Last Voyage of Captain Cook by John Ledyard
The Collected Writings of John Ledyard (National Geographic Adventure Classics)

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Synopsis

John Ledyard, the man who dreamed of crossing the United States on foot 20 years before Lewis and Clark, who salled with Captain Cook, formed a fur-trading company with John Paul Jones, and explored Russian Siberia at a time when it was a vast blank marked "unknown" on the map is perhaps the greatest and least-known explorer of all time. After leaving Darmouth in 1772, Ledyard took to the seas and found himself at Gibraltar, where he enlisted then deserted from the British Navy. He reported for duty with Captain Cook in Plymouth, England. With Cook he explored Tasmania, New Zealand, Tahiti, the coast of what would become California and Oregon, Nootka Sound, the Beiring Sea, Unalaska Island, China, and Java, all the while observing and recording in his journals the exotic ports of call and native cultures. On land he walked two-thirds of the way across Russia before being arrested by guards of Catherine the Great and deported to Poland. Returning to England he was engaged by Sir Joseph Banks to explore overland routes from Alexandria to the Niger and it was on this expedition, in Cairo, where Ledyard died of an overdose of vitriolic acid. He was 38. In his short life Ledyard saw more of the world than any person of the 18th century. His tales of adventure captivated his contemporaries like Jefferson; and earned him the nickname "the American Marco Polo." He had a capacious and curious intellect, a boundless imagination, and his writing sparkles with bright, incisive prose. John Ledyard forged a new American archetype. Before him, Americans did not by and large travel great distances. They stayed close to home, huddled in their bleak outposts in the New World. Exploration was piecemeal, hesitant, mostly a matter of getting just to the next mountain range. By going to all parts known and unknown, Ledyard created the persona of the explorer. He made the traveling life glamorous. He salled the seven seas and touched six continents. He persisted despite continual failure. He invented a profession. He had a title like Lewis the cooper or O'Reily the collier: he was Ledyard the Traveler. 1. The text of the book he wrote and published, Journal of Captain Cook's Last Voyage. It was originally published in Hartford in 1783. It was reprinted twice in 1963, by Oregon State University Press (with extensive annotation and introduction) and by Quadrangle Books in Chicago (with no annotation and introduction, as a part of their series of reprinting "Americana Classics"). 2. The journal of his Siberian expedition. The journal was unpublished in his lifetime. 3. A selection of letters. There are about thirty-five letters extant. We would reprint perhaps a dozen of his more substantive letters, concerning Paris in the 1780s and his journey through Europe and Russia.
 

About John Ledyard

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John Ledyard (1751-1789), a native of Groton Connecticut, left Dartmouth College at age 19 to travel to England and eventually sign on with James Cook's final voyage in 1775. He returned to Europe to form fast friendships with Thomas Jefferson, John Paul Jones, and Thomas Paine. He explored Siberia, becoming the first American to do so, and was chosen to lead an expedition to find the source of the Nile. It was on this expedition, in 1789 in which Ledyard died in Cairo at age 38. John Ledyard was the original Lewis and Clark Expedition. In 1786 Thomas Jefferson sent him to explore the American West. He was the first white American to see the Northwest coast of America, Alaska and Hawaii, as well as the first to visit Siberia. He wrote the only known account of the death of Captain James Cook that blamed his death not on the Hawaiians but on Cook himself. William F. Buckley wrote in the New York Times Book Review in 2000, that Ledyard's writing was "loaded with moral and institutional wisdom... the reader is caught up at once in the narrative and the young seamen's stylistic finesse." James Zug is the author of Squash: A History of the Game (Scribner, 2003). In March 2005 he will publish Great With Desire, the first full-length biography of John Ledyard in nearly 200 years. Zug lives in Washington DC with his wife and daughter.
 
Published March 1, 2005 by National Geographic. 304 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, History, Travel, Action & Adventure, War. Non-fiction

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