Lewis and Clark Expedition
By: Robert Frazier
Source: Photo of original map by Getty Images.
About the Artist: Robert Frazier was a thirty-one-year-old private in the United States Army when he was assigned to the Lewis and Clark expedition in 1805. He completed a map two years later to illustrate his journal that he intended to publish upon completion of the expedition. Frazier lost the journal, but the map survived and is now in the archives of the Library of Congress.
When he took the Oath of Office in 1801, President Thomas Jefferson spoke of his desire to expand the Union, that America seek a "water Connection, linked by a low portage, that would lead to the Pacific."
For 30 years, Jefferson had dreamed of an America that would assert its dominance over the entire North American continent; in 1801, with the British, the Spanish, the French and the Russians all positioned to stake their own claims to parts of the desired land, Jefferson resolved to act. In 1802, Jefferson appointed his secretary, Meriwether Lewis, to lead an expedition to find the desired "water connection" to the Pacific; if unsuccessful in that quest, Jefferson was confident that through this expedition, the United States would cement its claim to the vast territory, said to be rich in precious silver, gold, coal and iron. Jefferson and other American leaders also held the belief that the vast open spaces of the West were fertile farm land, sufficient to accommodate the young nation's rising tide of immigrants.
Lewis secured William Clark as his assistant to both plan and to lead the project in early 1803. Together they led the expeditionary force that bore their name on a route that traversed the continent. Lewis and Clark crossed the then largely unexplored lands of what is modern day Minnesota, the Dakotas, Montana, Wyoming, Washington, and Oregon. Several maps of the region were created during and shortly after the expedition, including Private Frazier' map of showing the Lewis River, now known as the Snake River, along with the Columbia River, in present-day Idaho and Oregon.
See primary source image.
Clark maintained detailed journals from the commencement of their trek in 1803 to their return to Washington in 1806. Part work of art, part geographical journal, and part land survey, the information set out in a 1814 expedition map became an essential reference source for subsequent explorations. The data collected by the Lewis and Clark expedition would form a part of many subsequent American maps of the West until the construction of the transcontinental rail system in the 1860s.
Lewis was made Governor of the Louisiana Territory as a reward for his services to the nation by Jefferson in 1807. He died in circumstances that were equally suggestive of murder or suicide in 1809. After the death of Lewis, Clark took responsibility for the publication of the expedition journals and maps. Clark was appointed a Superintendent of Indian Affairs by the federal government. The expedition journals and related maps were published in 1814, a lucid and detailed account of the geography, vegetation, animal life and the human inhabitants of the then virtually unknown and unexplored West. Clark died in 1838.
The maps stand today as a testament to both the ambition of President Thomas Jefferson, as well as the fortitude and the vigor of the expeditioners Lewis and Clark. Jefferson's desire to claim the western portion of the continent had been spurred in part by the publication of the journals of Alexander MacKenzie, the Scottish explorer who had chronicled his explorations across what is now western Canadian and the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific from 1787 to 1793. MacKenzie, working on behalf of British interests, was seeking a land passage to the Pacific by which England could build her Asian trade. Jefferson assumed that if America did not similarly assert its interests on a continent wide basis, the British might lay a further claim to those lands west of the Mississippi which Jefferson and others saw as crucial to the long-term interests of America. In this sense, Lewis and Clark were by equal measures explorers, geographers, and the flag bearers of Jefferson's dream of a truly continental nation.
David Rumsey Historical Map Collection. 〈http://www.davidrumsey.com〉 (accessed February 10, 2006).
University of Virginia Library/Lewis and Clark: The Maps of Exploration. 〈http://www.lib.virginia.edu/small/exhibits/lewis_clark〉 (accessed February 10, 2006).