|2nd Governor of Louisiana Territory|
March 3, 1807 – October 11, 1809
|Appointed by||Thomas Jefferson|
|Preceded by||James Wilkinson|
|Succeeded by||Benjamin Howard|
August 18, 1774|
Ivy, Colony of Virginia
|Died||October 11, 1809
|Alma mater||Liberty Hall (Washington and Lee University), 1793|
|Occupation||explorer, soldier, politician|
Meriwether Lewis (August 18, 1774 – October 11, 1809) was an American explorer, soldier, and public administrator, best known for his role as the leader of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, also known as the Corps of Discovery, with William Clark. Their mission was to explore the territory of the Louisiana Purchase, establish trade and sovereignty over the natives near the Missouri River, and claim the Pacific Northwest and Oregon Country for the United States before European nations. They also collected scientific data, and information on indigenous nations. President Thomas Jefferson appointed him Governor of Upper Louisiana in 1806. He died of gunshot wounds in what was either a murder or suicide.
Meriwether Lewis was born in Albemarle County, Virginia, in the present-day community of Ivy. He was the son of Lt. William Lewis of Locust Hill (1733 – November 17, 1779), who was of Welsh ancestry, and Lucy Meriwether (February 4, 1752 – September 8, 1837), daughter of Thomas Meriwether and Elizabeth Thornton who were both of English ancestry. (Thornton was the daughter of Francis Thornton and Mary Taliaferro). After his father died of pneumonia, he moved with his mother and stepfather Captain John Marks to Georgia in May 1780. They settled along the Broad River in the Goosepond Community within the Broad River Valley in Wilkes County (now Oglethorpe County).
Lewis had no formal education until he was 13 years of age. But during his time in Georgia, Lewis enhanced his skills as a hunter and outdoorsman. He would often venture out in the middle of the night in the dead of winter with only his dog, Seaman, to go hunting. Even at an early age, he was interested in natural history, which would develop into a lifelong passion. His mother taught him how to gather wild herbs for medicinal purposes. In the Broad River Valley, Lewis first dealt with American Indians. This was the traditional territory of the Cherokee, who resented encroachment by the colonists. Lewis seems to have been a champion for them among his own people. While in Georgia, he met Eric Parker, who encouraged him to travel. At thirteen, Lewis was sent back to Virginia for education by private tutors. His father's older brother Nicholas Lewis became his guardian. One of his tutors was Parson Matthew Maury, an uncle of Matthew Fontaine Maury. In 1793, Lewis graduated from Liberty Hall (now Washington and Lee University).
That year he joined the Virginia militia, and in 1794 he was sent as part of a detachment involved in putting down the Whiskey Rebellion. In 1795 Lewis joined the U.S. Army, commissioned as an Ensign (an Army rank that was later abolished and was equivalent to a modern Lieutenant). By 1800 he rose to Captain, and ended his service there in 1801. Among his commanding officers was William Clark, who would later become his companion in the Corps of Discovery.
On April 1, 1801, Lewis was appointed as an aide by President Thomas Jefferson, whom he knew through Virginia society in Albemarle County. Lewis resided in the presidential mansion, and frequently conversed with various prominent figures in politics, the arts and other circles. He compiled information on the personnel and politics of the United States Army, which had seen an influx of Federalist officers as a result of John Adams's "midnight appointments".
When Jefferson began to plan for an expedition across the continent, he chose Lewis to lead the expedition. Meriwether Lewis recruited Clark, then age 33, to share command of the expedition.
The Expedition 
After the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, Jefferson wanted to get an accurate sense of the new land and its resources. The President also hoped to find a "direct and practicable water communication across this continent, for the purposes of commerce with Asia." In addition, Jefferson placed special importance on declaring U.S. sovereignty over the Native Americans along the Missouri River.
The three-year exploration by Lewis and Clark was the first transcontinental expedition to the Pacific Coast by the United States; however, Lewis and Clark reached the Pacific 12 years after Sir Alexander Mackenzie had done so overland in Canada. They were accompanied by a fifteen-year-old Shoshone Indian woman, Sacagawea, the wife of a French-Canadian fur trader. After crossing the Rocky Mountains, the expedition reached the Pacific Ocean in the area of present-day Oregon (which lay beyond the nation's new boundaries) in November 1805. They returned in 1806, bringing with them an immense amount of information about the region as well as numerous plant and animal specimens. They demonstrated the possibility of overland travel to the Pacific coast. They found Native Americans in the trans-Mississippi West accustomed to dealing with European traders and already connected to global markets. The success of their journey helped to strengthen the idea that United States territory was destined to reach all the way to the Pacific.
