Meriwether Lewis (1774-1809)
orn 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.
When Lewis was 20 years old he answered President George Washington's plea for volunteers to quell the so-called Whiskey Rebellion of 1794. While on leave from the military in 1796, he was admitted to the Scribe of the Door to Virtue Lodge No. 44 of the Ancient Free and Accepted Masons in Albemarle County, Virginia, and received his masonic apron in January of 1797.
By age 26 he had risen to the rank of captain in the First U.S. Infantry Regiment. Late in the winter of 1801, 27-year-old Lewis was summoned by Thomas Jefferson, the newly-elected third president of the United States, to serve as his personal secretary and aide.
In January of 1803, Congress appropriated $2,500 to mount an official military expedition to the Northwest, and President Jefferson named Lewis as its commander.
On May 14, 1804, the "corps of volunteers for North West Discovery," as Captain Lewis titled the expeditionary force, embarked from its winter encampment across the Mississippi River from St. Louis, bound up the Missouri River toward the Pacific Ocean at the mouth of the Columbia River. Captain Lewis was three months shy of his 30th birthday.
After two years, four months, and ten days, the Corps of Discovery returned triumphantly to St. Louis on September 23, 1806. Lewis proceeded on to Washington, D.C., with a stop at his home near Charlottesville, Virginia. He was thirty-two years old.
The following winter he was appointed governor of the Territory of Louisiana. While en route to Washington, D.C. Lewis died, probably by his own hand, at Grinder's Stand on the Natchez Trace in Tennessee, in the early morning hours of October 11, 1809. He was forever thirty-five.