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The Lewis and Clark Expedition

The Louisiana Purchase has been described as the greatest real estate deal in history. In 1803 the United States paid France $15 million for the Louisiana Territory--828,000 square miles of land west of the Mississippi River. The lands acquired stretched from the Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains and from the Gulf of Mexico to the Canadian border. Thirteen states were carved from the Louisiana Territory. The Louisiana Purchase nearly doubled the size of the United States, making it one of the largest nations in the world.

The Louisiana Purchase consists of three separate agreements between the United States and France: a treaty of cession and two agreements providing for the exchange of monies in the transaction. -- this text and photo courtesy of the National Archives


photo courtesy of the National Archives

In a secret message to Congress dated January 18, 1803, President Thomas Jefferson asked for $2,500 to explore lands west to the Pacific. Jefferson worked closely with Lewis, co-commander of the expedition, to ensure that he was well-prepared to anticipate the party's needs. While the party ran out of such luxuries as whiskey, tobacco, and salt, they had plenty of rifles, powder, paper, and ink. - Courtesy of the US National Archives

List of Indian Presents Purchased by Meriwether Lewis in Preparation for the Expedition to the West. Click Here - Courtesy of the US National Archives

Receipt for 130 Rolls of Pigtail Tobacco Purchased by Meriwether Lewis for the Expedition to the West - Click Here - Courtesy of the US National Archives

Receipt for Wine and Kegs Purchased by Meriwether Lewis for the Expedition to the West. -- Click Here - Courtesy of the US National Archives

Meriwether Lewis

1774 - 1809



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Meriwether Lewis


LEWIS, Meriwether, explorer, born near Charlottesville, Virginia, 18 August, 1774; died near Nashville, Tennessee, 8 October; 1809. He was a great-nephew of Fielding Lewis, noticed above, and inherited a fortune frown his father, who died when the son was a child. Meriwether, who was of a bold and adventurous disposition, left school at eighteen years of age, and in 1794 volunteered in the troops that were called out to quell the whiskey insurrection in western Pennsylvania. He entered the regular service in 1795, became captain in 1800, and in 1801-'3 was private secretary to President Jefferson, who in the latter year recommended him to congress to command an exploring expedition across the continent to the Pacific. 

He set out in the summer of 1803, accompanied by his associate, Captain William Clark, and a company that was composed of nine young men from Kentucky, fourteen soldiers, two Canadian boatmen, an interpreter, a hunter, and a Negro servant of Captain Clark. They began to ascend Missouri river in the spring of 1804, passed a second winter among the Mandans in latitude 47º 21' N., and on 7 April, 1805, continued to ascend the Missouri until the middle of July, when they reached the great falls. Near the close of this month they attained the confluence of three nearly equal streams, to which they gave the names of Jefferson, Madison, and Gallatin. They ascended the Jefferson to its source, traveled through the mountains from August till 22 September, when they entered the plains of the western slope, in October embarked in canoes on the Kooskoosky, a branch of the Columbia, and on 15 November reached the mouth of that river, after traveling more than 4,000 miles from the confluence of Mississippi and Missouri rivers. 

They passed the following winter on the south bank of the Columbia in an entrenched camp, in March, 1806, began to ascend the Columbia on their homeward journey, and in May left their boats and made a difficult journey on horseback across the mountains to the Missouri, upon which they re-embarked in August, reaching St. Louis in September, after an absence of two years and four months. Congress made grants of land to the men of the expedition and to their chiefs, and Lewis was made governor of Missouri territory.

He found the country torn by dissensions, and, although his impartiality and firmness soon restored comparative order, he began to suffer from hypochondria, to which he had been subject from his youth. During one of his attacks of depression he was called to Washington, and at a lodging-place in Tennessee he put an end to his life. Lewis and Clark, a county of Montana, is named in honor of the explorers. President Jefferson said of him: "He was courage undaunted, possessing a firmness of purpose which nothing but impossibilities could divert from its direction, and was intimate with Indian character, customs, and principles." A narrative of the expedition of Lewis and Clark, from materials that were furnished by the explorers, was prepared by Nicholas Biddle and Paul Allen, with a memoir of Lewis by Thomas Jefferson (2 vols., Philadelphia, 1814; new ed., with additions by Alexander McVickar, New York, 1843).

