Meriwether Lewis

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Meriwether Lewis
Meriwether Lewis-Charles Willson Peale.jpg
2nd Governor of Louisiana Territory
In office
March 3, 1807 October 11, 1809
Appointed by Thomas Jefferson
Preceded by James Wilkinson
Succeeded by Benjamin Howard
Commander of the Corps of Discovery
In office
President Thomas Jefferson
Preceded byCorps commissioned
Succeeded byCorps disbanded
Private Secretary to the President
In office
President Thomas Jefferson
Preceded byWilliam Smith Shaw
Succeeded byLewis Harvie
Personal details
Born(1774-08-18)August 18, 1774
Ivy, Albemarle County, Colony of Virginia
DiedOctober 11, 1809(1809-10-11) (aged 35)
Hohenwald, Tennessee, U.S.
Cause of death Suicide by gun
Alma mater Liberty Hall (Washington and Lee University), 1793
OccupationExplorer, soldier, politician
Signature Meriweather Lewis Signature.svg
Military service
Branch/service Infantry
Years of service1795-1807
Unit Legion of the United States
1st United States Infantry Regiment
CommandsCorps of Discovery; see above.

Meriwether Lewis (August 18, 1774 – October 11, 1809) was an American explorer, soldier, politician, and public administrator, best known for his role as the leader of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, also known as the Corps of Discovery, with William Clark.

United States Federal republic in North America

The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United States or America, is a country comprising 50 states, a federal district, five major self-governing territories, and various possessions. At 3.8 million square miles, the United States is the world's third or fourth largest country by total area and is slightly smaller than the entire continent of Europe's 3.9 million square miles. With a population of over 327 million people, the U.S. is the third most populous country. The capital is Washington, D.C., and the largest city by population is New York City. Forty-eight states and the capital's federal district are contiguous in North America between Canada and Mexico. The State of Alaska is in the northwest corner of North America, bordered by Canada to the east and across the Bering Strait from Russia to the west. The State of Hawaii is an archipelago in the mid-Pacific Ocean. The U.S. territories are scattered about the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, stretching across nine official time zones. The extremely diverse geography, climate, and wildlife of the United States make it one of the world's 17 megadiverse countries.

Exploration The act of traveling and searching for resources or for information about the land or space itself

Exploration is the act of searching for the purpose of discovery of information or resources. Exploration occurs in all non-sessile animal species, including humans. In human history, its most dramatic rise was during the Age of Discovery when European explorers sailed and charted much of the rest of the world for a variety of reasons. Since then, major explorations after the Age of Discovery have occurred for reasons mostly aimed at information discovery.

Lewis and Clark Expedition American overland expedition to the Pacific coast

The Lewis and Clark Expedition from May 1804 to September 1806, also known as the Corps of Discovery Expedition, was the first American expedition to cross the western portion of the United States. It began in Pittsburgh, Pa, made its way westward, and passed through the Continental Divide of the Americas to reach the Pacific coast. The Corps of Discovery was a selected group of US Army volunteers under the command of Captain Meriwether Lewis and his close friend Second Lieutenant William Clark.


Their mission was to explore the territory of the Louisiana Purchase, establish trade with, and sovereignty over the natives near the Missouri River, and claim the Pacific Northwest and Oregon Country for the United States before European nations. They also collected scientific data, and information on indigenous nations. [1] President Thomas Jefferson appointed him Governor of Upper Louisiana in 1806. [2] [3] He died of gunshot wounds in what was either a murder or suicide, in 1809.

Louisiana Purchase Acquisition by the United States of America of Frances claim to the territory of Louisiana

The Louisiana Purchase was the acquisition of the territory of Louisiana by the United States from France in 1803. In return for fifteen million dollars, the U.S. acquired a total of 828,000 sq mi. The treaty was negotiated by French Treasury Minister François Barbé-Marbois and American delegates James Monroe and Robert R. Livingston.

Sovereignty concept that a state or governing body has the right and power to govern itself without outside interference

Sovereignty is the full right and power of a governing body over itself, without any interference from outside sources or bodies. In political theory, sovereignty is a substantive term designating supreme authority over some polity.

Missouri River major river in the central United States, tributary of the Mississippi

The Missouri River is the longest river in North America. Rising in the Rocky Mountains of western Montana, the Missouri flows east and south for 2,341 miles (3,767 km) before entering the Mississippi River north of St. Louis, Missouri. The river drains a sparsely populated, semi-arid watershed of more than 500,000 square miles (1,300,000 km2), which includes parts of ten U.S. states and two Canadian provinces. Although nominally considered a tributary of the Mississippi, the Missouri River above the confluence is much longer and carries a comparable volume of water. When combined with the lower Mississippi River, it forms the world's fourth longest river system.

