Tutorial schooling by local pastors was the rule in the Virginia Piedmont of Meriwether Lewis’s youth. Parson William Douglas had taught three American Presidents in their childhood – Jefferson, Madison and Monroe. Lewis was tutored 1789-1790 by Parson Matthew Maury in a rude log building, Albemarle’s Classical School, on the lawn of Edgeworth Farm. Maury was the father of the renowned Matthew Fontaine Maury of naval and hydrographic fame.
Captain Meriwether Lewis and his Corps of Discovery were to depart on his epic journey West by the end of June, 1803, but it was July 4th when he actually left Harpers Ferry, Virginia.
Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org
Virginians and the Exploration of the West
“The expeditionaries carried tomahawks and scalping knives . . . the [.69 caliber] horse pistols were probably of the North and Cheney Model of 1799. Lewis was meticulous in his choice of rifles for the expedition . . . and [designed his own] “Harper’s Ferry Rifle” which resembled the Kentucky rifle but he had the easily damaged stocks reduced to half-length and the overall length of the .54 caliber piece was only 47 inches.
So efficient was Captain Lewis’s design that the rifles were used as models for the first “mass-produced” Army rifle in the United States. On May 25, 1803, the Secretary of War found the new rifle so functional that he ordered 4,000 of them manufactured for the troops.
Historians have wrangled for decades over just what was Jefferson’s intent in sending Lewis and Clark – exploration, commerce or conquest? It was clear enough to Lewis from his orders. While he awaited Clark’s decision [to join him] before contacting his second choice as a companion, Lieutenant Moses Hook, he read and reread the amended instructions drawn up and given him by the President.
“The object of your mission is to explore the Missouri River, & such principal stream of it as, by its course and communication with the waters of the Pacific Ocean, whether the Columbia, Oregon, Colorado or any other river, may offer the most direct and practicable water communication across this continent for the purposes of commerce.”
Jefferson ordered Lewis to fix, by coordinates of longitude and latitude, all “remarkable” points on the Missouri, such as rapids, islands, and the mouths of tributaries, the variations of the compass, the exact location of the portage between the Mississippi and Pacific drainages. He urged Lewis to make his observations with great care and to record them, as well as all of his notes, in several copies for safety against loss.
The President ordered him to become acquainted with the Indian nations, to determine their numbers and the extent of their possessions. He wished to know their languages, traditions and occupations, including agriculture, fishing, hunting, war and the arts. He was interested in their relationship with other tribes, their food, clothing and tools, their diseases and remedies, their laws and customs and the articles of commerce they possessed or desired, all to encourage future trade and their ultimate civilization by the United States.
Jefferson insisted that Lewis’s entry into the Far West be a peaceful one. “In all your intercourse with the natives, treat them in the most friendly and conciliatory manner which their own conduct will admit; allay all jealousies . . . [and convey] our wish to be neighborly, friendly and useful to them . . .”
(Meriwether Lewis, a Biography, Richard Dillon, Coward-McCann, Inc., 1965, excerpts pp. 14; 42-44; 50)