EXPLORERS: Meriwether Lewis (1774-1809) and William Clark (1770-1838)

FROM: United States of America

IMPORTANT DATES: their “Corps of Discovery” expedition lasted from 1804-1806; they wintered at Fort Clatsop, their Pacific camp near present day Astoria, Oregon, in 1805

VOYAGE: river and land

POTENTIAL PURPOSE: expanding territory and trade for the new nation of the United States; search for the Northwest Passage
EXPLORERS: Meriwether Lewis (1774-1809) and William Clark (1770-1838)

FROM: United States of America

IMPORTANT DATES: their “Corps of Discovery” expedition lasted from 1804-1806; they wintered at Fort Clatsop, their Pacific camp near present day Astoria, Oregon, in 1805

VOYAGE: river and land

POTENTIAL PURPOSE: expanding territory and trade for the new nation of the United States; search for the Northwest Passage

© 2007 Maritime Museum of British Columbia

Video

A Map Showing the Route Taken by Lewis and Clark

Maritime Museum of British Columbia

© 2007 Maritime Museum of British Columbia


Meriwether Lewis was born in 1774 near Charlottesville, Virginia, in what would soon become the United States of America.  Lewis entered the military as a young man. At the age of 20, he volunteered under President George Washington to help crush the Whiskey Rebellion of 1794 in western Pennsylvania.  He became a captain in the First United States Infantry Regiment at the age of 26 and was hired by President Thomas Jefferson as his personal secretary and aide at the age of 27.  In 1803, Lewis, not yet 30, set off to make winter preparations as commander of the “Corps of Discovery” that was to make its way across North America.  He was a leader and an observer: his notes pay particular attention to the botany of the regions they passed through.  After returning from this lengthy expedition, he filled the position of governor of the Louisiana Territory.  In 1809, en route to the United States capital of Washington, he died of gunshot wounds.  He was 35.  It is thought that Lewis suffered depression and committed suicide, although his family put forward suggestions of murder.
Meriwether Lewis was born in 1774 near Charlottesville, Virginia, in what would soon become the United States of America.  Lewis entered the military as a young man. At the age of 20, he volunteered under President George Washington to help crush the Whiskey Rebellion of 1794 in western Pennsylvania.  He became a captain in the First United States Infantry Regiment at the age of 26 and was hired by President Thomas Jefferson as his personal secretary and aide at the age of 27.  In 1803, Lewis, not yet 30, set off to make winter preparations as commander of the “Corps of Discovery” that was to make its way across North America.  He was a leader and an observer: his notes pay particular attention to the botany of the regions they passed through.  After returning from this lengthy expedition, he filled the position of governor of the Louisiana Territory.  In 1809, en route to the United States capital of Washington, he died of gunshot wounds.  He was 35.  It is thought that Lewis suffered depression and committed suicide, although his family put forward suggestions of murder.

© 2007 Maritime Museum of British Columbia

Meriwether Lewis

An Illustration of Meriwether Lewis

Maritime Museum of British Columbia

© 2007 Maritime Museum of British Columbia


William Clark was born in 1770 in Caroline County, Virginia, and spent his teenage years in Kentucky.  Clark came from a family of plantation-owners but joined the militia in 1789 and began serving as an officer in the regular army in 1792.  He left the army in his late 20s to run the family plantation, but was later invited to join the “Corps of Discovery” and set off to act as co-commander (with the official rank of second lieutenant) with fellow soldier Lewis.  In 1807, following the expedition, Clark was appointed Indian Agent and militia brigadier general for the Louisiana Territory by President Jefferson.  In 1813, Clark became governor of the Missouri Territory.  Although he was not elected as governor when Missouri became a state, he remained in a governmental role in St. Louis as Superintendent of Indian Affairs, from 1822 almost until his death in 1838.
William Clark was born in 1770 in Caroline County, Virginia, and spent his teenage years in Kentucky.  Clark came from a family of plantation-owners but joined the militia in 1789 and began serving as an officer in the regular army in 1792.  He left the army in his late 20s to run the family plantation, but was later invited to join the “Corps of Discovery” and set off to act as co-commander (with the official rank of second lieutenant) with fellow soldier Lewis.  In 1807, following the expedition, Clark was appointed Indian Agent and militia brigadier general for the Louisiana Territory by President Jefferson.  In 1813, Clark became governor of the Missouri Territory.  Although he was not elected as governor when Missouri became a state, he remained in a governmental role in St. Louis as Superintendent of Indian Affairs, from 1822 almost until his death in 1838.