Life and work

Lewis Coat of Arms Coat of Arms of Meriwether Lewis.svg
Lewis Coat of Arms

Meriwether Lewis was born in Albemarle County, Colony of Virginia, in the present-day community of Ivy. [4] He was the son of William Lewis, [5] of Welsh ancestry, and Lucy Meriwether [6] , of English ancestry. After his father died of pneumonia in November 1779, he moved with his mother and stepfather Captain John Marks to Georgia. [7] They settled along the Broad River in the Goosepond Community within the Broad River Valley in Wilkes County (now Oglethorpe County).

Albemarle County, Virginia County in the United States

Albemarle County is a county located in the Piedmont region of the Commonwealth of Virginia. Its county seat is Charlottesville, which is an independent city and enclave entirely surrounded by the county. Albemarle County is part of the Charlottesville Metropolitan Statistical Area. As of the 2010 census, the population of Albemarle County was 98,970, more than triple the 1960 census count.

Colony of Virginia English/British possession in North America (1607–1776)

The Colony of Virginia, chartered in 1606 and settled in 1607, was the first enduring English colony in North America, following failed proprietary attempts at settlement on Newfoundland by Sir Humphrey Gilbert in 1583, and the subsequent further south Roanoke Island by Sir Walter Raleigh in the late 1580s.

Ivy, Virginia Census-designated place in Virginia, United States

Ivy is a census-designated place (CDP) in Albemarle County, Virginia, United States. The population as of the 2010 Census was 905. It is a small unincorporated community located on U.S. Route 250, just west of Charlottesville.

Lewis had no formal education until he was 13 years of age, but during his time in Georgia he enhanced his skills as a hunter and outdoorsman. He would often venture out in the middle of the night in the dead of winter with only his dog to go hunting. Even at an early age, he was interested in natural history, which would develop into a lifelong passion. His mother taught him how to gather wild herbs for medicinal purposes.

In the Broad River Valley, Lewis first dealt with American Indians. This was the traditional territory of the Cherokee, who resented encroachment by the colonists. Lewis seems to have been a champion for them among his own people. While in Georgia, he met Eric Parker, who encouraged him to travel. At age 13, Lewis was sent back to Virginia for education by private tutors. His father's older brother Nicholas Lewis became his guardian. [7] One of his tutors was Parson Matthew Maury, an uncle of Matthew Fontaine Maury. In 1793, Lewis graduated from Liberty Hall (now Washington and Lee University).

The Cherokee are one of the indigenous people of the Southeastern Woodlands of the United States. Prior to the 18th century, they were concentrated in what is now southwestern North Carolina, southeastern Tennessee, and the tips of western South Carolina and northeastern Georgia.

Matthew Fontaine Maury United States Navy officer

Matthew Fontaine Maury was an American astronomer, United States Navy officer, historian, oceanographer, meteorologist, cartographer, author, geologist, and educator.

Washington and Lee University private liberal arts university in Lexington, Virginia, United States

Washington and Lee University is a private liberal arts university in Lexington, Virginia. Established in 1749, the university is a colonial-era college and the ninth-oldest institution of higher learning in the United States.

That year he joined the Virginia militia, and in 1794 he was sent as part of a detachment involved in putting down the Whiskey Rebellion. In 1795, Lewis joined the United States Army, commissioned as an ensign—an army rank that was later abolished and was equivalent to a modern-day second lieutenant. By 1800 he rose to captain, and ended his service there in 1801. Among his commanding officers was William Clark, who would later become his companion in the Corps of Discovery.

Virginia militia

The Virginia militia is an armed force composed of all citizens of the Commonwealth of Virginia capable of bearing arms. The Virginia militia was established in 1607 as part of the English militia system. Militia service in Virginia was compulsory for all free males. The main purpose of the Crown's militia was to repel invasions and insurrections and to enforce the laws of the colony.

Whiskey Rebellion tax protest in the United States from 1791 to 1794

The Whiskey Rebellion was a tax protest in the United States beginning in 1791 and ending in 1794 during the presidency of George Washington, ultimately under the command of American Revolutionary war veteran Major James McFarlane. The so-called "whiskey tax" was the first tax imposed on a domestic product by the newly formed federal government. It became law in 1791, and was intended to generate revenue for the war debt incurred during the Revolutionary War. The tax applied to all distilled spirits, but American whiskey was by far the country's most popular distilled beverage in the 18th century, so the excise became widely known as a "whiskey tax". Farmers of the western frontier were accustomed to distilling their surplus rye, barley, wheat, corn, or fermented grain mixtures to make whiskey. These farmers resisted the tax. In these regions, whiskey often served as a medium of exchange. Many of the resisters were war veterans who believed that they were fighting for the principles of the American Revolution, in particular against taxation without local representation, while the federal government maintained that the taxes were the legal expression of Congressional taxation powers.

