HOW MERIWETHER LEWIS TACKLED JEFFERSONS DREAM AND MADE IT HIS OWN
Suppose you were selected to fulfill a dream. Youd have to recruit and head up a 12 to 15 man expedition into 8,000 miles of unexplored wilderness and bring back the first maps, a journal about what you saw and the native people you met, and specimens of any new plants and animals you found. But first youd have to arrange the means of transportation, recruit your men, buy food and clothing for them, and learn how to provide medical care for your Corps of Discovery in the wild.
Whats Your Problem?
Now put the year at 1801-1802. No computers, telephones, cars, freeze dried food or K-rations...and your rifles and boats must be made by hand. Plus you are in the American East, where most roads west of the ocean are still dirt, or cobbled at best. The few large cities where supplies are available are many miles apart. Horseback takes about seven miles an hour. Mail goes by horseback. Now how long do you think you would need?
Lieutenant Meriwether Lewis faced just such a challenge when he was appointed by President Thomas Jefferson to be his personal aide in 1801. He realized during his next two years in the new President's House in Washington that his Commander had just such a dream and that he, Lewis himself, was to be THE MAN!
Whirlwind Period is Keystone of Success
Leaving Washington March 14 , 1803, on horseback with letters of introduction in his saddlebags, and a military letter of credit, he rode into Harpers Ferry arsenal where he spent a month ordering hand built rifles, knives, pipe tomahawks, and fish gigs and designing a folding iron frame boat to be built for the trip.
On April 19 he continued on to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where he studied the use of celestial navigation instruments for three weeks with the leading American surveyor, astronomer and navigation expert, Andrew Ellicott, a member of the American Philosophical Society (APS). A friend of Jeffersons, Ellicott had laid out the boundaries of the nations capital. Lewis also ordered more rifles, the Pennsylvania long barreled rifle made in those parts.
Finally! On the Road to Philadelphia
Mathematician Robert Patterson helped him polish his use of the instruments and helped him to buy them in what is now old City and then calibrate them.
Drs. Benjamin Rush and Caspar Wistar of the Pennsylvania Hospital, tutored him in medicine, native peoples, anatomy, and archeology, and Dr. Benjamin Smith Barton, also of the Pennsylvania Hospital, and botany professor of the University of Pennsylvania, covered known plants and animals, collecting, and how to label and store specimens for the return trip.
All three doctors asked Lewis to learn as much as possible about native people he would meet, and Dr. Rush gave him a list of specific questions to ask the tribes.
Collecting the Impedimenta
All of this done, Lewis (until now the only Captain of the Expedition) returned to Washington on June where he and Jefferson incorporated the suggestions of the Philadelphia mentors into final instructions for the expedition. Realizing he would need help, Lewis then wrote a letter to William Clark inviting him to join the Corps of Discovery and one to his mother, Lucy Meriwether Lewis Marks saying hed be home in a year and a half.
On July 4th, 1803, the day before Lewis again left Washington to travel to Pittsburgh to struggle with a difficult boat builder, the 27 year old nation received a birthday present. Napoleon sold Louisiana to the United States for 60 million francs. Lewis was assured at least that he would not be entering a foreign country on his expedition. He left on July 5, tying up loose ends in Harpers Ferry on the way. As in all good plans, something was amiss.
Dealing with a Glitch!
In Cincinnati, he received the famous letter from Clark, who wrote, in the unpolished spelling of most Americans of the time, I will chearfully join you .. In November, he was poling down the drought stricken Ohio River towards the Mississippi to pick up Clark and more men in Indiana Territory.
So why, you wonder, did your history book say that the Expedition began in St. Louis, struggled to cross the Rockies and reach the Pacific Ocean, and then return to St. Louis?
Two hundred years later, from August 9-13, 2003, 800 members of a national organization called the Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation will be meeting at the Loews Philadelphia Hotel on Market Street to study this story and its Philadelphia connections. For details of how to be involved, visit www.lewisandclarkphila.org. The web site was created by Anne Mackintosh, a retired teacher from Haddonfield Friends School with grant funding from the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Copyright free. 1076 words. By Norma M. Milner: adapt as needed.
|UpdatedOctober 29, 2002|