The Making of John Ledyard


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Empire and Ambition in the Life of an Early American Traveler

Edward G. Gray

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During the course of his short but extraordinary life, John Ledyard (1751–1789) came in contact with some of the most remarkable figures of his era: the British explorer Captain James Cook, American financier Robert Morris, Revolutionary naval commander John Paul Jones, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and others. Ledyard lived and traveled in remarkable places as well, journeying from the New England backcountry to Tahiti, Hawaii, the American Northwest coast, Alaska, and the Russian Far East. In this engaging biography, the historian Edward Gray offers not only a full account of Ledyard’s eventful life but also an illuminating view of the late eighteenth-century world in which he lived.
Ledyard was both a product of empire and an agent in its creation, Gray shows, and through this adventurer’s life it is possible to discern the many ways empire shaped the lives of nations, peoples, and individuals in the era of the American Revolution, the world’s first modern revolt against empire.

Edward Gray is associate professor of history, Florida State University. He is the author or coeditor of three previous books and editor of Common-place: The Interactive Journal of Early American Life ( He lives in Tallahassee.

"Daring, ambitious, and theatrical, John Ledyard seems to step out of a great eighteenth-century novel into this vivid and revealing history. Following Ledyard's clues, Edward Gray draws readers through a compelling and global story of ambition, adventure, and empire."—Alan Taylor, author of The Divided Ground: Indians, Settlers, and the Northern Borderland of the American Revolution

"This is no standard biography. Instead, Gray uses Ledyard's experience and writings to get at what life was like in the various places that the Connecticut-born traveler lived or visited."—Peter C. Mancall, author of Hakluyt’s Promise: An Elizabethan’s Obsession for an English America

“Ledyard’s career opens up the entire world, in the most literal sense. His is a really grand story, one that transcends all sorts of conventional boundaries.”—Edward Countryman, Southern Methodist University

"From the Pacific, through most of Europe, across Russia, and finally to Egypt, Ledyard's trajectory, literary efforts, and frustrations illuminate much about patronage networks, imperial competition, 18th-century ethnography, and the meaning of frontiers and boundaries, both geographic and social. Exploring this complex experience insightfully is what makes this a superb biography. Gray gives vivid particularity to recent historiography on the early modern transoceanic world. Highly recommended."—Choice

"The best biography of this Connecticut rolling stone to date. . . . Carefully researched and handsomely written."—Barry M. Gough, American Historical Review

"This book will be of particular interest to scholars in the fields of early American history and North Atlantic studies, but it deserves a wider readership."—Daniel Clayton, Oregon Historical Society
ISBN: 9780300110555
Publication Date: June 12, 2007
240 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
15 figures & 5 maps