Meriwether Lewis Explores A Continent
Meriwether Lewis served as President Thomas Jefferson’s personal secretary.
Lewis then led the Corps of Discovery on a transcontinental journey which cemented his place as a legend in American history.
Lewis is one of the few Founders who’s bio ended up being too long and I was forced to break his life up into two articles. Make sure you check back tomorrow for his surprise demise!
Among the Powers of the First Rank
The Louisiana Purchase had been signed.
The United States of America was now twice as big as it had been just twenty years earlier when the Revolutionary War was won.
The nation now had the opportunity, as Robert Livingston said, to, “take their place among the powers of the first rank.”
There was still much work to be done. President Thomas Jefferson decided to put together an exploratory committee. Unlike modern exploratory committees, this one would actually go exploring.
In order to learn about the new American West, Jefferson assemble the Corps of Discovery. It is better known today as the Lewis and Clark expedition.
Meriwether Lewis was a young man from an humble Georgian background. He grew up hunting and picking wildflowers and only began to receive a formal education at the age of 13 when he was sent to Virginia to study with private tutors under the guidance of his uncle.
Upon reaching maturity, Lewis joined the Virginia Militia, with whom he participated in suppressing the Whiskey Rebellion. This was followed by joining the fledgling United States Army.
By 27, Meriwether had impressed enough people in the right circles to become friendly with President Jefferson. He was hired as the President’s personal secretary, spending two years living in the Executive Mansion (soon to be known as the White House).
The Corps of Discovery
When Jefferson created the Corps of Discovery, he selected Meriwether Lewis to Captain the expedition. Due to their close proximity, Lewis had earned the President’s trust in addition to impressing with his vast knowledge of nature.
Lewis then hired his former commander William Clark to join the expedition. Of similar age and backgrounds, these two men were close friends and Clark was treated more like Lewis’ co-pilot than his subordinate.
Additionally, Lewis brought a Native American woman into the company. Her name was Sacajawea and she served as an expert guide and translator along the way.
Lewis and Clark led their small team on a transcontinental journey (on foot) between April and November of 1805.
Their mission objectives were threefold.
First, they were to establish contact with the Native American Nations across the continent, inform them of their assumption into the United States, and build trade agreements with them.
Second, they were to follow the Missouri River to its headwaters.
Lastly, Lewis was to discover any and all scientific information unique to this area.
Their mission was an astounding success and the Corps of Discovery’s triumph are why the names Lewis and Clark are recognized by all Americans today (even if they weren’t as notable in their own time).
For more about the Lewis and Clark adventure specifically, I really enjoyed ‘Undaunted Courage’ which can be purchased through our affiliate link below. There are loads of books on this journey but of all the ones I have read, this is the best take.
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