(Archive - Week of March 11, 2005)

Meriwether Lewis

Meriwether Lewis

Meriwether Lewis was born in Albermarle County near Charlottesville, Virginia, into a noted planter family. He was the son of John Lewis, a Revolutionary War veteran, who died when he was five. Lewis's mother, Lucy, faced with running the plantation as well as rearing her children, remarried shortly after. From age 13 to 18, Lewis attended area schools taught by ministers. His stepfather died, so Lewis went home to manage the plantation.

Lewis developed an early love of the wilderness and became an expert hunter. After serving in the militia during the Whiskey Rebellion (1794) in western Pennsylvania, he transferred into the regular army and rose to the rank of Captain.

William Clark

In 1801 he became private secretary to President Thomas Jefferson who, for the next two years, prepared him to lead a transcontinental exploring expedition. At Lewis' request, William Clark was appointed as joint commander. To round out his background before leaving, Lewis went to Philadelphia to study botany, zoology and navigation.

The three-year expedition from 1804-1806 comprised around 40 men, variously skilled in botany, meteorology, zoology, celestial navigation, Indian sign language, carpentry, gun repair and boat handling. After a winter near St. Louis spent training and gathering supplies and equipment, the group started up the Missouri River in three boats in May 1804. By November they had traveled up the Missouri to what later became North Dakota, where they built a small fort and spent the winter among the Mandan Sioux.

Winter over, the expedition pushed westward to what is now Montana. Obtaining horses, they traveled over the Continental Divide to arrive at the headwaters of the Clearwater River. They built canoes to take them down the Clearwater to the Snake River and then to the mouth of the Columbia on the Pacific Coast, which they reached in November 1805. After building Fort Clatsop, where they wintered, the explorers began their return trip the following March, arriving amid much excitement at St. Louis in September 1806.

A deeply eroded section of the original trace near Port Gibson, Miss.

Following Jefferson's instructions, Lewis and Clark brought back diaries and maps that contained much new information. Along with Clark, Lewis received 1,600 acres of public land as a reward. On his resignation from the army he was named governor of Louisiana Territory in 1808. Lewis served as the governor, a job for which he was not suited.

On a trip back to the nation's capital to confer with his displeased superiors, Lewis met a sudden and violent death. His body was found with a gunshot wound in a small inn on the Natchez Trace. Jefferson, aware of Lewis's melancholy disposition, surmised that he took his own life; Lewis's family, however, believed he was murdered.

The Meriwether Lewis Memorial is a quiet place to visit near the Natchez Trace Parkway

NOAH'S NOTE: My birthplace is only 25 miles from the small inn and the Meriwether Lewis Memorial on the Natchez Trace where Lewis lost his life. The location is about 10 miles South of Hohenwald, Tenn.

The Natchez Trace Parkway runs 444 miles from Natchez in southern Mississippi to a point just south of Nashville, Tenn., cutting across a corner of Alabama.

The Ross Bennett Reservoir along the Natchez Trace Parkway near Jackson, Miss.

The parkway commemorates Native American paths that were later used by white settlers to extend their commerce and trade. It is a scenic road built and maintained by the National Park Service with 15 major interpretive locations, historic sites, camping and picnicking facilities.

Dogwoods in bloom alongside the parkway near Tupelo, Miss.

The parkway has two campgrounds in Mississippi and one in Tennessee. There are nature trails, portions of the original trace, scenic overlooks, historic monuments, bridges and visitor centers. The parkway is used by many touring cyclists.


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