William Clark


Clark,  William, soldier, born in Virginia, 1 August, 1770; died in St. Louis, Maine, 1 September, 1838. He was the youngest of six brothers, four of whom were distinguished in the revolution. He removed with his family in 1784 to the falls of the Ohio, in Kentucky, the site of the present City of Louisville, where his brother George Rogers had built a fort. That part of the country was then known as "the dark and bloody ground," on account of the frequent Indian raids, and young Clark became early acquainted with the methods of Indian warfare. He was appointed ensign at the age of eighteen, and on 7 March, 1792, became a lieutenant of infantry. He was assigned to the 4th sub-legion in December of that year, was made adjutant and quartermaster in September, 1793, and resigned in July, 1796, on account of ill health. 

Soon afterward he removed to St. Louis, and in March, 1804, was appointed by President Jefferson a second lieutenant of artillery, with orders to join Capt. Meriwether Lewis's exploring expedition from St. Louis across the Rocky mountains to the mouth of Columbia river. Clark was really the principal military director of the expedition, materially assisted Capt. Lewis in the scientific arrangements, and kept a journal, which was afterward published. His intimate knowledge of Indian habits and character had much to do with the success of the exploration. He was promoted to first lieutenant in January, 1806, and was nominated to be lieutenant colonel of the 2d infantry, but was not confirmed by the senate. He resigned from the army, 27 February, 1807, and officiated as Indian agent till he was appointed by congress brigadier-general for the territory of Upper Louisiana. During the war of 1812 he declined the appointment of brigadier-general in the army, and also the command then held by General Hull. President Madison appointed him governor of Missouri territory in 1813, and he held the office till the organization of the state in 1821, when he was, against his will, a candidate for election to the same office, and was defeated. He remained in private life till May, 1822, when President Monroe made him superintendent of Indian affairs at St. Louis, and he held this office till his death.

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CLARK, George Rogers, soldier, born near Monticello, Albemarle County, Virginia, 19 November, 1752; died near Louisville, Kentucky, 18 February, 1818. He spent his early life in Caroline county, Virginia, and enjoyed some educational advantages from a noted Scotch teacher, Donald Robertson, in King and Queen county among whose pupils was James Madison. He fitted himself for a surveyor, and at the age of twenty practiced his profession on the upper Ohio, and became a farmer. Two years later he served under Governor Dunmore in his campaign against the Shawnees and their allies, which ended in the treaty o1: Camp Charlotte, memorable as the occasion of the undying speech of Logan, the Mingo chief. Early in 1775 Clark went to Kentucky, and was occupied in surveying; but, as the western Indians were induced by the British to take up the tomahawk, he became the natural leader of the people in the detente of their infant settlements, was made a major of the militia in 1776, and chosen as a delegate to the Virginia convention, to urge upon the state authorities the claims of the colony for government and detente.

He arrived at Williamsburg just after the convention had adjourned, but succeeded in procuring the formation of the new county of Kentucky, and a supply of ammunition for the detente of the frontier. It is said that Clark, seeing that his appeal for powder was likely to remain unheeded, exclaimed: "A country which is not worth defending is not worth claiming." The 500 pounds of powder thus obtained was conveyed by land to the Monongahela, and thence by water to the Three islands, a few miles above where Maysville now is, and there secreted, while Clark and his escort went to Harrodsburg for horses and a guard for its conveyance to that station. At length it reached the place of its destination, but not without the loss of some of the party who first attempted its acquisition. Early in 1777 Clark repelled the Indian attacks on Harrodsburg, sent out spies to Illinois, and on their return hastened on foot to Virginia to lay before the governor and council his plan for the conquest of the Illinois country and the repression of the murderous Indian forays from that quarter. His scheme was approved, and he was made a lieutenant colonel, authorized to raise the necessary troops, and pushed on with his little force to a small island opposite the present City of Louisville, where he erected block-houses, drilled his men, and planted corn. Hence the name of Corn island. On 24 June, 1778, during an eclipse of the sun, he set sail, passed safely over the rapids, and soon landed at the old deserted Fort Massac, and, marching thence six days across the country, a portion of the time without food, took Kaskaskia by surprise, 4 July. The other French villages in that quarter followed suit and surrendered at discretion. The Illinois country was thus captured without the firing of a gun or the loss of a man. Clark conciliated the surrounding Indian tribes, changing enemies into friends. All this tended to alarm the British. Governor Hamilton at Detroit marched a large force, mostly Indians, and retook Vincennes early in December of that year.