United States Army Land warfare branch of the United States Armed Forces

The United States Army (USA) is the land warfare service branch of the United States Armed Forces. It is one of the seven uniformed services of the United States, and is designated as the Army of the United States in the United States Constitution. As the oldest and most senior branch of the U.S. military in order of precedence, the modern U.S. Army has its roots in the Continental Army, which was formed to fight the American Revolutionary War (1775–1783)—before the United States of America was established as a country. After the Revolutionary War, the Congress of the Confederation created the United States Army on 3 June 1784 to replace the disbanded Continental Army. The United States Army considers itself descended from the Continental Army, and dates its institutional inception from the origin of that armed force in 1775.

On April 1, 1801, Lewis was appointed as Secretary to the President by President Thomas Jefferson, whom he knew through Virginia society in Albemarle County. Lewis resided in the presidential mansion, and frequently conversed with various prominent figures in politics, the arts and other circles. [8] He compiled information on the personnel and politics of the United States Army, which had seen an influx of Federalist officers as a result of "midnight appointments" made by outgoing president John Adams in 1801. [9]

Thomas Jefferson 3rd president of the United States

Thomas Jefferson was an American statesman, diplomat, lawyer, architect, and Founding Father who served as the third president of the United States from 1801 to 1809. Previously, he had served as the second vice president of the United States from 1797 to 1801. The principal author of the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson was a proponent of democracy, republicanism, and individual rights, motivating American colonists to break from the Kingdom of Great Britain and form a new nation; he produced formative documents and decisions at both the state and national level.

Federalist Party first American political party

The Federalist Party, referred to as the Pro-Administration party until the 3rd United States Congress as opposed to their opponents in the Anti-Administration party, was the first American political party. It existed from the early 1790s to the 1820s, with their last presidential candidate being fielded in 1816. They appealed to business and to conservatives who favored banks, national over state government, manufacturing, and preferred Britain and opposed the French Revolution.

John Adams 2nd president of the United States

John Adams was an American statesman, attorney, diplomat, writer, and Founding Father who served as the second president of the United States from 1797 to 1801. Before his presidency he was a leader of the American Revolution that achieved independence from Great Britain, and also served as the first vice president of the United States. Adams was a dedicated diarist and regularly corresponded with many important figures in early American history including his wife and adviser, Abigail, and his letters and other papers are an important source of historical information about the era.

When Jefferson began to plan for an expedition across the continent, he chose Lewis to lead the expedition. Meriwether Lewis recruited Clark, then aged 33, to share command of the expedition.[ citation needed ]

The expedition

Expedition route Carte Lewis and Clark Expedition.png
Expedition route

After the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, Thomas Jefferson wanted to get an accurate sense of the new land and its resources. The President also hoped to find a "direct and practicable water communication across this continent, for the purposes of commerce with Asia." [10] In addition, Jefferson placed special importance on declaring U.S. sovereignty over the Native Americans along the Missouri River. [11] [12] [13] [14]

The two-year exploration by Lewis and Clark was the first transcontinental expedition to the Pacific Coast by the United States; however, Lewis and Clark reached the Pacific 12 years after Sir Alexander Mackenzie had done so overland in Canada. [10] When they left Fort Mandan in April 1805 they were accompanied by the 16-year-old Shoshone Indian woman, Sacagawea, the wife of the French-Canadian fur trader, Toussaint Charbonneau. The Corps of Discovery made contact with many Native Americans in the trans-Mississippi West and found them accustomed to dealing with European traders and already connected to global markets.

After crossing the Rocky Mountains, the expedition reached the Oregon Country (which was disputed land beyond the Louisiana Purchase) and the Pacific Ocean in November 1805. They returned in 1806, bringing with them an immense amount of information about the region as well as numerous plant and animal specimens. [15] They demonstrated the possibility of overland travel to the Pacific coast. The success of their journey helped to strengthen the American concept of "Manifest destiny" - the idea that the United States was destined to reach all the way across North America from Atlantic to Pacific. [16] [17]

Return and gubernatorial duties

After returning from the expedition, Lewis received a reward of 1,600 acres (6.5 km2) of land. He also initially made arrangements to publish the Corps of Discovery journals, but had difficulty completing his writing. In 1807, Jefferson appointed him governor of the Louisiana Territory; he settled in St. Louis.

