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Art. V.—The Life of John Ledyard, the American Travel
ler; comprising Selections from his Journals and Correspondence. By JARED SPARKS. Cambridge. Hilliard & Brown. Svo. pp. 325. The name of Ledyard has long been associated with recollections of enterprise, decision of character, and an adventurous spirit, doomed to struggle with reverses of fortune through life, and to meet at length an untimely end. age with Cook, his travels in northern Europe and Siberia, his testimony to female excellence, and his readiness to encounter new dangers and sufferings in exploring the interior of Africa, these prominent traits in the history of his career were familiar to all. But the numerous details contained in the interesting publication before us were necessary to fill up the picture of energy and hardihood, and unfold the peculiar springs by which the movements of this extraordinary individual were actuated. Doubtless many of our readers have made themselves personally acquainted with the merits of Mr Sparks's work; and for the benefit of such as have not, we abstract from it a brief account of Ledyard's romantic life.
John Ledyard was born in 1751, of respectable parents residing at Groton in Connecticut. His father died in early life, leaving his family in destitute circumstances, and thus rendering the subject of our narrative dependent upon the kindness of his relations for education and support. He was at first designed for the profession of the law, which he studied for a time at Hartford. This pursuit being found uncongenial to his temper, he relinquished it at the age of nineteen, and and entered Dartmouth College in 1772, with the apparent intention of qualifying himself to become a missionary among the Indians. Of his conduct and history at college, all that is known is marked by extreme eccentricity of character, manifesting that unsettled, rambling disposition, which afterwards displayed itself in the distant expeditions of the daring traveller. Before he had been quite four months in college, he suddenly disappeared, and was absent several months, wandering among the Indians of the Six Nations, and as far as the borders of Canada. Soon after this he abandoned his missionary schemes, and began to grow weary of college, which he finally left, in a manner so whimsical and eccentri and at the same time so characteristic, that we copy our author's account of it. On the margin of the Connecticut river, which runs near the college, stood many majestic forest trees, nourished by a rich soil. One of these Ledyard contrived to cut down. He then set himself at work to fashion its trunk into à canoe, and in this labor he was assisted by some of his fellow students. As the canoe was fifty feet long and three wide, and was to be dug out and constructed by these unskilful workmen, the task was not a trifling one, nor such as could be speedily executed. Operations were carried on with spirit, however, till Ledyard wounded himself with an axe, and was disabled for several days. When recovered he applied himself anew to his work; the canoe was finished, launched into the stream, and by the further aid of his companions, equipped and prepared for a voyage. His wishes were now at their consummation, and, bidding adieu to these haunts of the muses, where he had gained a dubious fame, he set off alone with a light heart to explore a river, with the navigation of which he had not the slightest acquaintance. The distance to Hartford was not less than one hundred and forty miles, much of the way was through a wilderness, and in several places there were dangerous falls and rapids.
• With a bearskin for a covering, and his canoe well stocked with provisions, he yielded himself to the current, and floated leisurely down the stream, seldom using his paddle, and stopping only in the night for sleep. He told Mr Jefferson in Paris, fourteen years afterwards, that he took only two books with him, a Greek Testament, and Ovid, one of which he was deeply engaged in reading when his canoe approached Bellows's Falls, where he was suddenly roused by the noise of the waters rushing among the rocks through the narrow passage. The danger was imminent, as no boat could go down that fall without being instantly dashed in pieces. With difficulty he gained the shore in time to escape such a catastrophe, and through the kind assistance of the people in the neighborhood, who were astonished at the novelty of such a voyage down the Connecticut, his canoe was drawn by oxen around the fall and committed again to the water below.' pp. 16—18.
Pursuing his course down the river, he reached Hartford in safety, to the great astonishment of his friends, not less surprised by the abruptness of his return, than by the strange conveyance he had chosen.
Ledyard's next transition was to the study of theology. But discovering that he could not obtain regular admittance to the clerical profession, without a previous novitiate, for which neither his means of living nor his patience would suffice, he quitted this pursuit as hastily as he had adopted it; and in a few weeks, he reäppears in the character of a common sailor on board a vessel in New London, bound to Gibraltar. There he enlisted as a private soldier in the garrison; but was released at the solicitation of the captain of his vessel. At the expiration of a year, therefore, Ledyard returned to New London, without property, without a profession, and with habits and feelings which wholly unfitted him for the useful pursuits of ordinary life. Thus far, his erratic course had failed to teach him_lessons of practical wisdom; and he again embarked for Europe, as a common sailor, intending to seek out his family connexions in England, and claim their patronage. He landed at Plymouth, and begged his way to London; where he found the residence of his kinsman, and might have been kindly received, had he not idly taken offence, because his pretensions to relationship were not instantly admitted without explanation or inquiry. Thus ended all his anticipation of assistance in that quarter.