Return and gubernatorial duties 
After returning from the expedition, Lewis received a reward of 1,600 acres (6.5 km2) of land. He also initially made arrangements to publish the Corps of Discovery journals, but had difficulty completing his writing. In 1807, Jefferson appointed him governor of the Louisiana Territory; he settled in St. Louis. He died in 1809 on his journey to deliver his journals to a Washington publisher.
Lewis' record as an administrator is mixed. He established roads and was a strong proponent of the fur trade. His position was to protect the western lands from encroachment, which was not favorable to the rush of settlers looking to open new lands for settlements. But due to his quarreling with local political leaders, controversy over his approvals of trading licenses, land grant politics, Indian depredations, excessive drinking and a slow-moving mail system, it appeared that Lewis was a poor administrator. He did not adequately keep in touch with his superiors in Washington.
Lewis was a Freemason, initiated, passed and raised in the "Door To Virtue Lodge No. 44" in Albemarle, Virginia, between 1796 and 1797. On August 2, 1808, Lewis and several of his acquaintances submitted a petition to the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania requesting dispensation to establish a lodge in St. Louis. Lewis was nominated and recommended to serve as the first Master of the proposed Lodge, which was warranted as Lodge No. 111 on September 16, 1808. (See List of Notable Freemasons)
On September 3, 1809, Lewis set out for Washington, D.C., where he hoped to resolve issues regarding the denied payment of drafts he had drawn against the War Department while serving as the first American governor of the Louisiana Territory. Some accounts say he carried his journals with him for delivery to his publisher. Lewis intended to travel to Washington by ship from New Orleans, but changed his plans while en route down the Mississippi from St. Louis. He decided to make an overland journey via the Natchez Trace and then east to Washington. The Natchez Trace was the old pioneer road between Natchez, Mississippi, and Nashville, Tennessee. On October 10, 1809, Lewis stopped at an inn on the Natchez Trace called Grinder's Stand, about 70 miles (110 km) southwest of Nashville. After leaving dinner, he went to his bedroom. In the predawn hours of October 11, the innkeeper heard gunshots. Servants found Lewis badly injured from multiple gunshot wounds, including one to the head. He died shortly after sunrise.
While modern historians generally accept his death as a suicide, there is some debate. Priscilla Grinder, the tavern-keeper's wife, claimed Lewis acted strangely the night before his death. She said that during dinner, Lewis stood and paced about the room talking to himself in the way one would speak to a lawyer. She observed his face to flush as if it had come on him in a fit. After he retired for the evening, she continued to hear him talking to himself. At some point in the night, she heard multiple gunshots, and what she believed was someone calling for help. She claimed to be able to see Lewis through the slit in the door crawling back to his room. She never explained why, at the time, she did not investigate further concerning Lewis' condition or the source of the gunshots. The next morning, she sent for Lewis' servants. They found him wounded and bloody, with part of his skull gone, but he lived for several hours. Priscilla Grinder's testimony is held as a point of contention from both sides of the murder–suicide debate. The murder advocates point to five conflicting testimonies as evidence that hers is fabricated, and the suicide advocates point to her testimony as proof of suicide. In the book The History of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, first printed in 1893, the editor Elliott Coues expresses doubt about Thomas Jefferson's conclusion that Lewis committed suicide as presented in the former President's Memoir of Meriwether Lewis, which is included in the book. In a lengthy review of information available to him in the 1890s, Elliott Coues states:
Undoubtedly Jefferson wrote in the light of all the evidence that had reached him in 1813, but it appears that his view of the case was far from being that of persons who lived in the vicinity of the scene at the time. That Governor Lewis did not die by his own hand, but was murdered and robbed, was common report at the time, as vouched by some persons still living....
The only doctor to examine Lewis' body did not do so until 40 years later, in 1848. He reported that Lewis appeared to have died "by the hand of an assassin". Lewis' descendants have retained the report.
When Clark and Jefferson were informed of Lewis' death, both accepted the conclusion of suicide. His mother and relatives contended it was murder. In later years, a court of inquiry explored whether they could charge the husband of the tavern-keeper with Lewis' death. They dropped the inquiry for lack of evidence or motive.
