Some American worthies; Elihu Burritt, the learned blacksmith
The following tape recorded program is a presentation of the National Association of educational broadcasters. The University of Chicago presents Robert E. Streeter professor of English and some American worthy programs about curious and interesting figures in the American path. Today we hear about John Legend and his trip to Siberia. Mr. Streeter one day in the early fall of 1787 at almost the precise time that some American statesmen gathered in Philadelphia were voting approval of the new federal Constitution. A country in and of these Constitution Makers. A Connecticut man named John Leger and arrived in the city of Yakutat sq. Not many Americans before or since John Legend have been in Yakut sq. It is located in the remote and frigid northeastern reaches of Siberia. Five thousand miles from
Moscow by the normal routes of travel and less than 700 miles from the Pacific Ocean. At first glance there might seem to be little connection between the high state craft of Philadelphia and the appearance in a remote corner of the Empress Catherine's Russian domain of a ragged and bone weary American wanderer. Actually these two events of September 1787 separated though they were by half a world of water and land were not totally unrelated. The men of Philadelphia had framed a constitution designed to restore order in the nation's affairs and to provide a solid base for future national expansion. And John Legend out among the Tartars was planning to call his countrymen's attention to the unspoiled land which lay to the west of their Atlantica Coast settlements. Long before the
phrase Manifest Destiny became current as a justification of America's westward movement Ledyard was acting as an agent of manifest destiny. In John Ledyard grandiose scheme Siberia was only a way station after reaching the Pacific. He hoped to persuade Russian perpetrators to carry him in one of their vessels across the narrow North Pacific to the American continent. Then a lone Ledyard would make his way eastward through territory held by Spain across the unexplored continent. If I went Well one day months or years later he would break from the wilderness into the new Ohio settlements with a tale to tell about the wonders of the West. In essence John Legend was embarked on a Lewis and Clark expedition in reverse singlehanded an ill equipped. He wanted to explore from west to east that vast territory which 15 years
later. Lewis and Clark were to penetrate from the east Ledyard's venture of course preceded American ownership of the wheezy and a territory while Lewis and Clark were commissioned to survey the land which President Jefferson had just bought from Napoleon. Interestingly enough however the man who organized the Lewis and Clark expedition Thomas Jefferson was also the man who sped John ledger on his way for Jefferson as American minister in Paris in 1786 was already curious about the slice of country he was later to purchase so informally when he met Ledyard recognized the explorers personal qualities of intrepidity and resourcefulness and learned that Ledger had to want to find out about the American back country. Jefferson urged his new friend to undertake the great adventure Jefferson reported that Ledger being of a
roaming disposition was now panting for some new enterprise. I suggested to him the enterprise of exploring the western part of our continent by passing through St. Petersburg to Kamchatka. Ledyard seems to have picked up the suggestion enthusiastically shortly thereafter he wrote to his cousin with the romantic grandiloquence characteristic of his style. I die with anxiety to be on the back of the American States after having either come from or penetrated to the Pacific Ocean. There is an extensive field for the acquirement of honest fame. A blush of generous regret sits on my cheek. When I hear of any discovery there which I have no part in. And particularly at this auspicious period the American Revolution invites to a thorough discovery of the continent and the honor of doing it would become a foreigner but a native only can feel the genuine pleasure of the achievement. Although grateful for Jefferson support Ledyard was not
enthusiastic about one of the diplomat's ideas as an imaginative philosopher or scientist. Jefferson felt it would be a fine thing if Ledyard could become the first man to walk around the world as the person who would have to do the walking. Ledyard was less eager to attain this distinction. However in the first part of his trip across Europe and Asia perhaps because Jefferson's picture of the delights of pedestrian travel was still fresh in his mind Ledger did travel on foot. Arriving in Stockholm in January 1787 and wishing to go into St. Petersburg in Russia he decided to rock north around the Gulf of Bosnia to the Russian capital. This he did in mid winter through Lapland in Finland covering twelve hundred miles in about seven weeks. The expo exploit please Jefferson who wrote to a friend in June 1787. I had a letter from Ledyard lately dated at St.