Lewis' record as an administrator is mixed. He published the first laws in the Upper-Louisiana Territory, established roads and furthered Jefferson's mission as a strong proponent of the fur trade. He negotiated peace among several quarreling Indian tribes. His duty to enforce Indian treaties was to protect the western Indian lands from encroachment, [9] which was opposed by the rush of settlers looking to open new lands for settlements. But due to his quarreling with local political leaders, controversy over his approvals of trading licenses, land grant politics, and Indian depredations, some historians have argued that Lewis was a poor administrator.

That view has been reconsidered in recent biographies. Lewis's primary quarrels were with his territorial secretary Frederick Bates. Bates was accused of undermining Lewis to seek Lewis's dismissal and his own appointment as governor. Because of the slow-moving mail system, former president Jefferson and Lewis's superiors in Washington got the impression that Lewis did not adequately keep in touch with them. [18]

Bates wrote letters to Lewis's superiors accusing Lewis of profiting from a mission to return a Mandan chief to his tribe. Because of Bates' accusation, the War Department refused to reimburse Lewis for a large sum he personally advanced for the mission. When Lewis's creditors heard that Lewis would not be reimbursed for the expenses, they called Lewis's notes, forcing him to liquidate his assets, including land he was granted for the Lewis and Clark Expedition. One of the primary reasons Lewis set out for Washington on this final trip was to clear up questions raised by Bates and to seek a reimbursement of the money he had advanced for the territorial government.

The U.S. government finally reimbursed the expenses to Lewis's estate two years after his death. Bates eventually became governor of Missouri. Though some historians have speculated that Lewis abused alcohol or opiates based upon an account attributed to Gilbert Russell at Fort Pickering on Lewis's final journey, [19] others have argued that Bates never alleged that Lewis suffered from such addictions and that Bates certainly would have used them against Lewis if Lewis suffered from those conditions.


Lewis was a Freemason, initiated, passed and raised in the "Door To Virtue Lodge No. 44" in Albemarle, Virginia, between 1796 and 1797. [20] On August 2, 1808, Lewis and several of his acquaintances submitted a petition to the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania requesting dispensation to establish a lodge in St. Louis. Lewis was nominated and recommended to serve as the first Master of the proposed Lodge, which was warranted as Lodge No. 111 on September 16, 1808. [21] (See List of Notable Freemasons)

Lewis and slavery

Unlike William Clark, who brought his slave York on the westward expedition, Lewis did not have a personal valet slave. Although Lewis attempted to supervise enslaved people while running his mother's plantation before the expedition, he left that post and had no valet during the expedition. Lewis made assignments to York but allowed Clark to supervise him; Lewis also granted York and Sacagewea votes during expedition meetings. Later, Lewis hired a free African-American man as his valet, John Pernia. Pernia accompanied Lewis during his final journey, although his wages were considerably in arrears. After Lewis' death, Pernia continued to Monticello and asked Jefferson to pay the $240 owed him, but was refused. Pernia later committed suicide. [22]


Meriwether Lewis National Monument located at milepost 385.9 on the Natchez Trace Parkway. Meriwether Lewis National Monument and Gravesite.jpg
Meriwether Lewis National Monument located at milepost 385.9 on the Natchez Trace Parkway.

On September 3, 1809, Lewis set out for Washington, D.C. He hoped to resolve issues regarding the denied payment of drafts he had drawn against the War Department while serving as governor of the Upper Louisiana Territory, leaving him in potentially ruinous debt. Lewis carried his journals with him for delivery to his publisher. He intended to travel to Washington by ship from New Orleans, but changed his plans while floating down the Mississippi River from St. Louis. He disembarked and decided instead to make an overland journey via the Natchez Trace and then east to Washington. (The Natchez Trace was the old pioneer road between Natchez, Mississippi, and Nashville, Tennessee.) Robbers preyed on travelers on that road and sometimes killed their victims. [23] Lewis had written his will before his journey and also attempted suicide on this journey, but was restrained. [24]


According to a lost letter from October 19, 1809, to Thomas Jefferson, Lewis stopped at an inn on the Natchez Trace called Grinder's Stand, about 70 miles (110 km) southwest of Nashville on October 10. After dinner, he retired to his one-room cabin. In the predawn hours of October 11, the innkeeper's wife (Priscilla Grinder) heard gunshots. Servants found Lewis badly injured from multiple gunshot wounds, one each to the head and gut. He bled out on his buffalo hide robe and died shortly after sunrise. The Nashville Democratic Clarion published the account, which newspapers across the country repeated and embellished. The Nashville newspaper also reported that Lewis's throat was cut. [25] Money that Lewis had borrowed from Major Gilbert Russell at Fort Pickering to complete the journey was missing.

