Kentucky’s Lewis and Clark Connections
by Natasha Collier
In 1803, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark departed from the Falls of the Ohio near Louisville, Kentucky and set out on an expedition that would become a journey of the American Spirit. Over their three year experience, the team charted the course that would lead the way for those who packed up to move west with Manifest Destiny guiding them. One detail of this story often goes unmentioned. Kentucky played a large part in the Lewis and Clark adventure. It is believed that nearly half of the members of the expedition were from Kentucky or had Kentucky connections. The core of the Corps of Discovery, the heart of the Lewis and Clark group, were from the Louisville area. The nine men who made up the group’s nucleus were known as the “Nine Young Men from Kentucky” and laid the foundation for one of the most historic journeys ever taken.
Leader William Clark was born at his family’s homestead in Caroline County, Virginia on August 1, 1770. He was the ninth of ten children and the youngest of six sons. Exploration was in his blood. His oldest brother, General George Rogers Clark was an Indian fighter in several skirmishes including Lord Dunmore’s War and surveyed for the Ohio Company in Kentucky. He became a delegate for Harrodsburg in the Kentucky Colony of Virginia and is credited with the foundation of Louisville. George definitely set the precedent for explorers in the Clark family.
William was educated formally in Virginia and his family moved three miles southeast of Louisville when he was fourteen years old. It was at “Mulberry Hill” where his practical education began. William became skilled in surveying, wilderness living, running a plantation and even cartography. By the time he was twenty-one, he was proficient as a surveyor, frontiersman, planter and soldier. The men in the Clark family were no strangers to war. His five brothers had all fought in the Revolutionary War, with two giving their lives to their country. According to the William Clark biography by the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial Commission, he “might have served under his brother George in a 1786 militia expedition against the Wabash River Indians, but it is certain that he served in John Hardin’s 1789 expedition against the White River Indian towns, Charles Scott’s 1791 expedition against the Ouiatanon Indian towns, and assisted with the defense of the settlements against Indian attack.” Regardless, his skills were highly praised and on March 7, 1792, he became a second lieutenant in the infantry of the army.
William Clark’s involvement with Indian affairs would continue with territorial expansion into the Northwest Territory and he was present at the Battle of Fallen Timbers. 1803 would be the year that marked William Clark’s place in history. He was invited to become a member of a group that would map a route to the Pacific Ocean. Meriwether Lewis, who was formerly a subordinate of Clark’s, had become private secretary to Thomas Jefferson and suggested that he be a part of this mission. In July, Clark received a letter that he was called to be a member of the Corps of Discovery. By October, he began recruiting men from the Louisville area to take part in the expedition and met Meriwether Lewis there. On October 26, 1803 Lewis and Clark, who complemented each other very well, set off on the three-year journey. This journey was just another occasion showcasing the spirit that Kentuckians have long-since possessed. The Unbridled Spirit of a journey which that made history.