Monday, August 17, 2020

What Ever Happened to Meriwether Lewis?

 On April 30, 1803 Robert Livingston, with a little help from James Monroe, signed what was

The French copy of the Louisiana Purchase 
possibly the greatest land deal in history. For a mere 15 million dollars, much of which was not in the form of cash payments but in forgiveness of French debts to American, the United States acquired more than 820,000 thousand acres of land, the Louisiana purchase.  By the end of the year the 

The Louisiana Territory 
Senate and Jefferson had approved the treaty and the House of Representatives had agreed to release the funds to pay for the land. 


Jefferson knew that he had to send a mission to explore the land Livingston had recently acquired to assert American possession of the land and to see what they had purchased. He hoped that his expedition would find a water way to the Pacific Ocean that would allow America easy trade with Asia. 

To lead the mission he chose his personal secretary Meriwether Lewis, who chose William Clark to co-lead the expedition with him, thus guaranteeing the expedition would not be know by its official name The Corps of Discovery Expedition but as the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Lewis had been Jefferson's choice to lead the expedition event before the purchase was complete. While he worked at the White House, Jefferson had Lewis trained by botanists, physicians and other scientists.

Meriwether Lewis
Between September May of 1804 and September 1806 the expedition traveled more than 8,000 miles through the territory and beyond to the Pacific Coast collecting hundreds of plant and animal specimens and making contact with at least 50 different of indigenous people. 

In 1807 Meriwether Lewis was appointed the governor of the Upper Louisiana Territory as a reward for the successful expedition. He arrived in St. Louis, the de facto capital of the territory in 1808.

The following year, new president James Madison began denying payment on vouchers that the Jefferson administration had approved. Lewis suddenly found himself on the hook for not only money he paid out during his time as governor but money he paid out during the expedition.

Facing ruinous debt Lewis decided to go to Washington D.C. in

William Clark 
September 1809 to defend his claims for money from the federal government. Initially he had decided to travel down the Mississippi by boat and then sail to Washington D.C. but changed his mind and decided to travel overland. Among the possessions he carried with him were the journals of the Lewis and Clark expedition which he had been tasked with publishing but three years after the expedition had returned he had failed to do so.

During his trip overland Lewis decided to take the Natchez Trace which ran from Mississippi to Tennessee. On October 10, 1809 Lewis stopped at Grinder's Stand a tavern on the Trace. He had a meal prepared by Mrs. Grinder and then retired to a private cabin for the night. 

In the late hours of October 10 or the early hours of October 11 two gunshots broke the night time silence. Meriwether Lewis was found with gunshot wounds to the chest and head. He lived for several hours but died around sunrise on October 11. He was 35 years old. He was buried about 200 yards from Grinder's Stand. 

At the time it was assumed that Lewis had committed suicide. He was certainly depressed as he faced financial ruin and his failure to publish the journals of his expedition. Both Thomas Jefferson and William Clark believed he had committed suicide.

Lewis's mother however believed her son had been murdered. Her speculation has lead a small number of historians to look at the case with a critical eye. Their are several facts that are lost to time. When were the shots fired? When was Lewis found? How did he manage to shoot himself twice? Did he have two guns or had he managed to reload after shooting himself once? 

Despite these questions it is most likely that Meriwether Lewis committed suicide when left alone with his thoughts of depression, ruination and failure. A sad end for a hero of the early American republic.

If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts, help is available. The National Suicide Prevention Hotline can be reached at 1-800-273-8255

 

Meriwether Lewis's grave is now a national monument