Meriwether Lewis

Meriwether Lewis (1774-1809)

Peale's portrait of Lewis

Born on August 18, 1774, Meriwether Lewis literally grew up with the new republic. He was exactly eight months old when Paul Revere made the legendary ride that signalled the beginning of the War of Independence, and the birth of the new United States of America, which Lewis was to serve with distinction.

In January of 1793 the American Philosophical Society of Philadelphia accepted the proposal of one of its leading members, Thomas Jefferson, to send an overland expedition in search of the Northwest Passage, the fabled all-water route to the Pacific Ocean. Eighteen-year-old Meriwether Lewis eagerly volunteered to lead it, but his offer was rejected on account of his youth and inexperience. That expedition was soon aborted anyway.

Memin's Portrait of Lewis

Lewis posing in profile showing his pony tail

In May of 1801, a month after Lewis began work as President Jefferson's private secretary, Brigadier General James Wilkinson, the commanding officer of the U.S. Army, directed that officers and enlisted men were to cut off their traditional pigtails and ponytails: "For the accommodation, comfort & health of the Troops the hair is to be cropped without exception, & the general will give the example."

Saint-Mémin produced two profiles of Lewis, one probably in 1802, the other (above) in 1803. Either the captain had been exempted from the new regulation because of his inactive status, or else he defied the general's order as a political gesture.

Lewis's Education

Photo of the hornbook described below

Public education was initiated in England in 1780 by the Anglican Church, after the mechanization of textile and other manufactures began to challenge established socioeconomic and cultural values. The pupils were boys from poor families, who spent six dawn-to-dusk days every week laboring in factories. In response to warnings from conservative critics that educating poor children would would eventually foment revolution, the Church held that its goal was to teach them to read and write, in order to enhance their mental skills and specifically enable them to study the Bible, which would divert them from lives of crime on their only day off in the week, Sunday.

A busy port on the river just outside of the city center

by Charles F. Reed

Portraits of the eight friends linked elsewhere on this page

by Charles F. Reed

Meriwether Lewis, Master Mason

Lewis's Masonic apron: cloth with several masonic symbols

The Masonic apron represents the ancient stone-mason's craft, which is the allegorical model upon which rest the symbolism and ritual of Freemasonry. The ancient craftsmen were "operative" or working stonemasons; members of the fraternity known as the Ancient Free and Accepted Masons (AF & AM) are "speculative" masons. Through speculative Masonry, wrote Thomas Smith Webb in 1797, "we learn to subdue the passions, act upon the square, keep a tongue of good report, maintain secrecy, and practice charity." Charity is "the chief of every social virtue," he continued, "and the distinguishing characteristic of our Order."

image map with identical links found elsewhere on this page

by Clay S. Jenkinson