Three Separate Collections

masthead saying 'We Proceeded On'
Reprinted from We Proceeded On1

Donated Louisiana Territory Specimens

Long Room, Peale's Museum

Detroit Institute of Arts, Founders Society purchase, Director’s Discretionary Fund.

"The Long Room, Interior of Front Room in Peale's Museum, 1822," an ink and watercolor sketch by Titian Ramsay Peale, depicts the 100-foot room that was the showpiece of the first modern, egalitarian museum of natural history in the United States. Charles Willson Peale displayed minerals and fossils in glass cases between the windows of the Long Room (right), including some Lewis and Clark specimens prior to their ultimate acquisition by the Academy of Natural Sciences.

In early January of 1804, when the expedition was at Camp River Dubois, near St. Louis, Meriwether Lewis circulated a survey among the leading merchants and citizens of St. Louis inquiring about population, trade, agriculture, natural history, and other matters relating to "Upper Louisiana," the territory recently acquired from France by the United States. A number of questions deal with mineralogy. They ask, "What are your mines and minerals? Have you lead, iron, copper, pewter, gypsum, salts, salines, or other mineral waters, nitre, stonecoal, marble, limestone, or any other mineral substance? Where are they situated, and in what quantities found? . . . . Which of those mines or salt springs are worked? and what quantity of metal or salt is annually produced?"2

These inquiries yielded at least 15 mineral specimens, which Lewis forwarded to Jefferson on May 18, 1804, two days before leaving St. Louis to meet Clark and the expedition at St. Charles, Missouri. The specimens were donated by Jean Pierre Chouteau, his half brother René Auguste Chouteau, and Nicholas Boilvin, a French-Canadian trader and Indian subagent. The collection comprised a limited selection of minerals of concern to Jefferson; among these were nine samples of lead ore from the "Mine of Berton" (Mine à Burton, located some 60 miles southwest of St. Louis); lead ore from the bed of the Osage River; a salt concretion from a saline of the Osage Nation; and silver ore, lead ore, and a rock crystal from Mexico.3

Jefferson received these specimens in Washington, D.C., and forwarded them to naturalist and museum keeper Charles Willson Peale, in Philadelphia.4 Lewis's efforts in procuring them confirms that documenting and collecting examples of the "mineral productions of every kind" from the Louisiana Territory was not simply an afterthought in Jefferson's Instructions.

Lower Missouri River Specimens

It's possible that Lewis began his collecting of mineral specimens while still in the East, for at least one of the specimens sent back from Fort Mandan appears to date from November 22, 1803.5 Lewis also did some sporadic collecting in late May 1804, during the early phase of the journey up the Missouri, in the vicinity of the Femme Osage and Gasconade rivers, but it doesn't appear he truly engaged in serious mineral collecting until he received a specimen of "granulated Spontaneous Salt"6 from the Otoes, perhaps during a council with the tribe held on August 3, 1804.

This gift from the Otoes may have reminded Lewis of his obligation to assemble a collection of representative mineral specimens. Whatever triggered the subsequent activity, the next six weeks would be the most productive collecting period for specimens he would later send back from Fort Mandan. On one day alone—August 22, 1804— he collected at least nine mineral specimens, followed the next day by at least six more.7

There was another flurry of activity between August 28 and September 1, when seven additional specimens were collected. Lewis appears to have skewed the collection to attractively interesting objects; there may have been at least 12 different specimens of pyrite, a.k.a. "fool's gold," along with other minerals such as salts, alum, and weathered limestone sediments whose chemical composition proved too difficult to identify conclusively in the field.

Overall, Lewis attempted to ensure that the collection was representative of the geology encountered along the lower Missouri valley by including samples of salt, "petrefactions," "carbonated wood," a fossil fish jaw and fossil shells, flint, sand, clay, "slate," chalk, sandstone, pebbles, "pummice," "lava," and lead ore.