From 1993–2010, about 200 of Lewis' kin (through his sister Jane, as he had no children) sought to have the body exhumed for forensic analysis, to try to determine whether the death was a suicide. A Tennessee coroner's jury in 1996 recommended exhumation. Since Lewis is buried in a national park, the National Park Service must approve; they refused the request in 1998, citing possible disturbance to the bodies of more than 100 pioneers buried nearby. In 2008 the Department of Interior approved the exhumation, but that decision was rescinded in 2010 upon policy review, and the Department stated that its last decision is final. It is making improvements to the grave site and visitor facility.
||This section needs additional citations for verification. (February 2013)|
The explorer was buried near present day Hohenwald, Tennessee, near his place of death. The State of Tennessee erected a monument over his grave in 1848. The Tennessee State Commission charged with locating the grave and erecting the monument wrote in its official report that it was likely Lewis was murdered. Today, the grave site is maintained by the Natchez Trace Parkway.
In 2009, the Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation organized a commemoration for Lewis in conjunction with their 41st annual meeting October 3–7, 2009. It included the first national memorial service at his grave site. On October 7, 2009, the 200th anniversary of Lewis' death, about 2,500 people (Park Service estimate) from more than twenty-five states gathered at his grave to acknowledge his life and achievements. Speakers included Clark descendant Peyton "Bud" Clark, Lewis collateral descendants Howell Bowen and Tom McSwain, and Stephanie Ambrose Tubbs (the daughter of the author Stephen Ambrose, who wrote Undaunted Courage, an award-winning book about the Lewis and Clark expedition). A bronze bust of Lewis was dedicated at the Natchez Trace Parkway for a planned visitor center at the gravesite area. The District of Columbia and governors of twenty states sent flags flown over state capital buildings to be carried to Lewis' grave by residents of the states associated with the Lewis and Clark Trail.
This was the final bicentennial event honoring the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Re-enactors from the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial participated, and official attendees included Native American tribal chiefs and representatives from Jefferson's Monticello. The Lewis and Clark descendants, along with representatives of St. Louis Lodge #1, past presidents of the Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation, and the Daughters of the American Revolution, carried wreaths and led a formal procession to Lewis' grave. Samples of plants which Lewis discovered on the expedition were brought from the Trail states and laid on his grave. The U.S. Army was represented by the 101st Airborne Infantry Band and its Army chaplain.
For many years, Lewis' legacy was overlooked, inaccurately assessed, and somewhat tarnished by his alleged suicide. Yet his contributions to science, the exploration of the Western U.S., and the lore of great world explorers, are considered incalculable.
Four years after Lewis' death, Thomas Jefferson wrote:
Of courage undaunted, possessing a firmness and perseverance of purpose which nothing but impossibilities could divert from its direction, ... honest, disinterested, liberal, of sound understanding and a fidelity to truth so scrupulous that whatever he should report would be as certain as if seen by ourselves, with all these qualifications as if selected and implanted by nature in one body for this express purpose, I could have no hesitation in confiding the enterprise to him.
Jefferson wrote that Lewis had a "luminous and discriminating intellect." William Clark's first son Meriwether Lewis Clark was named after Lewis; the senior Meriwether Clark passed the name on to his son, Meriwether Lewis Clark, Jr.
The alpine plant Lewisia (family Portulacaceae), popular in rock gardens, is named after Lewis, as is Lewis' Woodpecker. A subspecies of cutthroat trout, the westslope cutthroat (Oncorhynchus clarki lewisi), is also named after him. Geographic names that honor him include Lewis County, Idaho, Lewis County, Kentucky; Lewis County, Tennessee; Lewisburg, Tennessee; Lewiston, Idaho; Lewis County, Washington; the U.S. Army fort Fort Lewis, Washington, the home of the US Army 1st Corps (I Corps), and especially Lewis and Clark County, Montana, the home of the capital city, Helena; Lewis and Clark Pass (Montana); Lewistown, Montana; the Lewis Range of Montana's Glacier National Park; Lewis Avenue in Phoenix, Arizona; Lewis Avenue in Billings, Montana. A day use campground at Gates of the Mountains Wilderness, north of Helena, Meriwether Picnic site. A cave, Lewis and Clark Caverns between Three Forks and Whitehall, Montana. Two US Navy Vessels have been named in honor of Lewis: the Polaris nuclear submarine USS Lewis and Clark and the supply ship USNS Lewis and Clark were named for him and William Clark.
|Ancestors of Meriwether Lewis|
- Fritz, Harry W. (2004). The Lewis and Clark Expedition. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 59. ISBN 0-313-31661-9
- Defender Wilson, Mary Louise; Fenelon, James V. (2004). Voyage of Domination, "Purchase" as Conquest, Sakakawea for Savagery: Distorted Icons from Misrepresentations of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Wicazo Sa Review. University of Minnesota Press. 19 (1): pp. 90–1.
- Miller, Robert J. (2008). Native America, Discovered and Conquered: Thomas Jefferson, Lewis and Clark, and Manifest Destiny. Bison Books. p. 108. ISBN 0803215983
- Prats, J.J. "Lt. William Lewis". The Historical Marker Database. J.J. Prats. Archived from the original on 2011-11-09. Retrieved 2009-09-15.