© 2007 Maritime Museum of British Columbia

An Illustration of William Clark

An Illustration of William Clark

Maritime Museum of British Columbia

© 2007 Maritime Museum of British Columbia


This excerpt was written by Captain Clark, Sunday, December 1, 1805, from the Pacific coast in present-day Oregon State.  It describes the dramatic landscape and daily chores for the Corps.  The spellings are Clark’s own.
“A cloudy windey morning wind from the East, dispatched two hunters, I deturmined to take a Canoe & a fiew men and hunt the marshey Islands above Point William, the Wind rose So high that I could not proceed, and returned to partake the dried fish, which is our Standing friend, began to rain hard at Sun Set and Continued.    my hunters returned without any thing haveing Seen 2 parcels of elk    men all employed to day in mending their leather Clothes, Shoes &c. and Dressing leather.  The emence [immense] Seas and waves which breake on the rocks & Coasts to the S W. & N W roars like an emence fall at a distance, and this roaring has continued ever Since our arrival in the neighbourhood of the Sea Coast which has been 24 days Since we arrived in Sight of the Great Western; (for I cannot Say Pacific) Ocian [Ocean] as I have not Seen one pacific day Since my arrival in its vici Read More

This excerpt was written by Captain Clark, Sunday, December 1, 1805, from the Pacific coast in present-day Oregon State.  It describes the dramatic landscape and daily chores for the Corps.  The spellings are Clark’s own.
“A cloudy windey morning wind from the East, dispatched two hunters, I deturmined to take a Canoe & a fiew men and hunt the marshey Islands above Point William, the Wind rose So high that I could not proceed, and returned to partake the dried fish, which is our Standing friend, began to rain hard at Sun Set and Continued.    my hunters returned without any thing haveing Seen 2 parcels of elk    men all employed to day in mending their leather Clothes, Shoes &c. and Dressing leather.  The emence [immense] Seas and waves which breake on the rocks & Coasts to the S W. & N W roars like an emence fall at a distance, and this roaring has continued ever Since our arrival in the neighbourhood of the Sea Coast which has been 24 days Since we arrived in Sight of the Great Western; (for I cannot Say Pacific) Ocian [Ocean] as I have not Seen one pacific day Since my arrival in its vicinity, and its waters are forming and petially [perpetually] breake with emence waves on the Sands and rockey Coasts, tempestous and horiable. …”

This excerpt was written by Captain Lewis, Thursday, January 2, 1806, from Fort Clatsop, the Pacific winter fort of the Corps.
“Sent out a party of men and brought in the two Elk which were killed yesterday. Willard and Wiser [expedition participants] have not yet returned nor have a party of hunters returned who set out on the 26th [of December] …    the Indians who visited yesterday left us at 1 P M today after having disposed of their roots and berries for a few fishinghooks and some other small articles.    we are infested with swarms of flees already in our new habitations; the presumption is therefore strong that we shall not devest [divest] ourselves of this intolerably troublesome vermin during our residence here. The large, and small or whistling swan, sand hill Crane, large and small gees, brown and white brant, Cormorant, duckan mallard, Canvisback duck, and several other species of ducks, still remain with us; tho’ I do not think that they are as plenty as on our first arrival in the neighbourhood. Drewyer visited his traps and took an otter.  the fur of both the beaver and otter in this country are extreemly good; those annamals [animals] are tolerably plenty near the sea coast, and on the small Creeks and rivers as high as the grand rappids, but are by no means as much so as on the upper part of the Missouri.”


© 2007 Maritime Museum of British Columbia

In 1803, Meriwether Lewis began to prepare for an expedition across North America to the Pacific coast.  He received guidance in scientific and medicinal practices from members of the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia, and had a keelboat for river travel specially constructed in Pittsburgh.  After travelling down the Ohio River, Lewis picked up William Clark in Indiana, and they wintered in Illinois, across the river from St. Louis, Missouri.

