Thomas Jefferson Papers
Documents filtered by: Author="Lewis, Meriwether"
sorted by: date (ascending)
Permanent link for this document:
https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/01-40-02-0175

To Thomas Jefferson from Meriwether Lewis, 20 April 1803

From Meriwether Lewis

Lancaster Apl. 20th. 1803.

Sir,

With a view to forward as much as possible the preparations which must necessarily be made in the Western country previous to my final departure,1 as also to prevent the delay, which would attatch to their being made after my arrival in that quarter, I have taken the following measures, which I hope will meet your approbation; they appear to me to be as complete as my present view of the subject will admit my making them, and I trust the result will prove as favorable as wished for.—

I have writen triplicates to Mr: John Conner accepting his services as an Interpreter; he is the young man I recollect mentioning to you as having proffered his services to accompany me: to him I have communicated the real extent and objects of my mission, but with strict injunctions to secresy. He is directed to bring with him two Indians, provided he can engage such as perfectly answer the description given him. I have informed him of the Military posts at which I shall touch on the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, and the probable time of my arrival at each, leaving it discretionary with himself to meet me at either: in these letters are inclosed triplicates, addressed to the Commandants of those posts, recommending Mr. Conner to their good offices, and requesting for him every aid in their power to bestow, should he be in want of assistance to enable him to get forward in due time. The circumstance of Mr. Conner’s residence being at the Delleware Town on White river, and distant of course from any post office, induced me to give these letters different conveyances, which I did by inclosing them by different mails to three gentlemen of my acquaintance in that country, two of whom, Capts. Mc,Clelland & Hamilton, live within twenty seven miles of the town; they are requested, and I am confident will find the means of conveying the letters to him; the other with a similar request was inclosed to Capt. Findley of Cincinnatti, in whose exertions tho’ more distant, I have equal confidence.—

I have also written to Majr. Mac Rea, the Commandant of South West Point, and to several officers of my acquaintance who constitute that garrison, stating to them that my destination was up the Mississippi for the purpose of accomplishing the objects, which we agreed on as most proper to be declared publicly:2 the qualifications of the men are mentioned, and they are requested to look out in time for such volunteers as will answer that description; the inducements for those persons engaging in this service were also stated. The garrison of South West Point must form my first resourse for the scelection of my party, which I shall afterwards change as circumstances may seem to recommend; and with a view to this change, I have written in a similar manner to the officers commanding the posts of Massac, Kaskaskais and Illinois, the posts at which I shall touch previous to ascending the Missourie, and subsequent to my departure from S.W. Point. the men in every instance are to be engaged conditionally, or subject to my approval or otherwise.—

I have also written to Dr. Dickson, at Nashville, and requested him to contract in my behalf with some confidential boat-builder at that place, to prepare a boat for me as soon as possible, and to purchase a large light wooden canoe: for this purpose I inclosed the Dr. 50. Dollars, which sum I did not concieve equal by any means to the purchase of the two vessels, but supposed it sufficient for the purchase of the canoe, and to answer also as a small advance to the boat-builder: a discription of these vessels was given. The objects of my mission are stated to him as beforementioned to the several officers.—

I have also written to Genl. Irwine of Philadelphia, requesting that he will have in a state of prepareation some articles which are necessary for me, and which will be most difficult to obtain, or may take the greates length of time in their prepareation.—

My detention at Harper’s Ferry was unavoidable for one month, a period much greater than could reasonably have been calculated on; my greatest difficulty was the frame of the canoe, which could not be completed without my personal attention to such portion of it as would enable the workmen to understand the design perfectly; other inducements seemed with equal force to urge my waiting the issue of a full experiment, arising as well from a wish to incur no expence unnecessarily, as from an unwillingness to risk any calculation on the advantages of this canoe in which hereafter I might possibly be deceived; experiment was necessary also to determine it’s dementions: I therefore resolved to give3 it a fair trial, and accordingly prepared two sections of it with the same materials, of which they must of necessity be composed when completed for servise on my voyage; they were of two disciptions, the one curved, or in the shape necessary for the stem and stern, the other simicilindrical, or in the form of those sections which constitute the body of the canoe. The experiment and it’s result wer as follow.

Dementions.

Curved Section. Simicilindrical Section.
F. I. F. I.
Length of Keel from
junction of section to
commencement of curve
} 1. 2 Length of Keel 4. 6
 ditto Beam 4. 10
Debth of Hole 2. 2
Length of curve 4. 5 Note—The curve of the body
of the canoe was formed by
a suspended cord.—
Width of broad end 4. 10
Debth of Do. Do. 2. 2
Weight of the materials.
Curved Section Simicilindrical Section
lbs.
 Iron 22. Iron 22
Hide 25 Hide 30
Wood 10 Wood 12
Bark 21 Bark 25
Total 78 Total 89
 
Competent to a
Burthen of 850. lbs. Burthen of 920. lbs.
Necessary to be transported by land.
 Iron and Hide of Curved Section  47.
 Iron and Hide of Simicilindrical do.  52.= 99. lbs.
 Burthen of Curved Section 850.
  Do. Do. Simicilindrical 920.= 1,770. lbs.