This intelligence soon reached Kaskaskia. "I must take Hamilton, or he will take me," said Clark; and with fewer than 170 men, all told, he marched across the country in midwinter, through the submerged hinds of the Wabash and its tributaries, sometimes breaking the ice, too thin to bear them, often wading up to their armpits in water, with scanty food, but buoyed up by patriotic hopes. They at length appeared before the astonished garrison, plied successfully their unerring rifles, and in a few hours Col. Hamilton yielded up the fort, surrendering to Clark and his ragged followers, 24 February, 1779. The weakness of his force and the poverty of Virginia alone prevented his attempting the capture of Detroit. Early in 1780 Clark established Fort Jefferson, a little below the mouth of the Ohio. Hearing of the approach of a formidable British and Indian force against Cahokia, his upper garrison, and the Spanish settlement of St. Louis, Clark hastened with a party to the relief of Cahokia, reaching there just in time to repel the enemy. Learning from them that another large force was marching to Kentucky, he hastened there on foot, with but two companions, leaving his Illinois troops to follow the retreating enemy to their towns on Rock river, which they found deserted and destroyed. On reaching Kentucky, Clark learned of Bird's invasion, capturing Martin's and Ruddell's stations, with 340 prisoners, when he hastily gathered a thousand men, invaded the Shawnee country, defeated the Indians, and laid waste their villages.

Once more Clark's attention was turned toward Detroit, the headquarters of British power and influence in the northwest, whence savage war-parties were constantly sent forth to harass and destroy the infant settlements of Kentucky. Going to Virginia, he concerted with Governor Jefferson and council a campaign against Detroit, which met the approval and assistance of General Washington. Before it could be carried into effect, Arnold's invasion of Virginia in January, 1781, occurred, when Clark temporarily headed 240 riflemen and ambuscaded a party of the enemy at Hood's, on James river; and then hastened forward, with the commission of brigadier-general, for the execution of his scheme against Detroit. But it miscarried, owing to the poverty of Virginia, the difficulty of raising an adequate force with inadequate means, and the powerful opposition of the enemy, headed by Brant, the great Mohawk chief, McKee, Girty, and other border leaders, who attacked Clark's detachment and invaded the Bear-grass settlements around Louisville.

In 1782, after the British and Indian attack on Bryan's station, and the disastrous defeat of the Kentuckians at the Blue Licks, Clark led forth 1,000 men, driving back the savages on Big Miami, and destroying their villages and means of sustenance. This was Clark's last important service, as his expedition up the Wabash in 1786, and his efforts in behalf of France in 1793-'4, against the Spaniards on the Mississippi, proved abortive. The freedom of Clark's early life had unfitted him for domestic happiness, and he never married. A tradition is preserved in the family that he was fascinated with the beauty of the daughter of the Spanish governor of St. Louis when he relieved that post from an Indian attack. Observing a want of courage in the governor, he broke off his addresses to the girl, saying to his friends: "I will not be the father of a race of cowards."

His last years were spent alone and in poverty, in a rude dwelling on Corn island, until his sister took him to her home at Locust Grove, near Louisville. He felt keenly what he considered the ingratitude of the republic in leaving him in poverty and obscurity, and when the state of Virginia sent him a sword, he received the compliments of the committee in gloomy silence. Then he exclaimed : "When Virginia needed a sword, I gave her one. She sends me now a toy. I want bread!" He thrust the sword into the ground and broke it with his crutch.

Clark was tall and commanding, brave and full of resources, possessing the affection and confidence of his men. All that rich domain northwest of the Ohio was secured to the republic, at the peace of 1783, in consequence of his prowess. His grave is in Cave Hill cemetery at Louisville, marked by a little headstone bearing the letters G. R.C. It is said that not half a dozen people in the United States can point, it out.

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