While Lewis's friend Thomas Jefferson and some modern historians have generally accepted Lewis's death as a suicide, debate continues, as discussed below. No one reported seeing Lewis shoot himself. Three inconsistent somewhat contemporary accounts are attributed to Mrs. Grinder, who left no written account or testimony—some thus believe her testimony was fabricated, while others point to it as proof of suicide. [26] Mrs. Grinder claimed Lewis acted strangely the night before his death: standing and pacing during dinner and talking to himself in the way one would speak to a lawyer, with face flushed as if it had come on him in a fit. She continued to hear him talking to himself after he retired, and then at some point in the night, she heard multiple gunshots, a scuffle, and someone calling for help.

She claimed to be able to see Lewis through the slit in the door crawling back to his room. However, she never explained why she never investigated further at the time, but only the next morning sent her children to look for Lewis's servants. Another account claimed the servants found Lewis in the cabin, wounded and bloody, with part of his skull gone, but he lived for several hours. In the last account attributed to Mrs. Grinder, three men followed Lewis up the Natchez Trace, and he pulled his pistols and challenged them to a duel. In that account, Mrs. Grinder said that she heard voices and gunfire in Lewis's cabin about 1 a.m. She found the cabin empty and a large amount of gunpowder on the floor. Thus, in this account, Lewis's body was found outside the cabin.

Lewis's mother and relatives always contended it was murder. A coroner's jury held an inquest immediately after Lewis's death as provided by local law; however, they did not charge anyone with murdering Lewis. [27] The jury foreman kept a pocket diary of the proceedings, which disappeared in the early-1900s.[ citation needed ] When William Clark and Thomas Jefferson were informed of Lewis' death, both accepted the conclusion of suicide. Based on their positions and the never-found Lewis letter of mid-September 1809, historian Stephen Ambrose dismissed the murder theory as "not convincing". [9]

Later analyses

The only doctor to examine Lewis's body did not do so until 40 years later, in 1848. [28] The Tennessee State Commission, including Dr. Samuel B. Moore, charged with locating Lewis's grave and erecting a monument over it, opened Lewis's grave. The commission wrote in its official report that though the impression had long prevailed that Lewis died by his own hand, "it seems to be more probable that he died by the hands of an assassin." [29] In the book The History of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, first printed in 1893, the editor Elliott Coues expressed doubt about Thomas Jefferson's conclusion that Lewis committed suicide, despite including the former president's Memoir of Meriwether Lewis in his book. [30]

From 1993–2010, about 200 of Lewis's kin (through his sister Jane, as he had no children) sought to have the body exhumed for forensic analysis, to try to determine whether his death was a suicide or murder . A Tennessee coroner's jury in 1996 recommended exhumation. However, since Lewis's gravesite is in a national monument, the National Park Service must approve. The agency refused the request in 1998, citing possible disturbance to the bodies of more than 100 pioneers buried nearby. In 2008, the Department of the Interior approved the exhumation, but rescinded that decision in 2010 after the change in administrations, stating that decision is final.[ citation needed ] It is nonetheless improving the grave site and visitor facility. [31]

Historian Paul Russell Cutright wrote a detailed refutation of the murder robbery theory, concluding that it "lacks legs to stand on". [32] [33] He stressed Lewis's debts, heavy drinking, and possible morphine and opium use, failure to prepare the expedition's journals for publication, repeated failure to find a wife, and the deterioration of his friendship with Thomas Jefferson. [9] [33] This refutation was countered by Eldon G. Chuinard, who argued for the murder hypothesis. Leading Lewis scholars Donald Jackson, Jay H. Buckley, Clay S. Jenkinson and others, have stated that, regardless of their leanings or beliefs, the facts of his death are not known, there are no eyewitnesses, and the reliability of reports of those in the place or vicinity cannot be considered certain. Author Peter Stark believes that post-traumatic stress disorder may have been a contributor to Meriwether Lewis's condition after spending months traversing hostile Indian territory, particularly because travelers coming afterward exhibited the same symptoms. [34]


Letter from Thomas Jefferson to Paul Allen with a biography of Meriwether Lewis, 1813 Thomas Jefferson Meriwether Lewis biography.jpg
Letter from Thomas Jefferson to Paul Allen with a biography of Meriwether Lewis, 1813

The explorer was buried near present-day Hohenwald, Tennessee, near his place of death. His grave was located about 200 yards from Grinder's Stand, alongside the Natchez Trace. (That section of the 1801 Natchez Trace was built by the U.S. Army under the direction of Lewis' mentor Thomas Jefferson, during Lewis' lifetime).

