In 1803, the 15-million-dollar Louisiana Purchase was finalized. This deal set the stage for Thomas Jefferson to implement the Congressional action authorizing a team of explorers to search for a navigable water route west to the Pacific Ocean. (1)
When Thomas Jefferson became President in 1801, he chose Meriwether Lewis, a fellow Virginian, his neighbor, and longtime family friend, to serve as the President’s personal secretary. Lewis had also served as an officer in the Army in the Northwest Territory for several years and had traveled in the wilderness. With these credentials in mind, in 1802 Jefferson decided that Meriwether Lewis should command the westward expedition. The newly appointed leader of the Corps of Discovery became submerged in travel and preparations for the next two and a half years. A few examples include buying supplies and ammunition, contracting the building of a collapsible iron-frame boat, learning how to use a chronometer, being educated by Dr. Benjamin Rush on “Thunderclappers,” or purging pills that helped to “open the bowels” (should they be needed), and studying botany, anatomy, and fossils. (2)
In July 1803, William Clark received a letter and invitation from Meriwether Lewis “to participate with me in its fatigues, its dangers, its honors.” Clark replies, “I received by yesterday’s Mail, your letter of the 19th. [June] … the contents of which | received with much pleasure… | will cheerfully join you.” (3) The uniting of these two men in this mission continued a relationship of trust and respect that had begun several years earlier.
One of Clark’s major responsibilities was to help select men for the trip, and he quickly let Lewis know that he was not inclined to accept “Gentlemen’s sons“…. but was looking for “the best woodsmen and
Hunters…in this part of the Country.”(4) Of the men recruited, nine were from Kentucky who he called the “Nine young men from Kentucky.” Of these, eight were VA-born expedition members and one settled in Virginia post-expedition. Along with Lewis, Clark, and York, a total of eleven men on the Expedition were Virginia-born and/or Virginia-connected in another significant way.
Who were these ten men, what were their contributions to the expedition; what and who were their Virginia ties? What was their culture like then? For the narratives about Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, a host of resources was used from hard copy publications and from the internet. For writing about the known Virginia-born or connected members of the Expedition, Charles G. Clarke’s “The Men of the Lewis & Clark Expedition” was the primary source. Originally published in 1970, this book is a wealth of facts that made writing about these expedition members interesting, culturally revealing and humbling. Also note that there may be other Virginia-born/or connected members that have yet to be included.
Other resources are cited within the summaries about the other VA-born/connected expedition members. Factual and updated information about these men will be added when proven documentation is available such as recent revisions about York.
Words are inadequate to describe the personal hardships and losses that Lewis, Clark, the Virginia-born/connected and other expedition members endured while expanding the boundaries of the United States, and with it, making available bountiful future opportunities to current and future citizens.
Margaret W. Crosson, President
Virginia Lewis & Clark Legacy Trail, Inc.
January 31, 2021; Revised April 3, 2023
References for the Introduction:
1. 1. (www.history.com) — A Timeline of the Extraordinary Expedition/Everett Collection
2. “The Lewis & Clark Expedition Bicentennial Calendar,” May 1803
3. Ibid; June 19,1803
4. William Clark and the Shaping of the West, pg. 117