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Meriwether Lewis

1774 - 1809

This immense river waters one of the fairest portions of the globe. Nor do I believe that there is in the universe a similar extent of country. As we passed on, it seemed as if those scenes of visionary enchantment would never have an end.

—Meriwether Lewis referring to the Missouri River in his Voyage of Discovery journal

Meriwether Lewis was born in Albemarle County Virginia on August 18, 1774. He was the second of three children of Lucy and John Lewis. His father died when we he was five. Lewis's mother, left to raise her children and run a plantation, soon remarried. From age thirteen to eighteen Lewis attended local schools taught by ministers. When he was eighteen, his stepfather died and Lewis returned home to take over the job of running the plantation.

Lewis joined the US Army in 1794 and rose to the rank of Captain in 1800. In 1801 Captain Lewis became private secretary to US President Thomas Jefferson. Under Jefferson's direction, Lewis planned an exploration of a route west to the Pacific coast of North America. Lewis invited William Clark to join the expedition, and the two men privately agreed to lead it jointly. In addition to command, Lewis served as the party's naturalist. On the expedition he collected plant, animal, and mineral specimens.

In May of 1804 the expedition sponsored by the US Government, and lead by Lewis and Clark started up the Missouri River from a camp near St. Louis. By late fall, the explorers reached what is now North Dakota and spent the winter there. The following spring they continued along the Missouri and in late summer crossed the Rocky Mountains. They obtained horses, supplies, and valuable information from the Indians they met on their journey. Following the Clearwater, Snake, and Columbia Rivers they made their way to the Pacific coast, which they reached in November of 1805. The party spent the winter on the coast of what is now Oregon and began the trip home in March of 1806. The explorers returned along nearly the same route by which they had come, reaching St. Louis in September of 1806 after traveling a total of 8,000 miles (12,800 kilometers).

As a reward for his service, Jefferson named Lewis governor of the Louisiana Territory in 1807. In 1809 Lewis died under ambiguous circumstances. It is speculated that personal and professional problems may have driven him to suicide, but some people believe he was murdered. (Murder or Suicide)

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  Other Frontiersmen in the Lucidcafé Library

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  Books About Lewis

  DVDs About Meriwether Lewis

  • National Geographic - Lewis & Clark - Great Journey West (2002) - Studio: Warner Home Video

    National Geographic brings to life the epic journey of Lewis, Clark, their guide Sacagawea and the brave Corps of Discovery across the land that would become the United States.

    CLICK HERE to purchase this DVD edition of "Great Journey West"

  • Lewis & Clark - The Journey of the Corps of Discovery (1997) - Studio: PBS Home Video

    This well-crafted, engrossing documentary employs Ken Burns trademark approach to his subjects, from its elegant juxtaposition of period illustrations and portraits against newly filmed footage of historic sites to Burns's repertory of accomplished actors to provide gravitas for quotes from the key figures.

    CLICK HERE to purchase this DVD edition of "The Journey of the Corps of Discovery"

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Copyright © 1995-2016 Robin Chew
Article written by Robin Chew - August 1995