John Ledyard, an American traveller, born in Groton, Conn., in 1751, died in Cairo, Egypt, Jan. 17,1789. He lost his father in early childhood, and after an ineffectual attempt to pursue the study of the law, at his mother's request he entered Dartmouth college in 1772, with a view of fitting himself for missionary duty among the Indians. The restraints of this mode of life proving irksome, he absented himself at one time from college for several months, during which he visited the Indians of the Six Nations; and finally, abandoning the idea of becoming a missionary, he embarked on the Connecticut river in a canoe and floated down to Hartford. After a brief experience as a theological student, he shipped at New London as a common sailor in a vessel bound for the Mediterranean, and at Gibraltar enlisted in a British regiment, but was discharged at the request of his captain. Returning to New London at the end of a year, he embarked soon after at New York for England, and arrived in London just as Capt. Cook was about to sail on his third and last voyage around the world. Having procured an introduction to Cook, he was engaged for the expedition and made corporal of marines.
Of this voyage he kept a private journal, which in accordance with a general order of the government was taken from him on the return of the expedition to England. Subsequently he wrote out from recollection, assisted by a brief sketch issued under the sanction of the admiralty, an account of the expedition, which was published in Hartford in 1783. During the two years succeeding his return to England he remained in the British naval service, but steadily refused to take arms against his native country.
In December, 1782, being in a British man-of-war off Long Island, he found means to escape, and revisited his friends after an absence of eight years. Having spent many months in fruitless endeavors to fit out an expedition to the N. W. coast, which he was the first of his countrymen to propose, he embarked for Europe in June, 1784, in the hope of finding there the means of carrying his project into effect. He spent a long time in negotiations at Lorient and Paris, at each of which strong hopes were held out to him; but being finally disappointed, he determined to carry out his original design by a journey through northern Europe and Asia, and across Behring strait to the western hemisphere. After further delays and disappointments, he was supplied with a small sum of money by Sir Joseph Banks and others, and departed on his long overland journey in the latter part of 1786. Arriving at Stockholm, he attempted to cross the gulf of Bothnia on the ice to Abo in Finland, but was met by open water in the middle. He immediately altered his course, and in the dead of winter walked around the whole coast of the gulf, arriving in St. Petersburg in the latter part of March without money, shoes, or stockings. This journey of upward of 1,400 m. was accomplished in less than seven weeks.
After a delay of several weeks he procured his passport from the empress, and received permission to accompany Dr. Brown, a Scotchman in the Russian service, as far as Barnaul in southern Siberia, a distance of about 3,000 m. Here he parted with his companion, and proceeded to Irkutsk, whence he sailed in a small boat 1,400 m. down the river Lena to Yakutsk. Permission to proceed to Okhotsk being refused, on the ground that the season was too far advanced, it being then the latter part of September, he accompanied a Capt. Billings, in the Russian service, back to Irkutsk, where on Feb. 24, 1788, he was arrested by order of the empress. Accompanied by two guards, he was conducted with all speed to the frontiers of Poland, and there dismissed, with an intimation that he would be hanged if he reentered Russia. The reason for this summary expulsion of Ledyard from the Russian dominions has never been satisfactorily explained. He found his way back to London in the spring, to use his own words, "disappointed, ragged, and penniless, but with a whole heart," and was cordially received by Sir Joseph Banks and others who had befriended him.
Undaunted by previous adversities, he eagerly accepted an offer made to him by the association for promoting the discovery of the inland parts of Africa, to undertake an expedition into the interior of that continent; and when asked how soon he would be ready to set out, replied, " To-morrow morning." He departed from England in the latter part of June, intending to cross the African continent in a westerly direction from Sennaar, and had proceeded as far as Cairo when he was attacked by a bilious disorder which put an end to his life. His death was considered a great loss to the society under whose auspices he had embarked, and who from the tenor of his first despatches from Egypt, and from his previous labors, had been impressed with his fitness for the part of a geographical pioneer. For capacity of endurance, resolution, and physical vigor, he was one of the most remarkable of modern travellers; and had he possessed means equal to his zeal, his name would doubtless have been associated with important discoveries, as it now is with wonderful and romantic but unprofitable adventures.