John Ledyard: Controversial Corporal

Bertha S. Dodge follows the journey of John Ledyard, a captain’s son from Connecticut, who helped to explore the Pacific and travelled across the Russian Empire.


‘We have made a fruitless search after my friend Ledyard’s letters,’ wrote the Marquis de Lafayette in August, 1823, to Ledyard’s would-be biographer, ‘and am without hopes to recover them - but as the Havre packet is to sail in a few days I will not defer the little information I can give... (concerning) the good and extraordinary man... Mr Jefferson and myself, I am proud to say, had indeed a great share in his affections.’

It must have been extraordinary qualities of character and mind that the Marquis referred to, for John Ledyard had neither great family connexions, high position, nor any personal wealth. In fact, he had nothing at all. His father, a captain in the West India trade, had died when his four children were quite young, leaving an estate of which his widow was soon defrauded.

By the time John, born in 1751 in Groton, Connecticut, reached the age of twenty, ‘Dr Wheelock, the amiable and pious founder of Dartmouth College... the intimate friend of his grandfather... invited Ledyard to enter his institution, recently established at Dartmouth, New Hampshire, amidst the forests on the banks of the Connecticut River’. Dartmouth was to train future missionaries to the Indians.

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