Lewis and Clark at the Falls
Meriwether Lewis met William Clark (younger brother of General George Clark) in 1803. Together they recruited the "Nine Young Men from Kentucky" that formed the core of the Corps of Discovery. This page features biographical information from our interpretive exhibit about the local connection with the men who accompanied Lewis and Clark to the Northwest.
Meriwether Lewis and his party left Pittsburgh on August 31th 1803, reaching Louisville on October 14th where he was met by William Clark. At their handshake upon this meeting the Lewis and Clark Expedition was born.
On October 15th, Lewis and Clark began evaluating the applicants they had recruited. They reviewed physical attributes, hunting and shooting skills, general character, and overall suitability to meeting the challenges ahead. Lewis had earlier written to Clark that the expedition “must depend on a judicious selection of our men; their qualifications should be such as perfectly fit them for the service; otherwise they will rather clog than further the objectives in view…”
The nucleus of the Corps of Discovery, recruited by Lewis in Pittsburgh and on the Ohio, and by Clark at the Falls of the Ohio, was known as the “Nine Young Men from Kentucky.” To this number must be added Clark’s African-American slave York, and later five soldiers from frontier posts with Kentucky ties.
In June 1803, Meriwether Lewis wrote to William Clark inviting him to help command the expedition to explore the Louisiana territory. He also requested Clark to “find, and engage some good hunters, stout, health, unmarried men, accustomed to the woods, and capable of bearing bodily fatigue in a pretty considerable degree: should any young men answering this description by found in your neighborhood I would thank you to give information of them on my arrival at the falls of the Ohio.”
Clark wrote back accepting the commission, adding that he would try to find qualified young men for their journey.
Clark spent the rest of the summer of 1803 recruiting men from the vicinity of Clark County, Indiana, and Louisville, Kentucky. In August, he reported to Lewis that he had promised to take four young men on the expedition and had received many applications from “stout likely fellows,” but noted that he would hold off selecting them until Lewis’ personal review and evaluation.
William Clark was born in Virginia in 1770, the youngest brother of George Rogers Clark. When he was fourteen, William’s family moved to their new home at Mulberry Hill in Louisville, Kentucky. In 1789, Clark served as a militiaman in various campaigns against the Indians of the Ohio Valley. After becoming an officer in the regular army in 1792, he served under General Anthony Wayne. Two years later he resigned from the army to manage his family’s plantation.
Clark had become friends with Meriwether Lewis when they served together in 1795, and quickly accepted his invitation in 1803 to serve as co-leader of the “Corps of Discovery.” IN 1807 William was appointed superintendent of Indian Affairs at St. Louis, and in 1813 became governor of the Missouri Territory.
William Clark’s African American "servant," York, was not an official member of the expedition, yet he was an active participant making significant contributions to its success. York was born in Caroline County, Virginia, where the Clarks’ lived until emigrating to Jefferson County, Kentucky in 1785. He was Clark’s servant since childhood.
During the expedition, York demonstrated skills as a woodsman and hunter. It benefited the expedition that western tribes had never seen a black man. The Arikaras considered him “Big Medicine,” and some Indians rubbed his skin to see if the color would come off. After the expedition, he resumed the life of a slave, which became a source of tension with his owner. He received his freedom sometime after 1814 and operated a wagon freight company between Nashville and Richmond, Kentucky. Clark reported to Washington Irving in 1832 that York’s business had failed and while attempting to return to St. Louis he had died of cholera, in Tennessee.
Others are listed in alphabetical order...
Page 2: Bratton, Colter, Field brothers, Floyd, Gibson
Page 3 (McNeal, Pryor, Shannon, Shields, Werner, Whitehouse, Willard, and Windsor)
A Walk in Time with Lewis and Clark
An activity for students
Updated January 25, 2016