Ben York was born in 1770 into slavery in Caroline County. His parents had worked for the Clark family for many years, and upon the death of John Clark, III, York was bequeathed to William Clark. The two of them had been life-long companions. On the Expedition, he was described as the “wag, a wit, and delight” of the party, and Indians thought of him as “Great Medicine.” According to Charles Clarke in the “The Men of the Lewis & Clark Expedition”, York was freed after the Expedition and was given a dray and six horses by Clark “who was concerned for his welfare as long as he lived.” He died in Tennessee of cholera.
Another account of York’s life after the expedition was offered in the PBS series “Lewis & Clark: The Journey of the Corps of Discovery.” Director Ken Burns states that York continued to work for Clark as a slave after the expedition. York asked for his freedom, and at first Clark refused but did send him to Kentucky so he could be closer to his wife. Ten years after the expedition, Clark granted York his freedom and York worked in the freighting business in Tennessee and Kentucky.