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Program Information

Program: Virginia’s Lewis and Clark: Roots of a Legacy
Segment Number: 4 (Watch entire program)
Duration: 00:04:04
Year Produced: 2003
Description:

Thomas Jefferson knew the Meriwether, Lewis and Clark families as neighbors and friends. Meriwether's uncle Nicholas Lewis managed Jefferson's affairs during his diplomatic service in Paris. When Jefferson was about to assume the office of the presidency, he knew whom he wanted as his private secretary.

Meriwether Lewis was born in what is now Albemarle County, and William Clark’s family had roots in Albemarle soil. Their ideas of what lay beyond the Mississippi River were nurtured by Thomas Jefferson, a “vicarious westerner” who had never traveled farther west than Hot Springs. Jefferson intended to establish the United States as a continental nation, an “Empire of Liberty” that reached from Atlantic to Pacific. To further his goal, Jefferson sent Lewis and Clark’s Expedition of North Western Discovery. Their remarkable mission began here in central Virginia.

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Transcript

NARRATOR:

Thomas Jefferson knew the Meriwether, Lewis and Clark families as neighbors and friends. Meriwether's uncle Nicholas Lewis managed Jefferson's affairs during his diplomatic service in Paris. When Jefferson was about to assume the office of the presidency, he knew whom he wanted as his private secretary.

CINDER STANTON (Historian):

After his election as president in 1801, Jefferson invited Lewis to be his private secretary, which was more an aide to camp than an actual clerical worker. And they lived together in the presidential mansion in Washington, as Jefferson said like two mice in a church. And I like to think of the two of them, in the evening perhaps, talking about their family and mutual friends back in Albemarle County, recalling the exploits of Dr. Thomas Walker, who was Lewis' kinsman as well as Jefferson's guardian, and reminiscing about the Maury school, which they both attended, and about going back into the southwest mountains behind the school on hunting and exploring expeditions.

JOHN LOGAN ALLEN (Geographer):

The next thing Jefferson does is to go to Congress and ask for money to support an expedition. Why does he do that when he does it? Well, he goes to Congress essentially a month and a half after he's read Alexander Mackenzie's book Travels from Montreal. And he says in correspondence, the British are winning. The British and their fur trade have already established a line of water communication across the continent. But much of that is in high latitudes, locked up by ice for a good part of the year. If we can establish a route by way of the Missouri River, which according to the best accounts offers but a single portage to the waters of the Pacific Ocean, we can sort of tap off that British fur trade. So Jefferson goes to Congress, and he asks for money, gets it, princely sum of $2,500, and immediately thereafter he sets Lewis to work. Planning, figuring out what they're going to need to take along, how many people are going to be involved. Lewis is sent to Monticello to read books and to study maps in Jefferson's collection. They hire a Washington cartographer to draft this sort of composite map that essentially is one of the most remarkable documents in the history of exploration in the sense that we have a map that says to us this is what Jefferson and Meriwether Lewis thought the west was like in 1803. So this is a lengthy planning process and it really goes from sort of late in 1801 all the way down to the mid-part of 1803, by which time Lewis is prepared, ready to leave, he's written to Clark, asked Clark to join him. Then of course the purchase of Louisiana occurs and it changes the nature of the expedition in the American mind somewhat, but it's still the same expedition that it would have been in the sense that their main objective was to find this water connection across the continent for commercial purposes that will not only drain off that British trade to the north, but will establish the United States as a continental power with links on both coasts.