convergences Screen 49 | Romantic Imagination

For the remainder of his life John Ledyard
will attempt to return to Nootka Sound.
Back in his newly independent homeland,
known now as the United States of America,
he will write and publish his own account
of Cook's last voyage. He will also try
to organize his own expedition to the far
side of the continent. Unable to interest
Boston ship owners in the venture,
he will ask Thomas Jefferson to sponsor
a government-backed overland journey.
Impatient with the lack of response,
Ledyard will decide to walk to Nootka
alone, taking the long way around, hoping
to be the first man to circumambulate
the earth. En route, in the Siberian
village of Yakutsk, Ledyard will encounter
Joseph Billings, his former shipmate,
now an officer in the Russian service
of Catherine the Great, who has just
issued orders to arrest and deport
Ledyard as a spy. This setback
will force him to alter his course.
Eventually John Ledyard will catch
a fever and die, age 38, in Cairo,
mid-point in another ambitious
attempt to return on foot
to the North West Coast of America.

Yuquot 2001

Yuquot, Friendly Cove, Nootka Sound. 2001.

John Ledyard 1885

John Ledyard 1885.

Of all these individuals, Ledyard is most sympathetic, most appealing. He thought of himself as a traveller, and a friend of mankind. James Burney, his shipmate, claimed that Ledyard possessed more romantic enthusiasm than any man of his time. Thomas Jefferson said that Ledyard was a man with too much imagination. We know now that Ledyard cribbed whole sections from Rickman's journal, which had just been published anonymously in England. Ledyard's method was something like my own. He used interesting parts of the other text and elaborated on these with his own personal testimony. Ledyard was being pressed by his American publisher. And like me, he wanted to finish the assignment and get on with the rest of his life. That is why this text remains, even now, incomplete and a little bit wonky.