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Meriwether Lewis ( 1774 - 1809 )  Category ( Explorers ) [suggest a correction]

Meriwether LewisBorn in Albemarle County, Virginia in 1774, Meriwether Lewis was the son of Captain George Lewis and Lucy Meriwether. Both his parents were from prominent families in the area and were connected by blood or marriage to most of the leading families of Virginia, including the Lee, Washington, and Jefferson families. He was educated privately until he reached university level. He graduated from Liberty Hall (now Washington and Lee University) in 1793, whereupon he joined the Virginia militia. In 1794 he participated in putting down the Whiskey Rebellion. Following that event he joined the regular Army, where he served until 1801. It was during his Army years that he became acquainted with William Clark, who would feature prominently in Lewis' future.

Lewis is best known for his role as leader of the Lewis and Clark Expedition (1804-1806). Initially the project was of a much more narrow scope, but when President Thomas Jefferson realized the importance of a full expedition to the Pacific Northwest from an economic and political standpoint, he sent Lewis to Philadelphia for specialized training in cartography and scientific observation. During the expedition the Corps of Discovery ventured from the east to the Pacific Northwest, where they spent months exploring the Missouri and Columbia Rivers in an effort to discover an all-water route to the Pacific. The Corps returned safely to Washington, D.C. with only one loss of human life - though Lewis himself was accidentally shot in the thigh during the journey - and bearing the fruits of their discoveries. From meticulous journals and scientific observations to gifts from the American Indian tribes the Corps encountered, the Lewis and Clark Expedition was viewed as a resounding success for the Jefferson Administration as well as a source of pride for the American populace. So captivated were American citizens with the adventures of Lewis and Clark that stories and mythologies have grown up over the two hundred years since their great journey west.

Following the completion of the expedition, Jefferson appointed Lewis governor of the Louisiana Territory. Lewis was not an able administrator and was frequently considered a controversial figure by both Federal and Territory officials. He became a heavy drinker, which only contributed to his growing troubles. In 1809 Lewis was staying in a tavern called Grinder's Stand, not far from Nashville, Tennessee. He was on his way to Washington, D.C. to confer with Federal officials over complaints they had received about his poor governing skills. On the morning of October 12 he was found shot dead in his tavern room. His death remains a mystery and is the subject of debate among scholars. Jefferson believed Lewis' death was a suicide, which remains the official cause of death. Lewis never married and had no known children; however, members of his extended family maintain his cause of death was murder.

Image: Meriwether Lewis. Portrait by Charles Willson Peale, c. 1807.

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