At first, the grave was unmarked. Alexander Wilson, an ornithologist and friend of Lewis' who visited the grave in May 1810, during a trip to New Orleans to sell his drawings, wrote that he gave the innkeeper Robert Griner money to erect a fence around the grave to protect it from animals. [35]

The State of Tennessee erected a monument over Lewis' grave in 1848. Lemuel Kirby, a stonemason from Columbia, Tennessee, chose the design of a broken column, commonly used at the time to symbolize a life cut short. [36]

An iron fence erected around the base of the monument was partially dismantled during the Civil War by General Hood's detachments marching from Shiloh toward Franklin; they forged the iron into horseshoes [37]

A September 1905 article in Everybody's Magazine called attention to Lewis' abandoned and overgrown grave. [38] A county road worker, Teen Cothran, took the initiative to open a road to the cemetery. Thereafter, a local Tennessee Meriwether Lewis Monument Committee was soon formed to push for restoring Lewis' gravesite. In 1925, in response to the committee's work, President Calvin Coolidge designated Lewis' grave as the fifth National Monument in the South.

In 2009, the Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation organized a commemoration for Lewis in conjunction with their 41st annual meeting October 3–7, 2009. [39] It included the first national memorial service at his grave site. On October 7, 2009, near the 200th anniversary of Lewis' death, about 2,500 people (National Park Service estimate) from more than 25 states gathered at his grave to acknowledge Lewis' life and achievements. Speakers included William Clark's descendant Peyton "Bud" Clark, Lewis' collateral descendants Howell Bowen and Tom McSwain, and Stephanie Ambrose Tubbs (Stephen Ambrose's daughter; her father wrote Undaunted Courage , an award-winning book about the Lewis and Clark Expedition). A bronze bust of Lewis was dedicated at the Natchez Trace Parkway for a planned visitor center at the grave site area. The District of Columbia and governors of 20 states associated with the Lewis and Clark Trail sent flags flown over state capital buildings to be carried to Lewis' grave by residents of the states, acknowledging the significance of Lewis' contribution in the creation of their states. [40]

The 2009 ceremony at Lewis' grave was the final bicentennial event honoring the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Re-enactors from the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial participated, and official attendees included representatives from Jefferson's Monticello. Lewis and Clark descendants and family members, along with representatives of St. Louis Lodge #1, past presidents of the Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation, and the Daughters of the American Revolution, carried wreaths and led a formal procession to Lewis' grave. Samples of plants which Lewis discovered on the expedition were brought from the Trail states and laid on his grave. The U.S. Army was represented by the 101st Airborne Infantry Band and its Army chaplain. The National Park Service announced that it would rehabilitate the site. [41]


For many years, Lewis' legacy was overlooked, inaccurately assessed, and somewhat tarnished by his alleged suicide. [9] Yet his contributions to science, the exploration of the Western U.S., and the lore of great world explorers, are considered incalculable. [9]

Four years after Lewis' death, Thomas Jefferson wrote:

"Of courage undaunted, possessing a firmness & perseverance of purpose which nothing but impossibilities could divert from it's direction, careful as a father of those commited to his charge, yet steady in the maintenance of order & discipline, intimate with the Indian character, customs & principles, habituated to the hunting life, guarded by exact observation of the vegetables & animals of his own country, against losing time in the description of objects already possessed, honest, disinterested, liberal, of sound understanding and a fidelity to truth so scrupulous that whatever he should report would be as certain as if seen by ourselves, with all these qualifications as if selected and implanted by nature in one body, for this express purpose, I could have no hesitation in confiding the enterprise to him. [42]

Jefferson wrote that Lewis had a "luminous and discriminating intellect." William Clark's first son Meriwether Lewis Clark was named after Lewis; the senior Meriwether Clark passed the name on to his son, Meriwether Lewis Clark, Jr.

Lewis and Clark, 1954 issue Lewis and Clark 1954 Issue-3c.jpg
Lewis and Clark, 1954 issue

Captain Meriwether Lewis and Lieutenant (de facto Co-Captain and posthumously, officially promoted to Captain in advance of the bicentennial) William Clark commanded the Corps of Discovery to map the course of the Missouri River to its source and the Pacific Northwest overland and water routes to and from the mouth of the Columbia River. They were honored with a 3-cent stamp July 24, 1954 on the 150th anniversary. The 1803 Louisiana Purchase doubled the size of the United States. Lewis and Clark described and sketched its flora and fauna and described the native inhabitants they encountered before returning to St. Louis in 1806. [43]


Both Lewis and Clark appear on the gold Lewis and Clark Exposition dollars minted for the Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition. Among the Early United States commemorative coins, they were produced in both 1904 and 1905 and survive in relatively small numbers.

