Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography/Ledyard, William

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LEDYARD, William, soldier, b. in Groton, Conn., about 1750; d. there, 7 Sept., 1781. He held the commission of colonel in the militia of Connecticut, and during the expedition of Benedict Arnold along the coast of that state in September, 1781, was in command of Fort Trumbull and Fort Griswold, which protected New London. In the latter work, with 157 hastily collected and poorly armed militia, he resisted for nearly an hour the attack of a British force of 800 men led by Lieut.-Col. Eyre. This attack was made on three sides, and, although there was a battery between the fort and the river, the Americans could spare no men to work it. The enemy made their way into the fosse and scaled the works in the face of a severe fire from the little garrison. Lieut.-Col. Eyre was wounded, and died twelve hours afterward on shipboard, and his successor, Maj. Montgomery, having been killed while mounting the parapet, the command devolved upon Maj. Bromfield, a Tory, who effected an entrance into the fort after nearly 200 of his men had been disabled, including 48 killed, the Americans having lost only about twelve men. Col. Ledyard ordered his men to cease firing and to lay down their arms. “Who commands this garrrison?” shouted Bromfield, as he entered. “I did, sir, but you do now,” replied Ledyard, handing him his sword. According to the generally received tradition, Bromfield immediately plunged the weapon to the hilt in the body of Ledyard, killing him instantly. The waistcoat that was worn by Ledyard on this occasion is still (1887) preserved by the Connecticut historical society. A massacre of the Americans then ensued, in which nearly 100 were killed or wounded. A monument has been erected near the spot to commemorate this event. Arnold, in a despatch to Sir Henry Clinton, two days afterward, gave the impression that the killed were victims of honorable strife. “I have inclosed a return of the killed and wounded, by which your excellency will observe that our loss, though very considerable, is short of the enemy's, who lost most of their officers, among whom was their commander, Col. Ledyard. Eighty-five men were found dead in Fort Griswold, and sixty wounded, most of them mortally. Their loss on the opposite side (New London) must have been considerable, but cannot be ascertained.” On the following morning at dawn Col. Ledyard's niece, Fanny, visited the prisoners, who had been conveyed across the river, to alleviate their sufferings. — His nephew, John, traveller, b. in Groton, Conn., in 1751; d. in Cairo, Egypt, 17 Jan., 1789, lost his father at an early age, and after an ineffectual attempt to study law, entered Dartmouth in 1772, with a view toward fitting himself for missionary duty among the Indians. The restraints of this mode of life proving irksome, he absented himself from college for several months, during which he visited the Indians of the Six Nations, and finally abandoned the idea of becoming a missionary, and, embarking on the Connecticut river in a canoe of his own fashioning, floated to Hartford. After a brief experience as a theological student, he shipped at New London as a common sailor in a vessel that was bound for the Mediterranean, and at Gibraltar enlisted in a British regiment, from which he was discharged at the request of his captain. Returning to New London by way of the West Indies at the end of a year, he soon embarked from New York for England, and arrived in London when 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. He kept a private journal of this voyage, 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 from recollection, assisted by a brief sketch that was issued under the sanction of the admiralty, an account of the expedition, which was published (Hartford, 1783). During the two years succeeding his return to England he remained in the service of the British navy, but refused to take arms against his native country. In December, 1782, being in a British man-of-war off Long Island, he escaped and revisited his friends after an absence of eight years. After spending many months in fruitless endeavors to fit out an expedition to the northwestern coast of North America, 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 for carrying out this project. He remained several months in Lorient, where hopes of receiving command of a ship for an exploring expedition were held out to him. Upon the failure of these negotiations he went in 1785 to Paris, where he was received by Thomas Jefferson, then minister to France, Lafayette, and , others, and found in Paul Jones a ready co-operator in his plans of maritime exploration. After these had failed he determined to carry out his original design by a journey through northern Europe and Asia, and across Bering straits to the western hemisphere. An application to Catherine II. of Russia for permission to pass through her dominions, which was made by Mr. Jefferson, remained unanswered for five months, during which time Mr. Ledyard went to London, where the influence of Sir James Hall obtained him free passage to the Pacific, but the vessel was brought back by order of the government, and the voyage abandoned. He was finally supplied with a sum of money by Sir Joseph Banks and others, and departed on his long overland journey in 1786. On his arrival at Stockholm, he attempted to cross the Gulf of Bothnia on the ice to Abo in Finland, but was met by open water, which caused him to alter his course, and in the depth of winter he 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 about 1,400 miles 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 miles. He then travelled with a Swedish officer, Lieut. Laxman, to Irkutsk, whence he sailed in a small boat down the Lena to Yakutsk. Permission being refused to go to Okhotsk, he accompanied Capt. Billings, in the Russian service, back to Irkutsk, where, on 24 Feb., 1788, he was arrested by order of the empress. Accompanied by two guards, he was conducted with speed to the frontiers of Poland, and there dismissed with an intimation that he would be hanged if he entered Russia. The reason for this summary expulsion of Ledyard has never been satisfactorily explained. He returned 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 adversity, he eagerly accepted an offer from 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 start, replied: “To-morrow morning.” He departed from England in June, intending to cross Africa in a westerly direction from Sennaar, and had reached Cairo, when he became ill. His death was considered a great loss to the society. For capacity of endurance, resolution, and physical vigor he was one of the most remarkable of modern travellers. Thomas Jefferson says of him: “In 1786, while at Paris, I became acquainted with John Ledyard, of Connecticut, a man of genius, of some science, and of fearless courage and enterprise. . . . I suggested to him the enterprise of exploring the western part of our continent by passing through St. Petersburg to Kamtchatka and procuring a passage thence in some of the Russian vessels to Nootka sound, whence he might make his way across the continent to the United States; and I undertook to have the permission of the empress of Russia solicited.” Many extracts from Ledyard's journals and private correspondence with Jefferson and others are given in his “Life,” by Jared Sparks (Cambridge, 1828; London, 1828 and 1834). which is also included in Sparks's “American Biography.”