William Clark led the Lewis and Clark Expedition to the Pacific coast along with Meriwether Lewis. Clark was a soldier and Indian agent and a pioneer among American explorers. After the successful completion of the expedition, Clark went on to serve as the governor of the Missouri Territory and as the Superintendent of Indian Affairs for the U.S. government.
William Clark was born on August 1, 1770, in Caroline County, Virginia, to John and Ann Rogers Clark. William Clark’s five brothers were all American Revolutionary War veterans. William’s brother, George Roger Clark, became a general and led the Virginia troops in Kentucky. Clark was tutored at home and did not receive formal education. He learned most of his skills from his brother George. In March 1785, the Clark family moved to Kentucky through Pennsylvania. The family owned a plantation called Mulberry Hill in Beargrass Creek near Louisville.
At the age of nineteen, William Clark joined the Kentucky Militia under the command of Major John Hardin. In 1790, he joined the Indiana Militia as a captain. Two years later, Clark served as a lieutenant in the Legion of the United States. Clark commanded the company that was responsible for the victory at the Battle of Fallen Timbers in 1794. In 1796, William Clark resigned from his office on account of poor health and returned to his native plantation, Mulberry Hill. Though he was twenty-six years old by this time, Clark had made an impressionable stint in the military services.
Lewis and Clark Expedition
In 1803, when the U.S. Congress approved an expedition to the Pacific coast to claim the Pacific Northwest and Oregon Territories for the United States, the President chose Meriwether Lewis as the leader. When it became necessary to appoint an additional leader for the mission, both President Jefferson and Lewis thought of Clark. Lewis had served a short stint with Clark and the two men were well acquainted. The expedition set off in 1804 from St. Louis. After an exploration of North Dakota, the party crossed the Rocky Mountains to reach the Pacific coast. In 1806, Lewis and Clark returned home successful explorers and national heroes. Following this, in 1813, William Clark was appointed Governor of the Missouri Territory, and in 1822, President Monroe appointed him Superintendent of Indian Affairs.
William Clark married Julia Hancock in 1808, and they had four sons and a daughter. When Julia died in 1820, William Clark married Harriet Radford and the couple had two sons and a daughter. Harriet died in 1831. William Clark died on September 1, 1838 in St. Louis.
Awards and Honors
The Senate had refused to rank William Clark when suggested by President Jefferson. In 2001, though, President Bill Clinton awarded him the rank of captain in the U.S. Army posthumously. The Clarks River in Kentucky was named after William Clark, in acknowledgment of his achievements. The USS Lewis and Clark, a nuclear submarine, was named after the two leaders of the expedition. William Clark has a county named after him in Washington, Missouri, Idaho, Arkansas, and Montana. The cemetery where William Clark was buried is now a National Historic Landmark.