Lewis depicted on the 1904-05 commemorative Lewis and Clark Exposition dollar 1904 Lewis and Clark dollar obverse.jpg
Lewis depicted on the 1904-05 commemorative Lewis and Clark Exposition dollar

Postage stamps

The Lewis and Clark Expedition was celebrated on May 14, 2004, the 200th anniversary of its outset, by depicting the two on a hilltop outlook: two companion 37-cent USPS stamps showed portraits of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark. A special 32-page booklet accompanied the issue in eleven cities along the route taken by the Corps of Discovery. An image of the stamp can be found on Arago online at the link in the footnote. [44]

Flora and fauna

The plant genus Lewisia (family Portulacaceae), popular in rock gardens and which includes the bitterroot ( Lewisia rediviva ), the state flower of Montana, is named after Lewis, as is Lewis' woodpecker (Melanerpes lewis) and a subspecies of cutthroat trout, the westslope cutthroat (Oncorhynchus clarki lewisi).

Geographic names

Geographic names that honor him include:


Three US Navy vessels have been named in honor of Lewis: the Liberty ship SS Meriwether Lewis, the Polaris armed nuclear submarine USS Lewis and Clark and the supply ship USNS Lewis and Clark.

Academic institutions

Lewis & Clark College, Portland, Oregon, was named for Meriwether Lewis and William Clark.

Lewis-Clark State College, Lewiston, Idaho, was named for Meriwether Lewis and William Clark.

Meriwether Lewis Elementary School, Albemarle County, Virginia was named for Meriwether Lewis, who was born nearby.

Meriwether Lewis' relationship with Thomas Jefferson; Lewis' multiple expeditions, journals, and discoveries; and details surrounding Lewis' death play major roles in James Rollins' seventh Sigma Force novel, The Devil Colony.

The mystery surrounding Meriwether Lewis' death played a role in the 2016 book, The Secret History of Twin Peaks , by author Mark Frost.

In 2013, on the "Nashville" episode of the Comedy Central series Drunk History , Alie Ward and Georgia Hardstark retold the story of Lewis and Clark's expedition and Lewis' death, with Tony Hale portraying Lewis and Taran Killam as Clark. [46]



