About 30 rods north of the “Ledyard”, or Hanover, and Norwich Bridge, about 40 miles north of here, is a monument to one of the most novel and unique characters who attended Dartmouth College in the early period of its existence. It is a plain slab of granite and records the following bit of history:
“John Ledyard, in 1772, a freshman of Dartmouth College, on this spot felled a giant pine, from which he made a canoe, and in it descended the river to Hartford, Ct. He was a traveler among the Indians, and associate of John Paul Jones, and an officer under Capt. Cook, traversing all oceans and penetrating all lands. He foresaw and foretold the riches of the Pacific Coast and the advantages of commerce with the Far East. When about to cross Africa, he died in Egypt at the age of 37. He, too, heard the voice crying in the wilderness. His was the Dartmouth spirit. Anno Domini 1907.”
Ledyard went up to Hanover in 1772, driving up from Hartford in a sulky, the first ever seen in this vicinity. The same year, leaving his lessons, in which he was no mean scholar, he went down to the banks of the Connecticut River, cut down a tall pine, and, as tradition relates, hewed from it a canoe 50 feet long and three feet wide, in which he placed a huge bear skin, two books, an Ovid and a Greek testament, some provisions of Indian bread, and started on his journeys around the world.
Pierpont’s National Reader (1839) says in its detailed account of the trip, that “He was deeply engaged in one of his two books when his canoe reached Bellows Falls, where he was suddenly roused by the noise of waters. (No dam or canal had been built there then.) The danger was imminent as the voyage was performed in the last part of April, when the river was raised by the melting of snow and no boat could go down that fall without being dashed to pieces.
“With difficulty, he gained the shore and through the kind assistance of the people, who were amazed at the novelty of such a voyage, his canoe was drawn by oxen around the fall and committed again to the water below. One account says that the young student impressed the people so favorably while resting here, that every attention of kindness was bestowed upon him. From that time, till he arrived at his place of destination, we hear of no accident.”
Of his arrival at Hartford, the same authority says:
“On a bright spring morning, just as the sun was rising, some people at Hartford, standing upon a high bank which overlooked a small river which empties into the Connecticut, espied at some distance an object of unusual appearance, moving slowly up the stream. All were attracted by the unusual sight and conjectured what it could be, till its shape assumed the obvious form of a canoe, but by what impulse it was moved forward, no one could determine. Something was seen in the stern, but apparently without life or motion. At length, the canoe touched the shore directly in front; a person sprang from the stern to a rock in the edge of the water, threw off a bearskin in which it had been enveloped, and behold John Ledyard in the presence of his uncle and connections, who were filled with wonder at the sudden apparition, for they had received no intelligence of his intention to leave Dartmouth, but supposed him still there, diligently fitting himself to be a missionary to the Indians.”
He studied theology at Hartford for a short time and then shipped for Gibraltar, where he enlisted in the British army, was released later, came to America, and next, is found traveling on foot in England, both hungry and scant of raiment. He was with Capt. Cook as a corporal of marines on his third voyage around the world, and was with him when he was attacked and killed by the savages. He later published a book giving an account of the voyage.
He was characterized as “the famous Dartmouth traveler,” achieving fame all over the world. When about to cross Africa, he died in Egypt, in the city of Cairo, in 1789.
Based on: The Connecticut River Valley in southern Vermont and New Hampshire: historical sketches, Rutland, Vt.: Tuttle Co., Marble City Press, 1929.