views updated May 18 2018

c. 1772–?

Explorer, slave

York, the slave and body servant of William Clark, was an important part of the Lewis and Clark expedition which took place from 1804 to 1806. Although York was a slave, his opinion and his vote were considered when the explorers made decisions. Many historians have characterized York as a buffoon and embraced myth and stereotypes to define York's place in the expedition, but it has since been recognized that York's presence had a direct impact on making the expedition a success. York often affected the outcome regarding negotiations with the Native Americans on the expedition because he was thought to be magical and even god-like. Recognizing the influence and contributions of York adds another dimension to the Lewis and Clark expedition and it acknowledges one who at the time received some recognition but who did not share in the reward of this exploration.

York was born a slave in about 1772 on the Clark family plantation. Most of what is known about York's early years is taken from the Clark family records. John Clark, the father of William Clark, lived with his wife Ann, in Caroline County, Virginia, on their plantation. William Clark was born August 1, 1770, and historians agree that York was also born around this time. One family member, William Clark Keenerly, wrote in his memoir Persimmon Hill about William Clark when he was a child. He noted that Clark was accompanied by "his little Negro boy York" as he rode about the countryside. When John Clark, William's father, died in 1799, listed among his slaves was "old York" and his wife Rose along with two children, Nancy and Jube. York was not listed but his parents and siblings were still on the Clark plantation. By this time York was an adult and in service to Clark.


Born a slave in Caroline County, Virginia
Becomes William Clark's slave/body servant
Accompanies Lewis and Clark on expedition
Actions support the opportunity for trade with the Shoshones
Expedition returns
Granted freedom
Death unknown

Joins in Expedition

York may have become Clark's body servant when the Clark family moved to Kentucky in 1784. Young slaves were forced to leave their childhood behind between the ages of ten and twelve. They were sent to the field or did domestic work. Clark would have been fourteen, and York was a few years younger, about twelve. York remained Clark's body servant from childhood into adulthood. When Clark and his friend Meriwether Lewis were choosing men to go on an expedition as outlined by President Thomas Jefferson, numerous men were considered but only a select few were accepted. President Thomas Jefferson had given specific instructions. The men who were strong, steady, and reliable in a crisis were chosen, and York was among them. The expedition was believed to support the U.S. claim to the vast land of the Louisiana Purchase.

York was mentioned several times in Clark's diary which chronicled their travels. Clark notes that York, unlike many of the explorers, could swim. He was able to swim to various areas and collect greens for their dinner. York also took care of Sergeant Floyd, a member of the expedition, who became seriously ill and died. In 1804 when the expedition reached South Dakota and contact was made with the Native American tribe, the Arikaras, the natives were astonished to see a black man. York was said to be a large man with curly hair. The Native Americans would crowd around him touching his skin and hair. They found it difficult to believe that his color did not come off. The women of the tribes were said to offer themselves to York. Native women were also available to the other explorers, but this was not mentioned in detail. The Mandans in North Dakota reacted to York with similar amazement because of his dark skin. They referred to York as the "great medicine." In 1805 during the expedition's stay in North Dakota for the winter, Clark used York to keep the natives entertained. Lewis also found York useful. He had him dance for the Shoshones in Montana to keep them occupied until Clark arrived. The explorers had merchandise to bargain with the Shoshones for horses, but were unsure if the trade would happen. With the presence of York the Indians were won over and the horses were acquired. York enjoyed many freedoms while on the expedition; he was one of the hunters for the group and carried a firearm. York's contributions were such that he was given a vote when a decision was being made about where to build a fort for the winter on the Oregon coast.

When the expedition returned to St. Louis, York was admired and appreciated by all, but he did not receive any rewards. The other explorers received double pay and land for their services. York asked for his freedom after the expedition ended in 1806, but his request was not granted. In the years after the expedition ended, York's status with Clark declined. He went from a body servant to one of the lowest of jobs for a slave, a hired slave. While hired out to various masters and sent from one location to another, York met and married a slave woman. Shortly after that her master took her to Mississippi, and York knew he would never see her again. York is said to have been freed in 1811 by Clark, but his life after that is unclear. Washington Irving, who visited William Clark, recorded Clark's statements that York was so lazy and unsuccessful as a freeman and as a businessman that he had decided to return to Clark. Along the way, York was stricken with cholera and died in Tennessee. Another account of York was reported by a trapper in the Rocky Mountains who met an old black man living among the Crow Indians. The old black man said he had traveled the Pacific with Lewis and Clark. Because York's status as a slave provided no motivation to record further events in his life, his later years and his death remain unknown.

As a slave York had a difficult life, but while on expedition with Lewis and Clark he came to know on many levels what it was like to be treated in some ways as an equal. His contributions to the expedition in making the journey successful were important and assure that his name is counted among those who explored the American frontier.



Betts, Robert. In Search of York. Boulder Co.: Colorado Associated University Press 1985.


Hall, Brian. "The Slave Who Went with Them." Time 160 (8 July 2002): 58.

King, Wilma. "Robert B. Betts. In Search of York: The Slave Who Went to the Pacific with Lewis and Clark" African American Review 38 (Spring 2004): 165.


"York." LewisAndClarkTrail.com. http://lewisandclarktrail.com/york.htm (Accessed 14 March 2006).

