convergences Screen 13 | Pretext

John Ledyard, destitute young American,
searching for his relatives in England,
has been pressed into the British Army.
In danger of being sent across the Atlantic
to fight his own rebellious countrymen,
and hearing of the impending departure
of Cook's ships on a scientific voyage
exempt from war, he has somehow sought
Cook out and convinced him that he,
John Ledyard, is needed on this important
expedition. And so it is that the Royal
Marine detachment on HMS Resolution
inlcudes an American corporal.

As a boy Ledyard had run away from school
to live with the Iroquois. At college,
instead of studying law, he spent his time
building a dug-out canoe, which he paddled
140 miles down the Connecticut River
to Hartford, setting off for Europe
as a crew member on a merchant ship.
After four years exile he now regards
this encounter with the coast of America
as a kind of homecoming. He writes:
    I had no sooner beheld these Americans
                  than I set them down
             for the same kind of people
that inhabit the other side of the continent.

    They are rather about middle stature,
copper coloured, and of an athletic make.

                  They have long black hair
    which they generally wear in a club
on top of the head.
             They fill it, when dressed
    with oil, paint, and the down of birds.

They also paint their faces
        with red, blue and white colours.

Their clothing generally consists of skins,
     but they have two other
                   sorts of garments.
          One is made of the inner rind
of some kind of bark
    twisted and united together.
The other
      is made with the hair of their dogs
          which are mostly white
                and of a domestic kind.

They make no use of coverings
    to their feet or legs,
               and it was seldom
they covered their heads.
                    When they did
it was with a kind of basket covering
    made after the form of the Chinese
          and Chinese-Tartar hats.

John Ledyard in dugout:
contemporaneous print

John Ledyard in dugout

Geography, history, language, law ---the counters of convenient conversation and classroom drudgery, abstraction so removed from experience that we drift away. There are more compelling thoughts to ponder. Take the related words and images that converge around this point as me, or from your point of view, as him. Who is he? Who are you?

John Webber: Man with bow

John Webber:
Man with bow, Nootka Sound.