 200th Anniversary celebration in 1850 as "the fearless and world famed Traveler who almost put a girdle around the earth on foot."
     Deserting the British at Huntington, John Ledyard spent the first four months of 1783 at Thomas Seymour's home in Hartford and there wrote his recollections of Cook's last voyage - the first great travel story by an American to be published is the United States. Its publisher was Nathaniel Patton a Hartford printer who dedicated the book to Governor Jonathan Trumbull, George Washington's "Brother Jonathan" of Revolutionary fame. 
     Ledyard next planned to lead an expedition into America's unexplored Northwest but although Robert Morris, the signer" offered to outfit a ship, none was found available On June 1, 1784, the frustrated adventurer wrote his mother at Southold that he was about to sail for Europe and contemplated a voyage aound the world. Soon thereafter he embarked for Spain, finally reached Paris and there became the friend of Thomas Jefferson, then minister; Lafayette and Commodore John Paul Jones, all of whom offered aid for such a journey.
     After several disappointments, however, Ledyard made his famous journey through northern Europe on foot, eventually reaching St. Petersburg March 20, 1787, then going on to Siberia and Irkutsh where he was suddenly arrested and banished from Empress Catherine's dominiors, possibly on suspicion of being a French spy.
     Ledyard returned to London early in May 1788, a penniless and disappointed man. Two months later, financed by a society interested in learning more than the world yet knew of darkest Africa's interior, he sailed for that continent, reaching Cairo August 19, 1788. There he was successful in joining a caravan about to start for the interior. Before it did so. John wrote what proved to be his final message to his mother at Southold. Widow Abigail Hempstead Ledyard Moore was then sixty years old but she survived her famous son sixteen years.
     Ledvard wrote that he expected to be absent three years and hoped then to see them all again. He reported that he was in "full and perfect health" although he had "trampled the world under his feet. laughed at fear and derided danger". Before the caravan left Cairo, however, John Ledyard was taken ill and died there Januarv 17, 1789 in hs 38th year. He was buried in some unknown spot in the yellow sand where the desert meets the Nile river.
     James Seymour, the Hartford lawyer who had been Ledyard's early guardian, described him as above middle stature, not tall nor corpulent; athletic, firm and robust; with light eyes and hair, equiline nose, broad shoulders and full chest."  "For capacity, endurance, resolution and physical vigor," says the Encyclopedia Brittanica, "he was ore of the most remarkable of travelers."
     For many years there was a penciled likeness of the Southold adventurer on a wall of the old chapel at Dartmouth. A portrait of Ledyard, who has been called "the American Marco Polo', was painted by the celebrated English artist Brenda who had met him in London. The original was last heard of in Sweden. There were some poorly executed  copies of the painting, one of which Ledyard sent to his cousin Dr. Isaac Ledyard, then a resident of Newtown, L. I.,  and another made by Dr. Ledyard to his mother at Southold.
     This Dr. Ledyard planned to publish a life of his cousin.  When the Doctor died in 1803 the task was assumed by Dr. Jared Sparks president of Harvard College from 1819 to 1853. It was first published at Cambridge, Mass., in 1823 and was reprinted during the first half of the 19th century in a number of editions.
     The New York Mirror of October 1, 1836, declared that Ledyard added another to the catalogue of those whose lives have been sacrificed to extend the boundaries of human knowledge, and that no ordinary man would traverse burning deserts, frozen lakes and regions of eternal snows unless animated by some high principles.
     Ledyard's "Eulogy on Women", recorded in his private journal and first published after his death, has been reprinted time and again. of it Griffing's Journal declared that it "has given Ladyard an imperishable name in the estimation of all the sex throughout the civilized world."
     "I have observed among all nations," wrote the one-time Southold schoolboy, "that women, wherever found, are the same kind, civil, obliging, humane, tender beings; that they are ever inclined to be gay and cheerful, timerous and modest. They do not hesitate, like men, to perform a hospitable or generous action; not haughty, nor arrogant, nor supercilious, but full of courtesy and fond of society; industrious, economical, ingenuous; more liable in general to err than man, but in general also more virtuous, and performing more good actions than he.
     "I never addressed myself in the language of decency and friendship to a woman, whether civilized or savage, without receiving a decent and friendly arswer. With man it has often been otherwise. In wandering over the barren plains of inhospitable Denmark, through honest Sweden, frozen Lapland, rude and churlish Finland, unprincipled Russia, and the wide-spread regions of the wandering Tartar, if hungry, dry, cold, wet, or sick, woman has ever been friendly to me, and uniformly so; and to add to this virtue, so worthy of the appellation of benevolence, these actions have been performed in so free and so kind a manner, that, if I was dry, I drank a sweet draught, and, if hungry, ate the coarse morsel, with a double relish."