But chance threw in his way an opportunity of gratifying his love of adventure, which he instantly embraced. Cook was then making preparations for his third and last voyage ; and fired by the prospect of distinguishing himself in this expedition, Ledyard enlisted in the marine service, and finally gained the situation of corporal of marines on board the Resolution.
Ledyard kept a private journal of the whole voyage ; but on his return it was taken possession of by the admiralty, like all other papers on board of the same kind, in order to prevent an imperfect account of the voyage from going abroad, in anticipation of the official publication. He never recovered his journal; but on his return to Hartford, more than two years after the termination of the voyage, he wrote a short narrative of it, chiefly from recollection, which was published under his
A portion of this narrative is peculiarly valuable, as containing a statement of the circumstances which preceded and accompanied the death of Captain Cook. It hence appears that Cook's precipitancy, and his injurious treatment of the islanders, were the main causes of the unhappy catastrophe.
Extracts from, and observations upon Ledyard's book occupy several chapters of our author's work, which will be read with interest and profit, but cannot be further abridged by us to advantage. Ledyard continued in the navy for two years succeeding his return from the Pacific ocean in 1780; but of his precise situation, nothing is known, except that he
refused to accompany any of the squadrons destined to act against the United States. But growing weary at length of this course of life, he embraced an opportunity to be transferred to the American station, and arriving at Huntington bay in Long Island Sound in December, 1782, he made his escape from his ship, and repaired to the residence of his relations in Hartford. He remained here about four months, during which time he wrote his account of Cook's voyage. Meanwhile, impatient of repose, and having conceived the plan of a trading voyage to the northwestern coast of America, he hastened to New York, to engage the aid of capitalists in accomplishing his design. There his scheme was pronounced wild and visionary ; and he accordingly proceeded to Philadelphia, where he enjoyed the prospect of better fortune, being patronized and encouraged by Robert Morris, a man whose views were always comprehensive, and his spirit large and noble.
Ledyard's thoughts had been turned to this quarter, by his personal knowledge of the resources of the Northwest Coast in furs, of the enormous advance paid in Canton on the original cost of the article purchased there, and of the fact that it presented an entirely new field of mercantile adventure, unattempted either in this country or in Europe, and that of course it promised to yield immense profits to those who should first engage in the trade. Confident of the accuracy of his opinions, he bent all the energies of his active and sanguine temper to the task of creating an interest in his project among those who were competent to undertake it. Mr Morris at length entered into his views, and made arrangements to furnish the outfits of a voyage to be effected under Ledyard's direction. Difficulties intervened, however, to prevent his obtaining a suitable vessel for the expedition ; and after a year spent in a vexatious and fruitless struggle to overcome them, his patience and that of Mr Morris appear to have been exhausted, and the proposed voyage was abandoned.
Discouraged by the obstacles he encountered in this country, Ledyard embarked for Europe, hoping for better success among merchants of greater resources, and leaving the execution of his plan at home to Americans of more enterprise and perseverance than those whom he had endeavored to engage in it. He landed at Cadiz, and there took passage for Brest, and hastened from thence by land to L'Orient, where he intended to make new efforts for the accomplishment of his
purpose, His letters of introduction readily procured him an acquaintance with the most respectable merchants in L'Orient, who received his plan with so much approbation, that arrangements were immediately made for carrying it into effect. It was now October, and the company who undertook the voyage decided that a suitable vessel could not be procured and properly equipped and fitted out before the ensuing August. Greatly as Ledyard lamented this delay, he could not hasten the proceedings. He was obliged, therefore, to wait until the spring, when a ship of four hundred tons was obtained, and preparations for her voyage began to be made. But before the appointed time for sailing arrived, he was again disappointed, and the merchants of L’Orient abandoned the enterprise, for causes which do not distinctly appear.
Desponding and disheartened at this second failure, Ledyard next repaired to Paris, not with any very definite expectations, but only in the vague hope of some favorable change of fortune. Mr Jefferson, who was at that time minister from the United States at the court of France, manifested great interest in his affairs, and highly approved of his projected expedition. In a few days Ledyard became acquainted with Paul Jones, who, being unemployed in any military or public service, eagerly embraced the plan of a voyage to the Northwest Coast, and engaged to furnish the funds for the undertaking and proceed upon it in company with Ledyard. But either from a deficiency in pecuniary resources, or for some other reason, this attempt also proved abortive. Ledyard resolved to adventure one effort more, and to submit his project to the consideration of a mercantile company in Paris. But all his endeavors to obtain the requisite funds proved unavailing, and he remained for a time at Paris, without employment, or the prospect of any, and dependent upon the bounty of his friends for the means of subsistence.
Driven from his object of a trading voyage to the Northwest Coast, he bethought himself of a plan for effecting one of the purposes which he had in view, namely, that of exploring the northwestern regions of the American continent. This was to travel by land through Russia and Siberia, cross over Bering's Strait to America, and then pursue his route down the coast and to the interior, as circumstances might direct. It was necessary, in the first place, to gain permission of the empress of Russia to pass through her dominions; and Mr Jefferson interested him