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Merriwether Lewis

Civilization:American: Virginia
Era: Discovery
1774–1809Field of Renown:explorer: Louisiana Purchase

 Lewis and Clark

Meriwether Lewis was born in Virginia, but in 1780 he moved with his mother and stepfather to Georgia, where his older brother became his guardian. While in Georgia, he developed his interest in natural history and improved his skills as an outdoorsman. He also established contact with the Cherokee people, who saw him as a champion among his people. In 1793, Lewis graduate from Liberty Hall and joined the Virginia militia. Shortly thereafter, he was sent to subdue members of the Whiskey Rebellion, and upon his return he joined the U.S. Army, where he served as lieutenant until 1801. At that time, he was appointed as an aide to President Thomas Jefferson, whom he knew personally, and soon after he was chosen to set out on an expedition to reach the Pacific Ocean.

The goal of Lewis and Clark’s expedition across the country was two-fold: to study the local wildlife and geography, and to find a Northwest Passage through which goods could be more easily exchanged with Asia. They were accompanied by thirty-three other travelers, including a young Shoshone woman named Sacajawea, who helped them communicate and trade with the various tribes along their journey. The party reached the Pacific Ocean in 1805, concluding their journey in present-day Oregon. The two men failed to find a commercial route to Asia, but they reported extensively on animal and plant life and Indian cultures, and their success strengthened the notion that the U.S. would someday reach from coast to coast.

Upon his return, Lewis received 1,600 aces of land and was appointed governor of the Louisiana Territory. He made arrangements to publish the journals he had kept while on his trek across the country, but he was shot while on his journey to Washington, D.C. Whether his death was a suicide is widely debated; he was found injured by several gunshot wounds, including one that took off part of his skull, and he died shortly after sunrise the next day.

Key events during the life of Meriwether Lewis

Year Event
1774 Died.
1780 Moved to Georgia with his mother and stepfather.
1793 Graduated from Liberty Hall (now Washington and Lee University).
1794 Helped put down the Whiskey Rebellion.
1795-1801 Served in the U.S. Army.
1804-06 Expedition to the Pacific Coast.
1807 Appointed governor of the Louisiana Territory.
1809 Killed by multiple gunshot wounds.


Story LinksBook Links
Long Journey  in  Stories of Great Americans for Little Americans  by  Eggleston
Lewis and Clark  in  America First  by  Evans
Lewis and Clark—I  in  Trails of the Pathfinders  by  Grinnell
Jefferson—How the Door Was Opened  in  This Country of Ours  by  Marshall
Bird Woman Meets Lewis in  Bird Woman—Sacajawea  by  Schultz

Image Links
Captains Lewis and Clark were much puzzled at this point  in Trails of the Pathfinders Mariwether Lewis in Opening the West with Lewis and Clark That means she sees her own people.'  in Opening the West with Lewis and Clark

Contemporary Short Biography
William Clark Led an expedition up the Missouri River, map-making, gathering information, and looking for a passage to the Pacific Ocean.
Thomas Jefferson Third President. Author of the Declaration of Independence. Founder of Democrat-Republican Party.
Winnemucca Chief of a Piute tribe. First befriended the white settlers, but rebelled when his tribe was mistreated.
Sacajewea Indian woman who accompanied Lewis and Clark during their explorations of the Louisiana Purchase.