The Fort Mandan Shipment

Lewis assembled a collection of at least 67 mineral specimens from late 1803 through early 1805 and sent them back downriver with Corporal Richard Warfington and the expedition's keelboat in April 1805.8 Included in the shipment were two of the Chouteau-donated specimens (Fort Mandan mineralogical specimen Nos. 27 and 29, from Mine à Burton), which Lewis had received prior to departing Camp River Dubois nearly a year before. Why Lewis included them is uncertain, since he had already provided Jefferson with equivalent specimens in the May 18, 1804, shipment of donated specimens.

A number of letters, particularly between Jefferson and Peale, document the Fort Mandan shipment's progress and serve as evidence that the specimens reached Philadelphia.9 On November 15, 1805, the American Philosophical Society (A.P.S.) received:

 A Box of plants, earths and minerals, from Captain Meriwether Lewis, per Jefferson, who wishes . . . Vaughan and Seybert to examine the earths and minerals.10

The above statement refers to John Vaughan, secretary and librarian of the A.P.S., and Adam Seybert, a physician, gentleman scientist, and Philadelphia's leading mineralogy expert, who subsequently played a major role in the fate of the Lewis and Clark mineral specimens.11 The following day, Vaughn copied specimen descriptive notes, either from an original list or from the specimen tags themselves, into the donation book of the A.P.S. Seybert then added supplemental mineralogical comments augmenting Lewis's original specimen descriptions.12 Lewis, during a visit to Philadelphia in the spring and summer of 1807, had access to the donation book, so it may be assumed he reviewed these transcriptions and was satisfied as to their accuracy.

Post April 1805 Specimens

The journals make clear that mineral specimens were collected after the expedition left Fort Mandan on April 7, 1805. Evidence for this can be found in the previously mentioned entry of May 31, 1805, about collecting a "Specimine of the Stone" in the White Cliffs area of the Missouri, as well as from Lewis's entry for June 26, 1805, which mentions the explorers' plan to cache minerals at the Upper Portage Camp, above the Great Falls.13

Unfortunately, none of the mineral specimens collected after leaving Fort Mandan were accounted for by name in the list of items sent to Washington by Lewis following the expedition's return to St. Louis. The list, however, mentions two boxes and a tin case holding "Various articles," which could have included minerals.14 It is also possible that Lewis delivered the mineral specimens to Philadelphia in person in 1807.15 Or they could have been part of a shipment Lewis sent via New Orleans to Charles Willson Peale about the time he left on the journey that ended with his death, in Tennessee, on October 11, 1809.

In a letter to his son dated November 17, 1809, Peale says that he had received "a number of Articles" from Lewis, including "some minerals."16 In December 1809 Peale recorded in his museum accession book a long list of "Articles collected" by Lewis and Clark.17 Among the sundry items mentioned are "A number of Minerals," presumably the same ones referenced in his letter of November 17.18 In January 1810, during a visit to Philadelphia, Clark mentions finding "a fiew Minerals" while searching "for the Materials left in this City by the late Govr. Lewis, reletive to our discoveries on the Western Tour."19 Neither Peale nor Clark states when on the expedition these minerals were collected, but as the following discussion attempts to show, some of them were almost certainly acquired after leaving Fort Mandan in April 1805.

