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Expedition Authorized - March 4, 1801 through February 28, 1803

March 4, 1801. Jefferson is inaugurated President of the United States.

1801. Alexander Mackenzie's Voyages from Montreal . . . to the Frozen and Pacific Oceans: In the Years 1789 and 1793 is published in London. He urges Great Britain to find suitable passage to the Pacific Ocean and to extend its fur trade into the northwestern interior (Ambrose, 74-75).

December 12, 1802. (Falls of the Ohio). George Rogers Clark writes Jefferson promoting his brother William for service to the government (Jackson, 1: 7-8).

Thomas Jefferson portrait by Gilbert Stuart

Gilbert Stuart, artist. "Thomas Jefferson, third president of the United States." 1828 (?) By Popular Demand: Portraits of the Presidents and First Ladies, 1789-Present, Library of Congress.
December 12, 1802. George Rogers Clark to Thomas Jefferson
"He [William Clark] is well quallified almost for any business. If it should be in your power to confur on him any post of Honor and profit, in this Countrey in which we live, it will exceedingly gratify me" (Jackson, 1: 7-8).

January 18, 1803. Jefferson submits a confidential request to Congress for $2,500 to explore the Missouri and the way to the Pacific Ocean to expand fur trade and geographical knowledge of the continent (Jackson, 1: 10-14).

February 8, 1803. Harrison is reappointed governor of Indiana Territory and appointed ex officio superintendent of Indian affairs (Clanin, Reel 1, lxxxvi).

February 27, 1803. Jefferson writes to Harrison stating his goals and polic with regard to American Indians, ordering Harrison to obtain quickly as much land by treaty as possible. See p. 14 of this issue.

Peale portrait of William Henry Harrison

William Henry Harrison

William Henry Harrison was born in Virginia in 1773. He joined the U.S. Army in 1791, served with General Anthony Wayne at the Battle of Fallen Timbers (1794), and was present at signing of Treaty of Greenville (1795). From Vincennes, he served as governor of Indiana Territory from 1800-1812, negotiating treaties with Indian tribes for millions of acres of land. Harrison commanded the U.S. Army in the Northwest during the War of 1812, defeating the British at the Battle of the Thames. He served in both houses of the U.S. Congress representing Ohio. He was elected President of the U.S. in 1839 but died of pneumonia one month after his inauguration in 1840.
Image: Francis Vigo Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution.

February 28, 1803. Congress approves Jefferson's request for money to explore the West (Jackson, 1: 14).

February 28, 1803. Jefferson writes to Benjamin Rush describing the expedition and naming Meriwether Lewis as leader. He asks Rush, a prominent physician, to help prepare Lewis for the trip (Jackson, 1: 18-19).

February 28, 1803.

Thomas Jefferson to Benjamin Rush

"I wish to mention to you in confidence that I have obtained authority from Congress to undertake the long desired object of exploring the Missouri & whatever river, heading with that, leads into the Western ocean. About 10. chosen woodsmen headed by Capt. Lewis my secretary, will set out on it immediately & probably accomplish it in two seasons. Capt. Lewis is brave, prudent, habituated to the woods, & familiar with Indian manners & character. . . . It would be very useful to state for him those objects on which it is most desirable he should bring us information. For this purpose I ask the favor of you to prepare some notes of such particulars as may occur in his journey & which you think should draw his attention & enquiry" (Jackson, 1:18-19).

Meriwether Lewis

Meriwether Lewis was born in Virginia in 1774. At age 18, he was managing his plantation in Virginia. He joined the militia in 1794 and the U.S. Army in 1795. Lewis served with General Anthony Wayne and was present at the signing of the Treaty of Greenville (1795). He served in a rifle company commanded by Captain William Clark. Lewis was promoted to captain in 1800, and, in 1801, President Thomas Jefferson asked him to serve as his private secretary in Washington. Jefferson appointed Lewis to head the expedition to the Northwest in 1803. Lewis was appointed governor of the Louisiana Territory in 1807. He committed suicide in 1809 leaving the journals of the expedition unpublished (Ambrose, 19, 21, 29, 37, 42, 45, 50, 59, 80, 415, 465, 467).