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Meriwether Lewis

The leader of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, Meriwether Lewis, was an explorer and administrator pioneer of America. In his biography on Meriwether Lewis, Richard Dillon refers to Lewis as "the greatest pathfinder this country [the United States] has ever had."

Early Life
Meriwether Lewis was born on August 18, 1774, in Albemarle County, Virginia. He was the second son of Lieutenant William Lewis and Lucy Meriwether. William Lewis died in 1779, and the following year, Lucy was remarried to Captain John Marks. Lucy and her children moved to Georgia for the next few years, but following the death of his stepfather, Lewis moved back to manage his plantation in Virginia. There he learned about various plants and herbs from his mother.

In 1794, Lewis enlisted to fight against the Whiskey Rebellion. By 1800, he was promoted to the rank of captain. In 1801, President Thomas Jefferson, an old friend and a former neighbor, recruited Lewis to be his aide and live in the White House. When the President started to plan the transcontinental expedition, he found Lewis an ideal candidate to head the mission.

Lewis and Clark Expedition
In 1803, the U.S. Congress approved an exploration to find a route west to the Pacific coast of the United States. President Jefferson appointed Meriwether Lewis and William Clark the leaders of the expedition. The purpose of the mission was to explore Louisiana and establish a territory in the Northwest and Oregon Territories before the British colonized the land. Lewis studied at the University of Pennsylvania to learn navigation from leading cartographers in preparation to head the mission.

In May 1804, Lewis, Clark, and other members of the expedition set out from St. Louis. By the end of the year, they had traversed North Dakota and in the spring of the following year they moved farther along the Missouri River, and across the Rocky Mountains. By November 1805, the party reached Oregon on the Pacific coast. They returned along the same route, traveling over 8,000 miles in all. The bold mission eventually led to the unfolding of the American West. Lewis made a singularly significant contribution by maintaining detailed records of the places he visited, collecting plant and mineral specimen, and maintaining mapping information for future reference.

Governor of the Louisiana Territory
Upon the successful return of the team, Lewis was granted a reward of about 1,600 acres land. In 1807, he was appointed Governor of Louisiana Territory by President Jefferson. Lewis settled in St. Louis and was a strong advocate of fur trade in the region. His administrative skills have been questioned by many leaders with regard to his views on the sanction of trade licenses [which are?]. Lewis built many roads leading to the western United States.

Death and Controversy
On October 11, 1809, Lewis died mysteriously at the age of 35. Lewis was scheduled to meet a publisher in Washington. Some historians believe that he was carrying his journals with him at the time. Lewis had set out in September and on October 10, he had stopped at Grinder's Stand, about seventy miles from Nashville. Early the next morning, gunshots were heard and Lewis was found dead. While the exact circumstances of his death are not clear, many suspect that Lewis, a melancholy person by nature, had committed suicide. Others believe that he was murdered and that the motives for the murder were political.