  • 1. John W. Jengo, "'Specimine of the Stone': The Fate of Lewis and Clark's Mineralogical Specimens," We Proceeded On, August 2005, Volume 31, No. 3, the quarterly journal of the Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation. Editorial additions include page titles, side headings, and graphics to assist the web-based reader. The original format is provided at
  • 2. Donald Jackson, ed., Letters of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, with Related Documents: 1783–1854, 2 volumes (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1978), Vol. 1, 162.
  • 3. Ibid., 192–193.
  • 4. Dated May 5, 1805, Jefferson's letter to Peale proves that the shipment arrived safely in Washington, D.C. Peale subsequently recorded all these specimens except the salt concretion in his museum accession book (a folio formally referred to as the Memoranda of the Philadelphia Museum) on May 10, 1805. See Lillian B. Miller, ed., The Selected Papers of Charles Willson Peale and His Family, Vol. 2, Part 2 (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1988), 828; and Memoranda of the Philadelphia Museum, 1804–1841 (Philadelphia: The Historical Society of Pennsylvania), 5.
  • 5. In his journal entry for November 22, 1803, Lewis concisely describes encountering "several pieces of wood that had been petrefyed" (Moulton, Vol. 2, 103), while Fort Mandan mineralogical specimen No. 39 is listed as "Petrefactions obtained on the River ohio in 1803." The Fort Mandan mineralogical specimen numbers used in this article follow those recorded in the Donation Book of the American Philosophical Society; see Moulton, Vol. 3, 473–478. Any reference to a mineral specimen in the narrative prefaced by "Fort Mandan mineralogical specimen" refers to those minerals sent back East from Fort Mandan in April 1805.
  • 6. Fort Mandan mineralogical specimen No. 14.
  • 7. It appears that Clark also collected a specimen of the mineral(s) that Lewis had experimented with on August 22, 1804, and subsequently sent it to his brother Jonathan from Fort Mandan. In his letter to Jonathan, Clark stated that the minerals "are dangerous when burnt & pounded as we experiancd." See James J. Holmberg, Dear Brother: Letters of William Clark to Jonathan Clark (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press in association with The Filson Historical Society, 2002), 86. Whether this specimen was a duplicate of one of the many samples collected on August 22, 1804 (i.e., Fort Mandan mineralogical specimen Nos. 10, 13, 18, 20, 38, 49, 51, 56, or 68) or an entirely new specimen is not known.
  • 8. Jackson, Vol. 1, 235.
  • 9. Ibid., 260 (Jefferson to Charles Willson Peale, October 6, 1805), 263 (Jefferson to Peale, October 9, 1805), and 264 (Jefferson to Peale, October 21, 1805). The minerals contained in this shipment are noticeably absent in Peale's museum accession book (Memoranda of the Philadelphia Museum, 1804–1841, 8) because they went directly to the A.P.S. rather than to Peale's Philadelphia Museum.
  • 10. American Philosophical Society, Early Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society . . . Manuscript Minutes of its Meetings from 1744 to 1838 (Philadelphia, 1844), 379.
  • 11. Jefferson was aware of Seybert's singular expertise because they both served on the Historical and Literary Committee that issued a circular letter in 1798 encouraging the scientific community to contribute information to the A.P.S. regarding the "Natural History of the Earth." Gilbert Chinard, "Jefferson and the American Philosophical Society," Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, Vol. 87, No. 3 (July 14, 1943), 270.
  • 12. Moulton, Vol. 3, 473–478.
  • 13. Ibid., Vol. 4, 334 and 335n. Lewis states that Clark's selection of articles to be deposited included "my specimens of plants minerals &c." collected between Fort Mandan and the Great Falls.
  • 14. Ibid., Vol. 8, 419.
  • 15. The possibility that Lewis may have personally delivered the surviving post April 1805 specimens to Philadelphia is suggested in a letter Jefferson wrote to Peale on December 21, 1806, which states in part, "I expect Capt Lewis here to-day or tomorrow. I presume that after a while he will go on to Philadelphia and carry some of his new acquisitions." Miller, Vol. 2, Part 2, 992.
  • 16. Jackson, Vol. 2, 469–470. One can only guess why Lewis would wait three years to send these additional specimens. Nor can we be absolutely certain that the items were collected on the expedition, although it's reasonable to assume they were—the shipment included, according to Peale, "Indian dresses, pipes, arrows, an Indian pot entire, Skins of Beavers."
  • 17. Ibid., 476.
  • 18. Ibid., 478; Memoranda of the Philadelphia Museum, 1804–1841, 43–45. Peale had recorded the pre-expedition specimens donated by citizens of St. Louis (the first shipment) in his museum accession book as being "presented by Mr. Jefferson," making no mention of Lewis or Clark (see Memoranda, 5). It is also apparent that he was not the recipient of the Fort Mandan specimens (the second shipment), which went to the American Philosophical Society. It is possible, and even probable, that the minerals mentioned in Peale's December 1809 entry in his museum accession book were just those items collected after the westward bound expedition departed Fort Mandan.
  • 19. Jackson, Vol. 2, 490.