- Zontine, Patricia (2009-04). "Lt. William Lewis". Monticello. org. Thomas Jefferson Foundation, Inc. Archived from the original on 2009-10-09. Retrieved 2009-07-10.
- "Internet Archive Wayback Machine". Web.archive.org. 2009-10-09. Retrieved 2012-08-13.
- "Corps of Discovery > The Leaders > Meriwether Lewis". National Park Service website. Archived from the original on 2006-10-13. Retrieved 2011-11-09.
- Ambrose, Stephen. Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West, Simon & Schuster: 15 February 1996. ISBN 0-684-81107-3.
- Elin Woodger, Brandon Toropov (2004). "Encyclopedia of the Lewis and Clark Expedition". Infobase Publishing. p.150. ISBN 0-8160-4781-2
- Voyage of Domination, "Purchase" as Conquest, Sakakawea for Savagery: Distorted Icons from Misrepresentations of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, James Fenelon, Mary Defender-Wilson. Wicazo Sa Review, Vol. 19, No. 1, American Indian Encounters with Lewis and Clark (Spring, 2004), pp. 90–1
- Native America, Discovered and Conquered: Thomas Jefferson, Lewis and Clark, and Manifest Destiny Robert Miller, Bison Books, 2008 pg 108
- The Way to the Western Sea, David Lavender, University of Nebraska Press, 2001, pg 32, 90.
- Lewis and Clark among the Indians, James Ronda, University of Nebraska Press, 2002, pg 82, 192.
- The Lewis and Clark Expedition, Harry Fritz, Greenwood Press, 2004, pg 60
- Fritz, Harry W. (2004). The Lewis and Clark Expedition. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 113. ISBN 0-313-31661-9.
- Lewis and Clark among the Indians, James Ronda. pg 9. Books.google.com. 2002-01-01. ISBN 978-0-8032-8990-1. Retrieved 2011-01-20.
- "The West > People > Meriwether Lewis". PBS. Archived from the original on 2001-03-09. Retrieved 2010-07-04.
- Denslow, William R. (1957). 10,000 Famous Freemasons. PhoenixMasonry.org. Bluehost, Inc. Archived from the original on 2007-06-15. Retrieved 2011-11-09. Note: Book was published by Macoy Publishing & Masonic Supply Co., Inc.
- Libert, Laura (2003-05-03). "Pa Freemason May 03 – Treasures of the Temple: Brothers Lewis and Clark". PaGrandLodge.org. The Masonic Library and Museum of Pennsylvania. Archived from the original on 2003-06-11. Retrieved 2010-07-04.
- Guice, John D. W.; Buckley, Jay H.; Holmberg, James J. (2006). By His Own Hand? The Mysterious Death of Meriwether Lewis. University of Oklahoma Press. ISBN 0806137800 ISBN 978-0806137803
- Esterel, Mike (2010-09-25). "Meriwether Lewis's Final Journey Remains a Mystery". The Wall Street Journal (Les Hinton). Archived from the original on 2010-09-27. Retrieved 2011-11-09.
- "First National Memorial Service for Meriwether Lewis – Commemorates 200th Anniversary of Lewis' Death". TennesseeAnytime.org. Tennessee News and Information. (2009-08-20). Archived from the original on 2009-08-23. Retrieved 2010-10-18.
- Jefferson, Thomas; Allen, Paul (1813-08-18). Letters of the Lewis and Clark Expedition with Related Documents: 1783–1854. Edited by Donald Dean Jackson. Urbana: University of Illinois Press. (1962). pp. 589–590. ISBN 0252006976
- "Author Query for 'Lewis'". International Plant Names Index.
- Fisher, Vardis (1962). Suicide or Murder?: The Strange Death of Governor Meriwether Lewis. The Swallow Press, Inc. ISBN 0-8040-0616-4.
- Danisi, Thomas C. (2009). Meriwether Lewis. New York: Prometheus Books. ISBN 978-1-59102-702-7.
- Works by Meriwether Lewis at Project Gutenberg
- The Journals of Lewis and Clark from American Studies at the University of Virginia.
- Meriwether Lewis at Find a Grave Retrieved on February 20, 2008
- Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Lewis, Meriwether". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
- Meriwether Lewis on The History Channel
- Meriwether Lewis Park and Burial Site
- Meriwether Lewis's grave on Find-A-Grave
- Lewis and Clark at C-SPAN's American Writers: A Journey Through History
|Governor of Louisiana Territory