John Shields (explorer)

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Private John Shields (1769–1809) was, at 35, the oldest member of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

Early life[edit]

John Shields was born in Rockingham County, Virginia, in 1769. He was one of twelve children of Robert Shields and Nancy Stockton, who were known as the "Parents of the Ten Brothers." Richard, David and William were all elder siblings, followed by John himself, James, Joseph, Arnett, Ezekial (who did not survive his first year), Benjamin, Joshua and Robert. Janet, the only daughter, married Joshua Tipton and had a son John Tipton. John and his brothers helped his parents to build Shield's Fort, which is located where modern day Pigeon Forge is, near where the Dollywood theme park currently stands. Some of the cabins found in Cades Cove near Pigeon Forge were also built by the family.


In 1790, Shields married Nancy. Their daughter, named Martha Jennette, married John Shields Tipton.

Lewis & Clark Expedition[edit]

Shields was a private for the Lewis & Clark Expedition from October 19, 1803, until October 10, 1806. Despite the captains' rule that they would only consider unmarried men for the exploring enterprise, they recruited Shields. He acted as the gunsmith and blacksmith for the duration of the expedition. Along with private John Colter, he threatened John Ordway's life on March 29, 1804. He was put on trial for mutiny, but spared. (See John Ordway for more information.)

Lewis said of him: "Nothing was more peculiarly useful to us, in various situations, than the skill and ingenuity of this man as an artist, in repairing our guns, accoutrements, &c." Lewis recommended that he be given a bonus for his services.

He became one of the permanent members of the Corps of Discovery.


After the expedition, Shields did some fur trapping in Missouri with Daniel Boone, to whom he was related.

He settled in Indiana by June 1807. He was appointed captain of the Clark County militia in July 1807.

In 1809, Shields died in Harrison County. A state historical marker to his memory is erected near the Harrison County Courthouse in Corydon, Indiana.