The Expedition of Lewis and Clark
NIC History 111
Long before Thomas Jefferson was the President of the United States he had aspirations to know what was beyond the Mississippi River. The purchase of the Louisiana Territory from the French in 1803 opened the door to President Jefferson’s opportunity to send explorers across the continent. At that time, nearly the whole population of the United States lived within 50 miles of the Atlantic Ocean. Because of this, all of the knowledge of the west had come from French fur trappers and other explorers from other countries. Jefferson sent Meriwether Lewis and William Clark to lead a team of explorers to the Pacific Ocean with the goals of mapping and learning about the area, creating relations with the Indians of those parts, and finding an all-water route to the Pacific Ocean. The expedition of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark was a journey full of bumps and struggles, but it would eventually lead to great opportunities and discoveries for the United States of America.
Thomas Jefferson specifically chose Meriwether Lewis to head this journey through the Louisiana Territory. Lewis had been a captain in the U.S. Army and Jefferson’s former secretary. When Lewis was in the military he served in a company commanded by William Clark.1 Lewis decided that he wanted Clark to assist him in the journey to the West. Both of them had certain skills obtained in the Army that would greatly benefit them while exploring. In February of 1803 Congress had granted Jefferson and his “Corps of Discovery” money for the expedition, Allowing Jefferson the opportunity to make his dream a reality.
Although Lewis and Clark were very well prepared to survive the journey, they also needed to be equipped with the proper knowledge to make the voyage a scientific success. To do so, Lewis traveled to Philadelphia to learn about many different objectives which he would be asked to accomplish during his trip. He was tutored in map making and surveying from Andrew Ellicott, botany from Benjamin Smith Barton, mathematics from Robert Patterson, anatomy and fossils from Caspar Wistar, and medicine from Benjamin Rush.2 He had gained as much knowledge and as many skills as possible for the journey, and was almost completely ready to leave. All he needed were supplies.
While in Philadelphia, Lewis also gathered many supplies, including scientific tools, guns and ammunition, medicines, and journal keeping supplies. On the list he had a chronometer, a sextant, ink, journals, portable soups, a corn mill, mosquito netting, blankets, oiled linen, candles, tools, and reference books.3 Although he had many supplies it still might not be enough to make it all the way to the Pacific Ocean and back.
Along with the supplies he needed to survive and to obtain information, it was also necessary to have supplies to trade and gift to the Indians they were bound to encounter. It is a part of Indian tradition and culture to exchange gifts; it is a symbol of friendship and allegiance. On his shopping list he included glass beads, mirrors, scissors, thimbles, needles, tobacco, knives, and peace medals.4 With these peace offerings, the Corps of Discovery hoped to follow Jefferson’s instructions to treat the Indians in a kind manner and increase trade and knowledge of the tribes.
The official announcement of the Louisiana Purchase was not made public until July of 1803. This made the Lewis and Clark expedition much more important, as the land to be explored was completely American territory. Once Lewis had obtained Jefferson’s exact instructions, he set off for Pittsburgh and set out on the Ohio River. He met up with William Clark in Clarksville where they packed up their boats and headed downriver. Accompanying them were a few recruited soldiers, Clark’s African-American slave York, and Lewis’s dog Seaman.
During the Winter of 1803-1804, Lewis and Clark...
Bibliography: Ambrose, Stephen E. Lewis & Clark: Voyage of Discovery. Willard, OH: R. R. Donnelley & Sons, 2002.
Ambrose, Stephen E. Undaunted Courage. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 1996.
Duncan, Dayton. Lewis & Clark: The Journey of a Corps of Discovery. Willard, OH: R. R. Donnelley & Sons, 1997.
Gilbert, Don. The Trailblazers. New York, NY: Time-Life Books, 1973.
Fazio, James R. Across the Snowy Ranges: The Lewis and Clark Expedition in Idaho and Western Montana. Moscow, ID: Woodland Press, 2001.
Schmidt, Thomas and Jeremy. The saga of Lewis & Clark into the Uncharted West. New York, NY: DK Publishing, Inc., 2003.
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