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  2. Defender Wilson, Mary Louise; Fenelon, James V. (2004). Voyage of Domination, "Purchase" as Conquest, Sakakawea for Savagery: Distorted Icons from Misrepresentations of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Wicazo Sa Review. University of Minnesota Press. 19 (1): pp. 90–1.
  3. Miller, Robert J. (2008). Native America, Discovered and Conquered: Thomas Jefferson, Lewis and Clark, and Manifest Destiny. Bison Books. p. 108. ISBN   0803215983
    ISBN   978-0803215986
  4. Prats, J.J. "Lt. William Lewis". The Historical Marker Database. J.J. Prats. Archived from the original on November 9, 2011. Retrieved September 15, 2009.
  5. Zontine, Patricia (April 2009). "Lt. William Lewis". Monticello. org. Thomas Jefferson Foundation, Inc. Archived from the original on October 9, 2009. Retrieved July 10, 2009.
  6. Zontine, Patricia L. (April 2009). "Lucy Meriwether Lewis Marks (1752-1837): Her Life and Her World". Monticello. org. Thomas Jefferson Foundation. Retrieved May 7, 2019.
  7. 1 2 "Internet Archive Wayback Machine". October 9, 2009. Archived from the original on October 9, 2009. Retrieved August 13, 2012.
  8. ""Corps of Discovery > The Leaders > Meriwether Lewis"". Archived from the original on October 13, 2006. Retrieved November 9, 2011.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link). National Park Service website. Archived from the original on 2006-10-13. Retrieved 2011-11-09.
  9. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Ambrose, Stephen. Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West, Simon & Schuster: 15 February 1996. ISBN   0-684-81107-3.
  10. 1 2 Elin Woodger, Brandon Toropov (2004). " Encyclopedia of the Lewis and Clark Expedition ". Infobase Publishing. p.150. ISBN   0-8160-4781-2
  11. Voyage of Domination, "Purchase" as Conquest, Sakakawea for Savagery: Distorted Icons from Misrepresentations of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, James Fenelon, Mary Defender-Wilson. Wicazo Sa Review, Vol. 19, No. 1, American Indian Encounters with Lewis and Clark (Spring, 2004), pp. 90–1
  12. Native America, Discovered and Conquered: Thomas Jefferson, Lewis and Clark, and Manifest Destiny Robert Miller, Bison Books, 2008 pg 108
  13. The Way to the Western Sea, David Lavender, University of Nebraska Press, 2001, pg 32, 90.
  14. Lewis and Clark among the Indians, James Ronda, University of Nebraska Press, 2002, pg 82, 192.
  15. The Lewis and Clark Expedition, Harry Fritz, Greenwood Press, 2004, pg 60
  16. Fritz, Harry W. (2004). The Lewis and Clark Expedition. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 113. ISBN   0-313-31661-9.
  17. Lewis and Clark among the Indians, James Ronda. pg 9. January 1, 2002. ISBN   978-0-8032-8990-1 . Retrieved January 20, 2011.
  18. "The West > People > Meriwether Lewis". PBS. Archived from the original on March 9, 2001. Retrieved July 4, 2010.
  19. Statement of Gilbert C. Russell, 26 November 111, Letters of the Lewis and Clark Expedition with Related Documents, 1783-1854, ed. Donald Jackson (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1962) This statement appears to be a deposition written during one of the courts martial for General James Wilkinson.
  20. Denslow, William R. (1957). "10,000 Famous Freemasons". Archived from the original on June 15, 2007. Retrieved February 19, 2017.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link). Bluehost, Inc. Archived from the original on 2007-06-15. Retrieved 2011-11-09. Note: Book was published by Macoy Publishing & Masonic Supply Co., Inc.
  21. Libert, Laura (May 3, 2003). "Pa Freemason May 03 – Treasures of the Temple: Brothers Lewis and Clark". The Masonic Library and Museum of Pennsylvania. Archived from the original on June 11, 2003. Retrieved July 4, 2010.
  22. "Meriwether Lewis as Slaveowner | Frances Hunter's American Heroes Blog". December 13, 2011. Retrieved May 13, 2015.
  23. Willie Blount, Messages of the Governors of Tennessee, 1796-1821, ed. R.H. White, vol. 1 (Nashville: Tennessee Historical Commission, 1952) p. 349. In 1811 Governor Blount requested additional funds for law enforcement on the Natchez Trace because of the frequent robberies.
  24. Holmberg, James J. (1992). "I Wish You to See & Know All: The Recently Discovered Letters of William Clark to Jonathon Clark" (PDF). We Proceeded On. Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation. 18 (4): 11. ISSN   0275-6706.
  25. The Democratic Clarion October 20, 1809, microfilm, Tennessee State Library and Archives
  26. Guice 2006, p. 35.
  27. No official record of the inquest was required to be filed. However, the inquest was referred to in court minutes in the early 1900s, Maury County, Tennessee County Court Minutes, Minute Book Q, p. 538, Maury County, Tennessee Archives. Grinder's Stand was in Maury County, Tennessee at the time of Lewis's death, and from the early-1830s to 1843, Lewis's grave the landmark establishing the county's southwest corner.
  28. Guice 2006, p. 88.
  29. Guice 2006, p. 129.
  30. Lewis, M. (1814). History of the Expedition Under the Command of Lewis and Clark. Philadelphia: Bradford and Inskeep. OCLC   11603043.
  31. Esterel, Mike (2010-09-25). ""Meriwether Lewis's Final Journey Remains a Mystery"". Archived from the original on September 27, 2010. Retrieved September 28, 2010.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link). The Wall Street Journal (Les Hinton). Archived from the original on 2010-09-27. Retrieved 2011-11-09.
  32. Cutright 1986, pp. 7–17.
  33. 1 2 Cutright, P. R. (March 1986). "Rest, Rest, Perturbed Spirit". We Proceeded On. Portland: Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation. 12 (1): 7–17. ISSN   0275-6706.
  34. Stark 2014, p. 247.
  35. The Life and Letters of Alexander Wilson, Clark Hunter, (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society 1983)358-367.
  36. "Report of the Lewis Monumental Commission" Messages of the Governors of Tennessee, 1845-1847, ed. R.H. White, vol. 4 (Nashville: Tennessee Historical Commission 1952), 383-387.
  37. J.B. Killebrew, Resources of Tennessee (1874).
  38. Everybody's Magazine, John Swain, September,1905.
  39. "First National Memorial Service for Meriwether Lewis – Commemorates 200th Anniversary of Lewis' Death" at the Wayback Machine (archived August 23, 2009). Tennessee News and Information. (2009-08-20). Archived from the original on 2009-08-23. Retrieved 2010-10-18.
  40. "We Proceeded On", Journal of the Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation, Vol. 36, No. 1, February 2010
  41. We Proceeded On", Journal of the Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation, Vol. 36, No. 1, February 2010
  42. Jackson, Letters, Vol II, p. 493
  43. Piazza, Daniel,"Lewis & Clark Expedition Issue", Arago: people, postage & the post, National Postal Museum. Viewed March 22, 2014.
  44. "Bicentennial Lewis & Clark Expedition Issue", Arago: people, postage & the post, National Postal Museum online, viewed April 28, 2014. An image of the stamp can be seen at, 37c Lewis and Clark on Hill stamp
  45. IPNI.  Lewis.
  46. "Comedy Central: Drunk History: Clip".

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