Meriwether Lewis (1774-1809) was born in Albemarle County, Virginia. His name reflects the union of two families—the Meriwethers and the Lewises—who were early settlers and large land holders in the Albemarle area. After living for a brief time in northeast Georgia, Meriwether Lewis returned to Albemarle County in 1789 to further his education. He tried farming briefly before entering the military. Lewis rose to the rank of captain. In 1801 Thomas Jefferson selected him to be his personal secretary. Two years later Jefferson chose him to lead the expedition to the Pacific Ocean. After returning from the expedition, Lewis was appointed governor of the upper Louisiana Territory, a post he held until his death in 1809.
Thomas Jefferson’s specific instructions for the Lewis and Clark Expedition reveal that Jefferson expected the expeditionary team to amass a wealth of invaluable scientific and geographic data. Jefferson requested that copies of the expedition notes and observations be “put into the care of your most trust-worthy of your attendants.” Lewis sent Jefferson a letter from Fort Mandan in the spring of 1805 in which he replied that “We have encouraged our men to keep journals, and seven of them do so.” Lewis, himself, was responsible for recording most of the scientific findings of the expedition, including observations on flora, fauna, minerals, Indian languages, and celestial and geographic conditions; Clark, on the other hand, concentrated on charting the expeditionary route, preparing maps, and logging each day’s events.
After the completion of the expedition, Jefferson expected Lewis to turn the raw notes and data he had amassed on the expedition to the Pacific into a finished “scientific” account. Lewis had made only limited progress in this task at the time of his death in 1809. The completion of the work fell to William Clark. Clark arranged for Nicholas Biddle, a respected scholar and writer in Philadelphia, to prepare the official journals of the expedition for publication. Biddle eventually hired Paul Allen to complete the editing. In 1814 Allen published the two-volume journals entitled History of the Expedition under the Command of Captains Lewis and Clark. The published journals included a version of Clark’s 1810 map engraved by Samuel Lewis and entitled “A Map of Lewis and Clark’s Track, Across the Western Portion of North America From the Mississippi to the Pacific Ocean.”
The exhibition displays the first edition of the published journals and later major editions by Elliott Coues (1893), Reuben Gold Thwaites (1904-1905), Milo Milton Quaife (1916), and Gary E. Moulton (1983- ). The first account of the expedition written by a member of the Corps of Discovery—A Journal of the Voyages and Travels of a Corps of Discovery, Under the Command of Capt. Lewis and Capt. Clarke of the Army of the United States (Pittsburgh, 1807) by Sergeant Patrick Gass—is also shown.