On May 14, 1804, following the spring thaw, the Corps of Discovery set off with more than 40 men, a dog named Seaman, and a reported 1,600 kilograms of supplies and equipment.  They travelled along the Missouri River, following routes taken by traders and previous expeditions. The men passed the winter of 1804-05 at their Fort Mandan camp, in what is now North Dakota.  The following spring, the expedition sent back its keelboat and proceeded up the Missouri with canoes.  Anticipating the need for a translator to speak with the local peoples whose lands they were passing through, they hired a French-Canadian interpreter who travelled with his Shoshone wife, Sacagawea. 

The expediti Read More

In 1803, Meriwether Lewis began to prepare for an expedition across North America to the Pacific coast.  He received guidance in scientific and medicinal practices from members of the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia, and had a keelboat for river travel specially constructed in Pittsburgh.  After travelling down the Ohio River, Lewis picked up William Clark in Indiana, and they wintered in Illinois, across the river from St. Louis, Missouri.

On May 14, 1804, following the spring thaw, the Corps of Discovery set off with more than 40 men, a dog named Seaman, and a reported 1,600 kilograms of supplies and equipment.  They travelled along the Missouri River, following routes taken by traders and previous expeditions. The men passed the winter of 1804-05 at their Fort Mandan camp, in what is now North Dakota.  The following spring, the expedition sent back its keelboat and proceeded up the Missouri with canoes.  Anticipating the need for a translator to speak with the local peoples whose lands they were passing through, they hired a French-Canadian interpreter who travelled with his Shoshone wife, Sacagawea. 

The expedition crossed the Rocky Mountains with Shoshone horses and guides and took the Clearwater, Snake, and Columbia Rivers to the Pacific. They built a camp at Fort Clatsop, Oregon, in December of 1805, where they survived the winter and prepared for their return journey.  The Corps set off eastward on March 23, 1806; Lewis and Clark split up to cover more geography for their survey reports, although they followed essentially the same route as their westward travels.  The expedition reunited in North Dakota and returned to St. Louis on September 23, 1806, to the surprise of many who believed they had perished after almost two and a half years in the distant west.


© 2007 Maritime Museum of British Columbia

Fort Clatsop

Fort Clatsop, Oregon - Reproduction Fort

Maritime Museum of British Columbia

© 2007 Maritime Museum of British Columbia


Geography west of the Missouri River remained a mystery to the American colonists of the late 1700s.  Congressman Thomas Jefferson made a failed attempt to organize an expedition of exploration in 1783.  When plantation-owner Jefferson became president in 1801, the impetus to reach the Pacific by land included a fear of British expansion, accentuated by Alexander Mackenzie’s successful North American crossing further north in 1792-93. Captain Lewis had already received his orders and was underway with the organization of the expedition when the Louisiana Purchase passed in 1803.  The Louisiana Purchase involved the sale of the lands of Louisiana by French leader Napoleon (who had received them from Spain) to the United States for $15 million.

Jefferson told the Spanish minister that the expedition was one of an Enlightenment interest in gathering scientific data.  Based on the careful records of flora and fauna kept by Lewis, Clark, and their enlisted military men between 1804 and 1806, that perception of the scientific purpose of the Corps of Discovery is still held by many. But American trader Captain Robert Gray had sailed to the mouth of th Read More

Geography west of the Missouri River remained a mystery to the American colonists of the late 1700s.  Congressman Thomas Jefferson made a failed attempt to organize an expedition of exploration in 1783.  When plantation-owner Jefferson became president in 1801, the impetus to reach the Pacific by land included a fear of British expansion, accentuated by Alexander Mackenzie’s successful North American crossing further north in 1792-93. Captain Lewis had already received his orders and was underway with the organization of the expedition when the Louisiana Purchase passed in 1803.  The Louisiana Purchase involved the sale of the lands of Louisiana by French leader Napoleon (who had received them from Spain) to the United States for $15 million.

