Lewis, Meriwether, 1774-1809

Alternative names
Birth 1774-08-18
Death 1809-10-11

Biographical notes:

Meriwether Lewis and William Clark were explorers. Nicholas Biddle was requested by William Clark to write a narrative of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, which was published in 1814 as "History of the Expedition of Captains Lewis and Clark."

From the description of Journal, 1803 Aug. 30-1803 Dec. 12; 1810. (American Philosophical Society Library). WorldCat record id: 154298060

From the guide to the Meriwether Lewis journal, August 30, 1803 - December 12, 1803; 1810, August 30 - December 12, 1803; 1810, (American Philosophical Society)

American soldier and explorer. He led the first official United States expedition to the Pacific ocean.

From the description of Letter, 1806. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 122598344

Explorer and governor of Louisiana.

From the description of Letter and certificate of Meriwether Lewis, 1799-1801. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 71014933

Governor of Missouri territory; traveller; private secretary to Thomas Jefferson.

From the description of Fragment of autograph document signed. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 270129879

Meriwether Lewis and William Clark were explorers.

From the description of Journals, 1804-1806. (University of Montana, Mansfield Library). WorldCat record id: 42927046

From the description of Journals, 1804-1806. (American Philosophical Society Library). WorldCat record id: 122440072

William Clark requested that Nicholas Biddle, scholar, statesman, and financier, write a narrative of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, which was published in 1814 as "History of the Expedition of Captains Lewis and Clark."

From the guide to the Nicholas Biddle correspondence, 1815-1893, 1815-1893, (American Philosophical Society)

When Thomas Jefferson acceded to the Presidency in 1801, one of his great unfulfilled wishes was to see a proper scientific expedition carried overland to the Pacific. As a Congressman in 1783, he had failed to convince George Rogers Clark to explore the west, and in 1793, his plans for André Michaux fell prey to international political machinations, and several other attempts had failed at even earlier stages. But in 1801, Jefferson dusted off the basic plan he had devised for Michaux, and once again, prepared to send an exploring party to the west.

To lead his expedition, Jefferson selected his personal secretary, Meriwether Lewis, a political ally, fellow Virginian, and a rejected applicant (at the tender age of 19) for the Michaux expedition. Lewis was not the worldly savant that Jefferson was, but he was well-read, scientifically versed, wrote beautiful prose, and was experienced in wilderness life. Lewis was allowed to select his second in command, an old army friend, William Clark, with whom he had served in the Northwest Territory. Although less well-educated than Lewis, Clark was an astute observer in his own right and if his prose was less polished, he was a more conscientious diarist and a very capable cartographer. Differing in personality, the moody Lewis and solid Clark made a compatible team.

From the outset, the Lewis and Clark expedition seemed destined to enjoy a better fate than its predecessors. While Michaux had become ensnared in international rivalries after entering the field, Lewis and Clark were presented with news that the Louisiana Territory had been purchased, removing one more international hurdle to clear in an already arduous course. Although usually thought of as a scientific expedition, it was driven as much by political and commercial interests as scientific. In keeping with his Enlightened precepts, the information that Jefferson hoped to gain was practical as well as theoretical. He hoped as much to spur the extension of the fur trade further into the interior as to advance pure knowledge, and wished to determine which areas were most amenable to white settlement. On the political front, Lewis and Clark were specifically enjoined to cultivate alliances among the Indians to blunt Spanish and British influence in the region. Above all, the success of the expedition promised to aid in fulfilling what Americans thought was inevitable: extending American sovereignty from sea to sea.

Lewis left Philadelphia in the summer of 1803, and joined with Clark and a few recruits in Indiana before arriving late in the year at the staging area near St. Louis. After making final preparations, they set off on May 14, 1804, for the west, ascending the Mississippi to the mouth of the Missouri, and then westward. From North Dakota to nearly the coast, Lewis and Clark passed through lands that no Europeans had ever seen, before reaching their goal, the Pacific, in November 1805. On the return leg of their journey (begun on March 3, 1806), the two improvised an even more ambitious plan, splitting their party in two to cover more territory, before reuniting in North Dakota. They finally arrived back in St. Louis on September 23, 1806.

Today, all along the original trail, the expedition is remembered as an example of fortitude and scientific achievement. Unlike many who followed, the explorers were generally cooperative with the native peoples they encountered -- indeed, they were reliant upon them -- and on only one occasion did they resort to violence. In their descriptions of dozens of new plant and animal species, in their "ethnographic" descriptions of Native Americans, and in their invaluable maps of the region, Lewis and Clark more than justified Jefferson's confidence and truly set the stage for an American west.

From the guide to the Lewis and Clark Journals, 1804-1806, (American Philosophical Society)


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  • Mandan Indians
  • Plains Indians
  • Indians of North America--Oregon
  • Missouri Indians
  • Publishers and publishing--History--19th century--sources
  • Chinook Indians
  • Exploration
  • Shoshoni Indians
  • Courts-martial and courts of inquiry
  • Indians of North America--Montana
  • Natural history
  • Indians of North America--North Dakota
  • Indians of North America
  • Louisiana Purchase--Discovery and exploration
  • Manuscripts, American
  • United States--Discovery and exploration
  • Real property
  • Lewis and Clark Expedition (1804-1806)
  • Plateau Indians
  • Travel
  • Indians of North America--Missouri
  • Printers--History--19th century--Sources
  • Explorers--Biography--Sources
  • Soldiers--Biography--Sources
  • Native America
  • Oto Indians
  • Northwest Coast Indians
  • Early National Politics
  • Sihasapa Indians
  • Salish Indians


  • Explorers
  • Governors--Louisiana


  • United States, Army (as recorded)
  • West (U.S.) (as recorded)
  • Louisiana Purchase (as recorded)
  • Louisiana (as recorded)
  • Northwest territory (as recorded)
  • Virginia--Albemarle County (as recorded)
  • Missouri (as recorded)
  • Georgia--Wilkes County (as recorded)
  • West (U.S.) (as recorded)
  • Louisiana Purchase (as recorded)
  • Missouri--Saint Louis (as recorded)
  • United States (as recorded)
  • United States (as recorded)
  • West (U.S.) (as recorded)
  • United States (as recorded)
  • United States (as recorded)
  • United States (as recorded)
  • West (U.S.) (as recorded)
  • West (U.S.) (as recorded)
  • West (U.S.) (as recorded)
  • West (U.S.) (as recorded)
  • Louisiana Purchase (as recorded)
  • West (U.S.) (as recorded)
  • United States (as recorded)
  • West (U.S.) (as recorded)