Thus the weight of this vessel competent to the burthen of 1,770 lbs. amounts to no more than 99 lbs.—the bark and wood, when it becomes necessary to transport the vessel to any considerable distance, may be discarded; as those articles are reaidily obtained for the purposes of this canoe, at all seasons of the year, and in every quarter of the country, which is tolerably furnished with forest trees. When these sections were united they appeared to acquire an additional strength and firmness, and I am confident that in cases of emergency they would be competent to 150 lbs. more than the burthen already stated.—Altho’ the weight of the articles employed in the construction of a canoe on this plan, have considerably exceeded the estimate I had previously made, yet they do not weigh more than those which form a bark canoe of equal dementions, and in my opinion is much preferable to it in many respects; it is much stronger, will carry it’s burthen with equal ease, and greater security; and when the Bark and wood are discarded, will be much lighter, and can be transported with more safety and ease. I was induced from the result of this experiment to direct the iron frame of the canoe to be completed.—

My Rifles, Tomahawks & knives are preparing at Harper’s Ferry, and are already in a state of forwardness that leaves me little doubt of their being in readiness in due time.—

I arrived at this place yesterday, called on Mr. Ellicot, and have this day commenced, under his direction, my observations &c, to perfect myself in the use and application of the instruments. Mr. Ellicot is extreemly friendly and attentive, and I am confident is disposed to render me every aid in his power: he thinks it will be necessary I should remain here ten or twelve days.—

Being fully impressed with the necessity of seting out as early as possible, you may rest assured that not a moment shall be lost in making the necessary preperations. I still think it practicable to reach the mouth of the Missourie by the 1st. of August.—

I am Sir, with much esteem and regard Your Most Obt. Servt.

Meriwether Lewis.

RC (DLC); at foot of text: “The President of the U. States”; endorsed by TJ as received 25 Apr. and so recorded in SJL.

preparations: Lewis had set off from Washington in mid-March to obtain equipment and materials from the armory at Harpers Ferry and in Philadelphia. He carried orders dated 14 Mch. from the War Department’s chief clerk, Joshua Wingate, Jr., to Joseph Perkin, the superintendent of the Harpers Ferry arsenal, who was to see to the manufacture of “such arms & Iron work” as Lewis might want; to William Irvine, the superintendent of military stores at Philadelphia, for “Articles from the public Stores”; and to Israel Whelen, the purveyor of public supplies in that city, for the purchase of items that Lewis could not obtain from Irvine (Jackson, Lewis and Clark description begins Donald Jackson, ed., The Letters of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, with Related Documents, 1783–1854, 2d ed., Urbana, Ill., 1978 description ends , 1:75–6; Merritt Roe Smith, Harpers Ferry Armory and the New Technology: The Challenge of Change [Ithaca, N.Y., 1977], 37; Gallatin to TJ, 14 Mch.).

For john conner of Indiana Territory, see his letter to TJ of 10 Jan. 1803. Conner had written to Lewis in February about going on the western expedition as an interpreter. Lewis offered him $300 in pay, plus provisions and clothing. In September, after William Clark was able to make contact with him, Conner declined, saying that he did not have time to arrange his affairs to make the journey and that the pay was too low—$5,000 would be a more proper figure for his services, he avowed. Conner, Clark noted, did not speak any languages from west of the Mississippi anyway, and Lewis agreed that the trader “has decieved me very much” (Jackson, Lewis and Clark description begins Donald Jackson, ed., The Letters of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, with Related Documents, 1783–1854, 2d ed., Urbana, Ill., 1978 description ends , 1:116, 118–19, 123, 125).

mc,clelland: Robert McClellan had been a scout for the army in the Northwest Territory in the 1790s. He later went on trading expeditions up the Missouri River and into the Pacific Northwest. Lewis also knew John McClallen, a captain of artillery in the regular army, but McClallen was on active service and not in the location mentioned by Lewis (same, 41n, 203; Moulton, Journals of the Lewis & Clark Expedition description begins Gary E. Moulton, ed., Journals of the Lewis & Clark Expedition, Lincoln, Neb., 1983–2001, 13 vols. description ends , 8:358n, 363, 364n; Dearborn to McClellan, 9 Nov. 1802, 25 Mch. 1803, Dearborn to Thomas H. Cushing, 9 Nov. 1802, in DNA: RG 107, LSMA).