Jefferson told the Spanish minister that the expedition was one of an Enlightenment interest in gathering scientific data.  Based on the careful records of flora and fauna kept by Lewis, Clark, and their enlisted military men between 1804 and 1806, that perception of the scientific purpose of the Corps of Discovery is still held by many. But American trader Captain Robert Gray had sailed to the mouth of the Columbia River in 1792, and it is important to consider that there was hope of finding a riverine crossing from the Atlantic to the Pacific. In essence they were searching for the Northwest Passage that had been rejected as a false hope by ocean-going expeditions over a decade before.   On June 20, 1803, Jefferson wrote to Lewis from Washington D.C.: “The Object of your mission is to explore the Missouri river & such principal stream of it as by its course and communication with the waters of the Pacific ocean, whether the Columbia, Oregon, Colorado or any other river may offer the most direct and practicable water communication across this continent for the purpose of commerce.”

When the Lewis and Clark expedition arrived at the Columbia River estuary and the shores of the Pacific, they required winter lodgings, and in a military fashion constructed fortified dwellings at Fort Clatsop, near the current location of the city of Astoria, Oregon.  The fort became a base for hunting parties and trade with the Clatsop and Chinook peoples.  Lewis focused on studies of the local wildlife and Clark created maps of the region during their stay.


© 2007 Maritime Museum of British Columbia

Cascade on left bank Columbia River

Cascade on left bank Columbia River (Cascades of the Columbia) 1857

Artist: James W. Alde
Collection: Northwest Boundary Commission

© Northwest Boundary Commission


Many expeditions of exploration have involved animals as well as people.  The Lewis and Clark expedition relied on horses during some of their mountain crossings.  They left their horses in the care of the Nez Perce people during the winter of 1805-06 while they headed for the Pacific.  They returned for the animals in the spring and made part of their return journey on horseback. Dogs were also important to Lewis and Clark.  The men of the expedition often ate dog when other meat was scarce. 

Captain Lewis had a dog that was his companion and protector throughout the journey.  Seaman was a Newfoundland dog, likely purchased in Pittsburgh before the start of the expedition.  He appears in the journals of Lewis as well as of Clark, who noted that the people along the Columbia River were impressed by the “segassity [intelligence] of Capt Lewis’s Dog”.

Seaman was an efficient hunter, helping to catch large animals, such as antelope.  Lewis wrote admiringly in May of 1805: “my dog caught a goat, which he overtook by superior fleetness.”  Lewis included Seaman’s success at squirrel hunt Read More

Many expeditions of exploration have involved animals as well as people.  The Lewis and Clark expedition relied on horses during some of their mountain crossings.  They left their horses in the care of the Nez Perce people during the winter of 1805-06 while they headed for the Pacific.  They returned for the animals in the spring and made part of their return journey on horseback. Dogs were also important to Lewis and Clark.  The men of the expedition often ate dog when other meat was scarce. 

Captain Lewis had a dog that was his companion and protector throughout the journey.  Seaman was a Newfoundland dog, likely purchased in Pittsburgh before the start of the expedition.  He appears in the journals of Lewis as well as of Clark, who noted that the people along the Columbia River were impressed by the “segassity [intelligence] of Capt Lewis’s Dog”.

Seaman was an efficient hunter, helping to catch large animals, such as antelope.  Lewis wrote admiringly in May of 1805: “my dog caught a goat, which he overtook by superior fleetness.”  Lewis included Seaman’s success at squirrel hunting (which the dog achieved by drowning his prey) in an entry from the start of the journey.  He also showed concern for Seaman after the dog swam out to catch a beaver wounded by an expedition hunting party: “the beaver bit him through the hind leg and cut the artery; it was with great difficulty that I could stop the blood.”

Seaman is not included on the official expedition roster but he earned the respect and affection of his comrades as he, too, crossed North America to reach the Pacific.  The giant animal surely rescued the Corps of Discovery many times, including the night in May of 1805 when he diverted the charge of a male buffalo.  The bull was “passing between 4 fires and within a few inches of the heads of one range of the men as they yet lay sleeping”. But, “when he came near the tent, my dog saved us by causing him to change his course.”


© 2007 Maritime Museum of British Columbia

Newfoundland Dog

Newfoundland Dog, much like Lewis' Dog Seaman

Maritime Museum of British Columbia

© 2007 Maritime Museum of British Columbia


Learning Objectives

The learner will:
  • construct, interpret, and use graphs, tables, grids, scales, legends, and various types of maps
  • locate and describe major world landforms, bodies of water, and political boundaries on maps
  • locate and describe current and historical events on maps

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