William Clark (explorer): Wikis


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William Clark

In office
July 1, 1813 – September 18, 1820
Preceded by Benjamin Howard
Succeeded by Alexander McNair

Born August 1, 1770(1770-08-01)
Died September 1, 1838 (aged 68)
St. Louis, Missouri
Spouse(s) Julia Hancock
Harriet Kennerly Radford
Relations George Rogers Clark
Occupation Soldier, explorer, government official

William Clark (August 1, 1770 – September 1, 1838) was an American explorer, soldier, Indian agent, and territorial governor. A native of Virginia, he would also grow up in pre-statehood Kentucky before later settling in what later became the state of Missouri. Along with Meriwether Lewis, Clark led the Lewis and Clark Expedition of 1803 to 1805 across the Louisiana Purchase to the Pacific Ocean. Before the expedition he served in a militia and the United States Army, while afterwards he served in a militia and as governor of the Missouri Territory. From 1822 until his death he held the position of Superintendent of Indian Affairs.


Early life

William Clark was born in Caroline County, Virginia, on August 1, 1770, the ninth of the ten children of John and Ann Rogers Clark.[1] His parents were natives of King and Queen County, and were of English and possibly Scottish ancestry.[2] The Clarks were of the lesser Virginia gentry, owners of modest estates and a few slaves,[3] and members of the Anglican Church.

Clark did not have any formal education, but like many of his contemporaries he was tutored at home. In later years, he was somewhat self-conscious about his convoluted grammar and inconsistent spelling—he spelled "Sioux" twenty-seven different ways in his journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition—and sought to have his journals corrected before publication.[4] But the spelling of American English was not standardized in Clark's youth, and his vocabulary suggests that he was well read.[5]

Clark's five older brothers fought in Virginia units during the American Revolutionary War (1775–1783), but William was too young to go off to battle.[2] His oldest brother, Jonathan Clark, served as a colonel during the war, rising to the rank of general in the Virginia militia years afterward. His second-oldest brother, George Rogers Clark, rose to the rank of general, spending most of the war in Kentucky fighting against British-allied American Indians. After the war, George Rogers Clark and Jonathan Clark, the oldest Clark brother, made arrangements for their parents to relocate to Kentucky. William, his parents, his three sisters, and the Clark family's slaves arrived in Kentucky in March 1785, having traveled overland to Redstone Landing before completing the journey down the Ohio River by flatboat. The Clark family settled at "Mulberry Hill", a plantation along Beargrass Creek near Louisville. This would be William Clark's primary home until 1803. In Kentucky, George Rogers Clark taught William wilderness survival skills.[6]

Military career begins

Although the Revolutionary War was over, Kentuckians continued to fight an undeclared war with American Indians north of the Ohio River. In 1789, nineteen year-old William Clark began his military career by joining a volunteer militia force under Major John Hardin.[7] Clark kept a detailed journal of the expedition, the beginning of a lifelong practice. The targets of Hardin's expedition were Wea Indians on the Wabash River who had been raiding settlements in Kentucky. Unfortunately, the undisciplined Kentucky militia instead attacked a peaceful Shawnee hunting camp, killing eight men, women, and children.[8]

In 1790, Clark was commissioned by General Arthur St. Clair, governor of the Northwest Territory, as a captain in the Clarksville militia. The exact nature of his services that year are unclear; one older source says that he was sent on a mission to the Creek and Cherokee Indians.[9] He may have visited New Orleans at that time. His travels prevented him from participating in General Josiah Harmar's disastrous campaign into the Northwest Territory that year.[10]

In 1791, he served as an ensign and acting lieutenant with expeditions under Generals Charles Scott and James Wilkinson.[11] Clark enlisted in the Legion of the United States and was commissioned as a Lieutenant on March 6, 1792 under Anthony Wayne. On September 4, 1792 he was assigned to the 4th Sub-Legion. He was involved in several skirmishes with Indians, and was thanked by General Wayne for his good conduct during the campaign.[9] He distinguished himself at the Battle of Fallen Timbers in 1794 by commanding of a company of riflemen which drove back the enemy on the left flank, killing a number of Indians and Canadians. In 1795, he was dispatched on a mission to New Madrid. Clark also served as an adjutant and quartermaster while in the militia.[11]

Lewis and Clark Expedition

William Clark resigned his commission on July 4, 1796 and retired due to poor health,[11] returning to Mulberry Hill, his family plantation near Louisville. Prior to his resignation, Meriwether Lewis was assigned to Clark's unit as an ensign under Clark's command.[11] In 1803, Clark was asked by Lewis to share command of the newly formed Corps of Discovery. Clark spent three years on the expedition, and although technically subordinate to Lewis in rank, he exercised equal authority at Lewis' insistence. He concentrated chiefly on the drawing of maps, the management of the expedition's supplies, and leading for hunting.

Indian affairs and war

Clark was appointed by President Jefferson as the brigadier general of the militia in the Louisiana Territory in 1807, which made him the agent for Indian affairs.[11] He set up his headquarters in St. Louis, Missouri. During the War of 1812, he led several campaigns, among them in 1814 one along the Mississippi River, up to the Prairie du Chien-area, where he established short lived Fort Shelby, the first post in what is now Wisconsin. Soon the post was captured by the British.