A Captain hamilton served as an interpreter in the Northwest Territory in 1799. He was perhaps John Hamilton, who lived in that region and a few years later was probably trading in Indiana Territory (Terr. Papers description begins Clarence E. Carter and John Porter Bloom, eds., The Territorial Papers of the United States, Washington, D.C., 1934–75, 28 vols. description ends , 3:68, 158; 7:370; Jackson, Lewis and Clark description begins Donald Jackson, ed., The Letters of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, with Related Documents, 1783–1854, 2d ed., Urbana, Ill., 1978 description ends , 1:41).

findley of cincinnatti: probably James Findlay, who at the time was receiver of public monies at Cincinnati (same, 41n, 127; Dearborn to Findlay, 5 Apr. 1803, in DNA: RG 107, MLS; Vol. 38:110n).

volunteers: in the spring of 1803, one company of artillerists and two companies of infantry made up the garrison at Southwest Point. Massac had one company of infantry, Kaskaskia one artillery company and one of infantry. The army had not yet built a new post intended for one company at the mouth of the Illinois River. In July, Henry Dearborn directed the officers at the posts to find suitable candidates for Lewis. “If any non-commissioned officer or private in your Company should be disposed to join Capt. Lewis, whose characters for sobriety, integrity and other necessary qualifications render them suitable for such service,” Dearborn wrote, “you will detach them accordingly.” Soldiers from Southwest Point, Massac, and Kaskaskia became members of Lewis’s expedition (Dearborn to William Irvine, 7 Mch. 1803, in DNA: RG 107, LSMA; Jackson, Lewis and Clark description begins Donald Jackson, ed., The Letters of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, with Related Documents, 1783–1854, 2d ed., Urbana, Ill., 1978 description ends , 1:102–4; Moulton, Journals of the Lewis & Clark Expedition description begins Gary E. Moulton, ed., Journals of the Lewis & Clark Expedition, Lincoln, Neb., 1983–2001, 13 vols. description ends , 2:139n, 510; note to Topics for Consultation with Heads of Departments, [on or after 10 Feb. 1803]).

Lewis wanted a keeled boat at least 60 feet in length, “light” and “strong” in construction, with a carrying capacity of eight tons. He had to have it built in Pittsburgh rather than Nashville, and it was not ready until the end of August. The finished boat, as Clark later described it to Nicholas Biddle, was open in the midsection with decking at the bow and stern. It was powered by a square sail and 22 oars. Lewis also needed a large wooden canoe (Jackson, Lewis and Clark description begins Donald Jackson, ed., The Letters of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, with Related Documents, 1783–1854, 2d ed., Urbana, Ill., 1978 description ends , 1:73, 99; 2:497, 534; Lewis to TJ, 22 July, 8 Sep.).

frame of the canoe: at Lewis’s request the metalworkers at Harpers Ferry built a portable iron frame that when assembled could be covered with animal hide to become what Lewis later called “a perogue of skins” or “leather boat.” He expected to fabricate crosspieces of wood when he put the watercraft together and to find bark and pine pitch to seal the seams. According to his plan, assembly would require “a few hours,” but when he and members of the expedition began to construct the vessel from elk and bison skins above the falls of the Missouri River in June 1805, the labor stretched on for days. They could not find pitch, and a substitute sealer that Lewis concocted from tallow and charcoal did not keep the joints between the hides watertight. “I therefore relinquished all further hope of my favorite boat,” Lewis recorded in his journal on 9 July 1805. He “bid a dieu” to the iron frame and left it behind as the expedition continued upriver (Jackson, Lewis and Clark description begins Donald Jackson, ed., The Letters of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, with Related Documents, 1783–1854, 2d ed., Urbana, Ill., 1978 description ends , 1:73, 233; Moulton, Journals of the Lewis & Clark Expedition description begins Gary E. Moulton, ed., Journals of the Lewis & Clark Expedition, Lincoln, Neb., 1983–2001, 13 vols. description ends , 4:149, 323–4, 336, 343–4, 349–50, 354, 359, 363, 366, 368–9; Lewis to TJ, 7 Apr. 1805).

To outfit the expedition Lewis desired 15 rifles, 24 pipe tomahawks, and 24 large knives. He also expected to take an additional 36 pipe tomahawks from Harpers Ferry and a number of knives as presents to Indians. He obtained other items from Harpers Ferry as well, including barbed fish gigs for use as presents (Jackson, Lewis and Clark description begins Donald Jackson, ed., The Letters of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, with Related Documents, 1783–1854, 2d ed., Urbana, Ill., 1978 description ends , 1:70, 72, 73).

1MS: “departue.”

2Preceding seven words interlined.

3MS: “gve.”

Index Entries