                                      Lean'tin L. Bracks


views updated May 17 2018


YORK , English cathedral city and the principal city in the north of England during the Middle Ages. Jewish capitalists settled there in the middle of the 12th century and attained considerable prosperity. The leaders of the community were Benedict, *Josce, noted for his patronage of scholars, and the tosafist *Yom Tov of Joigny. Benedict and Josce represented the York Jews in the deputation which waited on Richard i at his coronation in September 1189. In the ensuing riots Benedict was seriously wounded and died of his injuries on his homeward journey. In the following March anti-Jewish rioting broke out in York and the Jews, headed by Josce, were allowed by the sheriff to take refuge in the royal castle known as Clifford's Tower. Suspecting the latter's intentions, they later excluded him, were besieged by the mob, and committed mass-suicide rather than submit (Shabbat ha-Gadol, March 16/17, 1190). The victims included Josce, R. Yom Tov, and the tosafist Elijah of York. A poignant elegy on the massacre was composed by *Joseph b. Asher of Chartres. A community was reestablished early in the 13th century though it never regained its former importance. The most important Anglo-Jewish magnate of the reign of Henry iii, *Aaron of York, archpresbyter of the Jews of England (1236–43), was the son of the Josce mentioned above. The community's cemetery, originally shared with those of *Lincoln and *Northampton, was at a place still known as Jewbury.

York was one of the cities in England which had an *archa and it remained a Jewish center until the expulsion of 1290, when the financial magnate Bonamie of York was given a safe-conduct and was permitted to settle in Paris. A few Eastern European Jews settled in York at the end of the 19th century, and a small congregation has existed since 1892. In 1968 it numbered 45 out of a total population of 106,010, while the 2001 British census found 191 declared Jews by religion. There is an Orthodox congregation. A plan in 2002 by the local council to build a shopping mall adjacent to Clifford's Tower was opposed by the *Board of Deputies of British Jews and the local community.


Davies, in: Yorkshire Archaeological and Topographical Journal, 3 (1875), 147–97; J. Jacobs, Jews of Angevin England (1893); A.M. Habermann, Gezerot Ashkenaz ve-Zarefat (1945), 127, 152–54; Roth, in: jhset, 16 (1952), 213–20; Birnbaum, ibid. 19 (1960), 199–205; M. Adler, ibid., 13 (1936), 113–55 (= Jews of Medieval England (1937), 127–73); E. Brunskill, ibid., 20 (1959–61), 239–46. add. bibliography: R.B. Dobson, Clifford's Tower and the Jews of Medieval York (1995); idem, The Jews of Medieval York and the Massacre of March 1190 (1974).

[Cecil Roth]


views updated May 17 2018



A Roman legionary fortress, colonia, and provincial capital, Eboracum was founded in the early 70s ad as a fortress for legio IX Hispana. After the withdrawal of IX Hispana, its place was taken by legio VI Victrix, which remained in garrison, probably until the end of the Roman period. The fortress lay between the rivers Ouse and Foss. Originally built in timber, it was rebuilt in stone either side of 100. Across the Ouse a civil settlement grew up which was promoted colonia, probably when York became capital of the new province of Britannia Inferior at the beginning of the 3rd cent. York remained a provincial capital in the 4th cent. and a bishop attended the Council of Arles in 314. Comparatively little is known of the colonia, but there were large public buildings, including baths, and private buildings with mosaics, attesting to prosperity of a provincial capital. Inscriptions and burials show a wide range of beliefs besides Christianity, and inscriptions also attest to traders with links to Rouen, Bourges, and Bordeaux. Fortress and colonia seem to have been abandoned early in the 5th cent.

Alan Simon Esmonde Cleary


York re-emerges in historical record in 627 when the first Christian king of Northumbria was baptized there, and a bishopric established (an archbishopric from 735). By the 8th cent. it was a flourishing river port; between 866 and 954 it was in Viking hands, and was the capital of Danish and Norwegian kings, who fostered a commercial city (Jorvik) of international importance. In 954 it was absorbed into England, and by the 12th cent. it was the fourth wealthiest English town, with one of the largest Jewish communities (victims of a massacre in 1190). From 1212 to 1213 it acquired privileges of self-government, and intermittently between 1298 and 1337 acted as a temporary English capital during the Scottish Wars of Independence. Its golden age was the century c.1360–1460, when a boom in cloth-making and overseas trade made it the largest English town after London. From about 1460 it declined, despite strong support from Richard III, who had close links with the city. A modest recovery began with the residence in York of the king's Council in the North (1561–1641), although the civil wars (especially the siege of 1644) were damaging. Late Stuart and Hanoverian York flourished greatly as a social capital, but the city fell back in relative importance in the 19th cent., though the coming of the railways allowed some industry: growth was sufficient to create the usual problems of overcrowding and poverty, made notorious by B. S. Rowntree's classic study. Its relative lack of industrialization and war damage has left it with a rich legacy of historic buildings, including an almost intact circuit of medieval walls and gates.

David M. Palliser


views updated May 23 2018

York City and county district in North Yorkshire, n England. Located at the confluence of the Ouse and Foss rivers, it was an important Roman military post, an Anglo-Saxon capital, a Danish settlement and then the ecclesiastical centre of the North of England. York Minster cathedral dates from the 13th century. Industries: tourism, engineering (including rail workshops), confectionery, precision instruments. Pop. (1994) 104,102.

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