When the Missouri Territory was formed in 1813, Clark was appointed as the governor by President Madison.[11] He was re-appointed to the position by Madison in 1816, and in 1820 by President Monroe.[11] When Missouri became a state in 1820, Clark was defeated in the election for governor by Alexander McNair. In 1822, he was appointed Superintendent of Indian Affairs by President Monroe, a new position created by Congress after the factory system was abolished.[11] Clark remained in that capacity until his death, his title changed with the creation of the Office of Indian Affairs in 1824 and finally the Bureau of Indian Affairs in 1829, both within the War Department.[12] From 1824 to 1825, he was additionally appointed surveyor general of Illinois, Missouri and the Territory of Arkansaw.

Courtship and marriage

Clark married Julia Hancock on January 5, 1808, at Fincastle, Virginia, and they had five children:[11] Meriwether Lewis Clark, Sr. (1809–1881) named after his friend Meriwether Lewis; William Preston Clark (1811–1840); Mary Margaret Clark (1814–1821); George Rogers Hancock Clark (1816–1858), named after Clark's older brother; and John Julius Clark (1818–1831). After Julia's death in 1820, William Clark married her first cousin Harriet Kennerly Radford, and they had three children: Jefferson Kearny Clark (1824–1900); Edmund Clark (1826–1827); and Harriet Clark (dates unknown; died as child). His second wife died in 1831.

Clark died in St. Louis on September 1, 1838, and he was buried in the Bellefontaine Cemetery, where a 35-foot (11 m) gray granite obelisk was erected to mark his grave.


Although his family had established endowments to maintain his grave site, by the late 20th century the grave site had fallen into disrepair. His descendants raised $100,000 to rehabilitate the obelisk and celebrated the re-dedication with a ceremony May 21, 2004, on the bicentennial of the start of his famous expedition. The ceremony was attended by a large gathering of his descendants, reenactors in period dress, and leaders from the Osage Nation, and the Lemhi band of the Shoshone Native American people.

Clark was a member of the Freemasons. The records of his initiation do not exist, but on September 18, 1809, Saint Louis Lodge No. 111 issued a traveling certificate for Clark.[13] On January 17, 2001 President Bill Clinton posthumously increased Clark's US Army rank to Captain. Descendants of Clark were there to mark the occasion.[14]

The western American plant genus Clarkia (in the Evening primrose family Onagraceae), is named after him, as are the cutthroat trout (Oncorhynchus clarki), Clark's Grebe (Aechmophorus clarkii), and Clark's Nutcracker (Nucifraga columbiana), a large passerine bird, in the family Corvidae. Several states have named counties in his honor: Clark County, Arkansas, Clark County, Idaho, Clark County, Missouri, Lewis and Clark County, Montana, and Clark County, Washington. He also has a star emplaced on the St. Louis Walk of Fame. The Clarks River in western Kentucky is also named for him, as is the Clark Fork in Montana and Idaho, and the Clarks Fork Yellowstone River in Montana and Wyoming.

The United States Navy Polaris nuclear submarine USS Lewis and Clark was named for him and Meriwether Lewis.


  1. ^ Foley, Wilderness Journey, 2–3.
  2. ^ a b Foley, Wilderness Journey, 2.
  3. ^ Foley, Wilderness Journey, 1.
  4. ^ Foley, Wilderness Journey, 18.
  5. ^ Foley, Wilderness Journey, 19.
  6. ^ Foley, Wilderness Journey, 13–17.
  7. ^ Foley, Wilderness Journey, 23.
  8. ^ Paul David Nelson. "Hardin, John"; American National Biography Online February 2000; Wiley Sword, President Washington's Indian War (University of Oklahoma Press, 1985), 77. Foley, Wilderness Journey, 24–25, mentions the attack on the camp and the casualties, but does not identify the Indians as peaceful or as Shawnees.
  9. ^ a b Indiana Historical Bureau
  10. ^ Foley, Wilderness Journey, 25–26.
  11. ^ a b c d e f g h i Corning, Howard M. (1989) Dictionary of Oregon History. Binfords & Mort Publishing. p. 55.
  12. ^ Buckley, Jay H. William Clark: Indian Diplomat. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2008.
  13. ^ Libert, Laura. "Brothers Lewis and Clark". Treasures of the Temple. http://www.pagrandlodge.org/freemason/0503/tot.html. Retrieved 2008-07-16. 
  14. ^ "Clinton Makes William Clark a Captain Posthumously". Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation: Ohio River Chapter. January 17, 2001. http://www.lewisandclarkontheohio.org/clinton_presents_clark_a_ca.htm. Retrieved 2008-07-16. 

General references

  • Buckley, Jay H. William Clark: Indian Diplomat. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2008. ISBN 0-8061-3911-1.
  • Foley, William E. Wilderness Journey: The Life of William Clark. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2004. ISBN 0-8262-1533-5.

External links

Political offices
Preceded by
Benjamin Howard
Governor of Missouri Territory
Succeeded by
Alexander McNair (statehood)


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