Second Lieutenant William Clark

William Clark-explorer-Virginia Lewis and Clark trail

The parents of William Clark, John, and Ann Rogers Clark, were married in the mid-1740s. They originally settled in Virginia’s King and Queen County. (1) At ages twenty-four (John)and fifteen (Ann Rogers), the young couple left the tidewater area for Albemarle County at a location near the future site of Charlottesville, and where they had inherited 410 acres of land on the Rivanna River. One of Clark’s neighbors was Peter Jefferson whose son was Thomas. (2)

Jonathan Clark and George Rogers Clark were born in 1750 and 1752, both red headed boys like their father, followed by Ann (1754) and John (1757). About two years later, the Clark family moved again, this time to Caroline County where six other children were born, including William on August 1,1770, another red-headed boy. He was the ninth of ten children. (3)

The older two children, Jonathan, and George Rogers were sent back to King and Queen County for their education. They attended an academy on the Mattaponi River and studied under Donald
Robertson. Robertson was a graduate of The University of Edinburgh and husband of Rachel, Ann Rogers Clark’s younger sister. Formal education for the younger children, including William, was delayed when the family decided to pack up again and moved to Louisville in 1784. This might explain, according to some historians, Clark’s creative spelling in his letters and journals. (4)

In 1789, William Clark joined the militia, where he fought against the Indians under Major John Hardin. He had begun to develop a reputation as a good soldier as described by James O’Fallon in a letter written to William’s brother, Jonathan. “He is a youth of solid and promising parts, and as brave as Caesar.” (5)

During his military career, he also appeared determined to broaden his education and studied the writings of Aristotle, Cicero, Plutarch and Pope, as well as anatomy and world history. He carried a “Dixinary” with him to help his spelling. (6)

In 1792, William was commissioned a lieutenant in the regular army, was assigned to Anthony Wayne’s regiment and participated in the Battle of Fallen Timbers. Meriwether Lewis served briefly with William Clark in the Wayne regiment, and later under Clark’s command. Clark, too, had met William Preston, Jr. of Botetourt County, and legend suggests the three friends returned to “Greenfield,” home of Billy Preston in the late 1790’s while they were on furlough. According to Robert Stoner in A Seed Bed of the Republic, “Fincastle being the last western outpost at which might be found some of the gaiety of the east, as well as supplies, Lieutenants Lewis & Clark had stopped there often…[T]hey made many friends here and were considered as members of the community.” (7)

In 1796, Clark had to resign his commission for health and family problems. Apparently, Willian had developed an illness during his tenure with General Wayne which nagged him throughout his adult years. Family issues were related to his older brother, George Rogers, who had become increasingly disabled by alcoholism and financial debt. William returned to his Kentucky home, Mulberry Hill, to aid the family with these issues. He also helped manage Mulberry Hill and the family’s tobacco business. (8)

On a trip to Virginia in 1801, and related to settling George Rogers’ business affairs, William Clark traveled the Wilderness Road through the Cumberland Gap into the southwestern part of the state. He then traveled up Virginia’s Great Valley Road and stopped in Fincastle. Clark stayed with his Army buddy, Billy Preston. Through Preston, Clark met the Hancock family, whose oldest daughter, Caroline, was engaged to Billy who she would marry in March 1802. Clark would have met Caroline’s younger sister, Judith (called Julia), who was just nine years old at that time. (9)

From Fincastle, Clark went to Washington City where Meriwether Lewis lived as personal secretary to Thomas Jefferson. It was two years later, in July 1803, that Clark received Lewis’ invitation to join him on the expedition.

Clark immediately began his job of recruiting men for the voyage. On October 14, he met Lewis in Louisville where he had been waiting with seven of the “Nine Young Men from Kentucky” plus York, Clark’s longtime friend and servant willed to him by his deceased father. Seven months later, on May 14,1804, the Corps of Discovery began its journey. The following is part of a journal entry on that day. “…hard Showers of rain. This being the day appointed by Capt. Clark to Set out..we got in readiness. Capt. Lewis..will join us at St. Charles. About 3 Oclock P.M. Capt. Clark and the party..manned the batteaux and perouges..fired our Swivel on the bow… hoisted sail and Set out in high spirits for the western Expedition…” (10) During the trip, Clark named a river in Montana after his to-be wife, the Judith River. In 1805, Lewis writes in his journal, “Captain Clark thought it was proper to call the (new) Southway waterway “Judith’s River” in honor of Miss Judy Hancock of Virginia…It was much wider than the Missouri.” (11)

The Corps of Discovery returned to St. Louis on September 23,1806. Clark was awarded 1600 acres of land and back pay of $1228.00. In December of 1806, he arrived in Fincastle for a “big” town celebration and an official “welcome home” speech given by the citizens. (12) A month later he was appointed Commissioner of Indian Affairs and Militia General, and soon afterwards he and Julia Hancock became engaged.

William and Julia were married January 8, 1808. Army friend, Billy Preston was present and pledged the then required $150.00 security bond for the wedding. Just two years earlier, Preston had married Julia’s older sister, Caroline, which made William Clark and William Preston brothers-in-law. (13)

The Clarks moved to St. Louis but returned to Fincastle often. After Meriwether Lewis’ death in 1809, Nicholas Biddle arrived in the town to help Clark edit Lewis’ expedition journals. In 1812 Julia and two sons, Lewis & Billy, visited until daughter Mary Margaret was born in 1813. By 1815, William had been appointed Governor of Missouri Territory and the Clark family was back in St. Louis where the two last children were born, George Rogers Hancock (1816) and John Julius (1818.) Just two years later, Julia died, possibly from breast cancer. She was buried at the Hancock home, Fotheringay, in Montgomery County, Virginia. (14) William Clark returned to St. Louis, and in 1821, married Harriet Kennerly Radford, Julia’s 15%. cousin, now a widow, and who he knew from Fincastle. Sadly, two of his young children by Julia, Mary Margert and Julius, both died in childhood, as did one of Clark’s two sons born by Harriet. William Clark died in 1838 in St. Louis at the age of 64 and was buried in Bellefontaine Cemetery. (15)

References for the William Clark Narrative

1. William Clark and the Shaping_of the West, Landon Y. Jones, Hill and Wang, 2004, pgs. 13-14

2. Ibid., pgs. 13-14

3. Ibid, pg. 16

4. “Biography of William Clark,” University of Virginia (www@vcdh.virginia.edu)

5. William Clark and the Shaping of the West, pg. 62

6. Ibid., pg. 65

7. A Seed-Bed of the Republic, Robert Stoner, 1962, pg. 251

8. William Clark and the Shaping_of the West, pg. 97

9. Ibid., pg. 107

10. “The Lewis & Clark Expedition Bicentennial Calendar,” May 14, 1804

11. The Visits of Lewis & Clark to Fincastle, Virginia, pg. 35

12. Ibid., pg. 41

13. Ibid., pg. 59

14. Ibid., pgs. 97-98

15. “Biography of William Clark,” University of Virginia (www@vcdh.virginia.edu)