This chapter presents an introduction to the life of John Ledyard, discussing how, through a long series of failures, he nonetheless persevered, driven by a burning determination to achieve fame. Unlike John Adams, Alexander Hamilton, George Washington, and other familiar figures of his age, Ledyard obtained none of the formal distinctions that a white man in early America could count on to get ahead—wealth, a college degree, a ministerial post, an officer's commission, or government office. But during his short life, he also came to be well known. This was not simply because of his exotic travels, although those did capture the attention of admirers and patrons; it was also the result of his understanding of the fundamental social fact of his age.
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