Sixth in a series
Prior to his inauguration president Jefferson began to lay the groundwork of what would later be called the Lewis and Clark expedition. He began by inviting a young neighbor, Merewether Lewis, into his inner circle as private secretary. He tested Lewis with critical jobs. Lewis served the president and absorbed ideas from Jefferson's keen intellect.
It appeared Lewis had been chosen to lead Jefferson's dream of western exploration. In January 1800 the president sent a message to Congress outlining his proposed expedition. The mission would serve two purposes. Diplomacy with the Indians and Europeans in the region was foremost in the note to Congress. The second goal was to open trade with the Natives of the upper-Missouri for American traders in hopes they could operate with as little difficulty as possible. What the president hid from Congress was the scientific aspect of the trip.
The president asked the legislative branch for $2,500 dollars to finance the journey. With Congress' approval of the voyage Jefferson chose Lewis to lead the expedition. Lewis responded by traveling to Harpers Ferry, Virginia and laying in the rifles, and other military equipment from the arsenal. He also had the foundry build an iron frame boat to explore the upper Missouri River.
Besides the military aspects Lewis began a quick schooling in botany, astronomy, medicine, surveying and mathematics. With Jefferson leading the way Lewis was exposed to the finest minds the United States possessed to teach the young soldier the survival and science skills he would need on his trip.
After his crash course he penned a letter to William Clark and offered him a co-captaincy if he would join him on the expedition. With the leadership settled Lewis headed west to Pittsburgh, and at Elizabeth, Pennsylvania he waited several weeks while local shipwright, too fond of the bottle, slowly built the fifty-five foot keelboat.
The new boat sailed down the Ohio River to Clarksville, Ind., where Lewis and Clark joined forces. The small group continued toward the Mississippi River, but stopped at Ft. Massac in southern Illinois. There the leaders made some of their finest choices of the trip. They hired George Drouillard and some active regular soldiers to join them on the journey. Drouillard, a half French and half Shawnee Indian, would prove to be invaluable to the expedition over the next two years. The large sail was raised and the keelboat navigated west toward Cairo, Ill., and the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers.
Dave Hinze is a professional historian and tour guide. He leads tours and presents at conferences on Lewis & Clark, and other topics pertaining to early American history, for the American History Education Association. You can reach Dave at 1-800-298-1861 or AHEA2004@yahoo.com