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William Clark ( 1770 - 1838 )  Category ( Explorers ) [suggest a correction]

William ClarkBorn to a prominent pioneer Virginia family in 1770, William Clark was, along with Meriwether Lewis, a co-leader of the 1804-06 Lewis and Clark Expedition. William was born next to youngest in the family, and watched his older brothers go off to fight in the American Revolution. His oldest brother, George Rogers Clark, was a hero of the war. George spent a good deal of time in the area that is now the State of Kentucky, and following the Revolution convinced his parents to move the entire Clark clan out of Virginia and into what was considered the American frontier.

Like many frontier families, the Clark children did not receive a formal education. Their mother, Ann Rogers Clark, was a descendant of the prominent Byrd family of Tidewater, Virginia, and some historians suggest that she may have received education and was later able to teach her children at home. Critics often point to the fact that William Clark’s journal contains numerous spelling errors, suggesting, they say, a lack of education. However, American English was not standardized in the eighteenth century, and even well educated Americans tended to focus more on penmanship skill than correct spelling. Whatever his educational level, Clark’s frontier skills were honed and valuable enough to attract the attention of Meriwether Lewis and Thomas Jefferson. Clark acquired his considerable skills growing up in the wilderness and later, at age 19, by joining the army, where he attained the rank of first lieutenant.

When asked by Lewis to join the expedition to the Pacific, Clark performed a wide variety of duties and leadership skills, but his largest contributions included managing the expedition’s supplies, supervising the hunting, and primary mapmaker. The expedition was a major success for the Jefferson administration, and earned Clark the position of brigadier general for the newly explored and mapped Louisiana Territory. Despite his accomplishments, Clark was unwilling to rest on his laurels, and led several campaigns during the War of 1812. One year into that war, he was named governor of the newly formed Missouri Territory. After running unsuccessfully for the office once the territory became a state, he accepted the appointment of President James Monroe to head up the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Clark remained in that position until his death in 1838.

Clark married twice, first in 1808 to Julia Hancock, with whom he had five children. After Julia’s death he married her first cousin, Harriet Kennerly Radford. The couple had three children together.

Image: Portrait of William Clark by Charles Willson Peale, 1810.

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