Petersburg. He had bought two shirts and yet more shirts than shillings. Still he was determined to obtain the poem of being the first circum emulator of the earth. He says that having no money they kick him from place to place and thus he expects to be kicked around the globe. However when he left St. Petersburg after having secured a passport to travel across Siberia Ledyard was content to retire from the circum ambulation competition. He accepted a ride in a three horse carriage known as a Kabit. This vehicle presented its own perils particularly when pulled by a wild Tartar horses over rough roads. That can be overturned easily but Ledyard soon learnt learned to save himself by leaping dextrously out of the tilting carriage in two months time. By August 1787 he had reached Earth coots in central Siberia at a great center for Russian
fur trade pelts collected in Alaska and the North Pacific were brought to her coots and then shipped by caravan overland to China where they commanded a ready market. Until he reached Ledyard's passport had carried him easily past the barriers of Russian official down. Now however in our coots the fur merchants and the local governor Jacoby same troubled by the lone American's interest in visiting the area where Asia and North America joined. At this particular time influential traders were seeking Catherine the Great support for their plan to establish Russia firmly in Alaska and the Aleutians other great powers were also beginning to show interest in the North Pacific. Eastern Siberia had become a sensitive area and the barons of the fur trade were reluctant to see Ledyard approaching it. Nevertheless Ledyard was permitted to travel another fifteen hundred miles descending
Bellina river to Yakut Square as we have seen he arrived in September. But here the traveller met if not an iron curtain at least an impenetrable curtain. He wanted to plunge on immediately over the mountains to Alcott's a seaport. All he asked were horses and a Yakut native to serve as guide the prevention officials replied that it was far too late in the season to attempt the dangerous passage through the mountains and that they could not in conscience allow him to throw his life away. Ledyard no doubt argue that a man who had circled the growth of botany afoot in January and February might reasonably venture into the Siberian mountains in October and November. But the officials were adamant they refused to allow him to proceed as the Siberian winter closed in. Ledyard wrote bitterly and melodramatically in his journal. This is the third time that I have been overtaken and arrested by winter and then with the
others by giving time for my evil genius to rally his hosts about me. I have defeated the enterprise faction that has handed me at last. For I am this moment the slave of cowardly solicitude lest in the heart of this dread winter there lurked the seeds of disappointment to my ardent desire of gaining the opposite continent. Ledyard's forebodings were accurate in mid-winter. He traveled with an officials exploring party back to Earth coots and there on February 24th 1790 A. He was arrested some merrily and mysteriously given a military escort and hustled back across Russia. The party traveled at such breakneck speed that by March 19th little more than three weeks later John Ledyard banished from Russia by the Emperor Empress Catherine was conducted across the Polish border. Ledyard never received apparently any specific explanation for the sentence of banishment and the abruptness with which
it was executed. Many years later the French ambassador in St. Petersburg who had be friended Ledyard at Catherine's court recalled that the Empress who spoke to me on the subject herself observed that she would not further a journey so fraught with danger as that he proposed to undertake across the unknown in savage regions of Northwestern America. But the ambassador was not wholly convinced of the truth of this official reason. Possibly he continued this pretext of humanity advanced by Catherine only disguised her own willingness to have the new possessions of Russia on the western coast of America seen by an enlightened citizen of the United States. Whatever the reason John Ledyard's great adventure was over and although he had not reached the shores of the Pacific his journey was not a complete failure because he had filled his journal and letters with observations and speculations concerning the men and manners of Tartary
Jefferson for one was certain to be interested by Ledyard's noting of the resemblances between the people of Siberia and the American Indians. I am certain Ledyard wrote to Jefferson that all of the people you call red people on the continent of America and on the continents of Europe and Asia as far south as the southern parts of China are all one people by whatever name is distinguished and that the best general name would be Tartar. I suspect that all red people are of the same family. I am satisfied that America was people from Asia and had some if not all its animals from thence. Stay at homes could shiver at Ledyard's account of the way people lived in Siberia. The people in the cab know Wells he wrote. They have tried them to a very great depth but they freeze even in summer. Consequently they have all their water from the river but in winter they cannot bring water and its fluid state it freezes on the
way. It is then brought in large cakes of ice to their houses and piled up in their yards as water is why did they bring these pieces of ice into the warm rooms where they thaw and become fit for use. Ledger did not pretend of course to write as a precise scientific observer. He wrote as an explorer calling attention to areas which might later be described more fully recognizing his limitations he once burst out. It is a pity men of science will not or cannot travel themselves and that they should so whimsically ordained to sally forth such as I am for example for the purpose of adding to natural knowledge they ought to be hung for staying at home and I are going abroad. Despite its sudden ending then the trip across Siberia had consolidated John Ledyard Spain as the greatest American explorer of its day. By August 1798 only six months after leaving Irkutsk
- Some American worthies
- Producing Organization
- University of Chicago
- Contributing Organization
- University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
- AAPB ID
- Episode Description
- A profile of Elihu Burritt, an American diplomat, philanthropist and social activist who was nicknamed "The Learned Blacksmith."
- Other Description
- Profiles of curious figures in the American past, based on diaries, journals and other books of personal record. The speaker is Robert E. Streeter, a professor of English at the University of Chicago.
- Broadcast Date
- Media type
Producing Organization: University of Chicago
Speaker: Streeter, Robert E.
- AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 55-11-3 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
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- Chicago: “Some American worthies; Elihu Burritt, the learned blacksmith,” 1955-04-17, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed August 12, 2022, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-r785p05d.
- MLA: “Some American worthies; Elihu Burritt, the learned blacksmith.” 1955-04-17. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. August 12, 2022. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-r785p05d>.
- APA: Some American worthies; Elihu Burritt, the learned blacksmith. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-r785p05d