Part 8: Freeman and Sparks Selected
Eventually six different leaders for the Red River-Arkansas Expedition were considered before, finally, in November of 1805, Jefferson settled on a young man who seems to have been about thirty-five years of age—we don't know exactly how old he was—whose name was Thomas Freeman.
Thomas Freeman, unlike Meriwether Lewis, was not an officer in the American Army, he was a civilian. He was a civil engineer and a surveyor who in fact was an Irish immigrant to the United States. He had a whole range of political contacts across the spectrum in early America. He was a friend of Alexander Hamilton, for example, of the Federalist Party. Played a role in surveying Washington, D.C.
And he seems to have been brought to Jefferson's attention by William Patterson, that mathematician at the University of Pennsylvania who had tutored Meriwether Lewis. Patterson suggested Freeman in the summer of 1805, and in November of 1805 Freeman had a private dinner at the White House with Thomas Jefferson, where Jefferson, after two years of searching, finally turned over that letter of exploring expedition—or, exploring instructions—and inscribed "To Thomas Freeman, Esquire" across the top of it.
So Jefferson finally had a leader for his expedition. It was a civilian leader, however, and that's one of the aspects of this party that makes it different from Lewis and Clark. It's led by civilians rather than by the American military.
Jefferson was concerned, however, that a military detachment was going to have to be added to the Expedition, and so, with the advice of Meriwether Lewis, who had done a careful appraisal of all the officers in the American Army, Jefferson selected a Virginian by the name of Richard Sparks, captain Richard Sparks, to lead the military contingent that would be attached to this southwestern probe.
A Friendly Letter from Freeman
Library of Congress
Thomas Freeman spent November and December, 1805, in Philadelphia, consulting with Robert Patterson about suitable scientific equipment for the expedition, and with Benjamin Smith Barton and Charles Peale about possible candidates for the role of naturalist. All three Philadelphians had helped train Meriwether Lewis in the winter of 1803.
While there, Freeman wrote a letter to his good friend and fellow surveyor, James McKee, who was then employed as an Indian agent among the Choctaws. In the first long paragraph, portions of which are now illegible, Freeman explains that he will set out up the Red River from Natchez, Mississippi, and that he expects to have with him a naturalist and an assistant astronomer, "if such persons properly qualified can be found here willing to hazard travel in the Neighborhood of St. Afee. [his italics]," indicating thereby that he and Jefferson had discussed that objective, though it was never publicly announced.
The next paragraph, above, conveys Freeman's enthusiasm and personal commitment regarding the expedition.
[A] Great many difficulties, and some personal danger will attend the exploration, but, I will—"Stick or go Through." The more danger the more honor. You see how I am kept afloat—an expensive turn when applied to me—Afloat!, and that's all—my savings do not more than float me through from job to job. But I hope ere long to flow into a permanency.
Evidently he had been led by Jefferson to expect the same sort of emoluments Lewis and Clark were to receive—some cash and some land. His base pay, possibly four dollars per day, was certainly generous in comparison with Lewis's captain's salary of forty dollars per month.
Based on Flores J&SE, 53-54 and note 76; 63-64