Dear Brother

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Over the course of his career, American explorer William Clark (1770-1838) wrote at least forty-five letters to his older brother Jonathan, including six that were written during the epic Lewis and Clark Expedition. This book publishes many of these letters for the first time, revealing important details about the expedition, the mysterious death of Meriwether Lewis, the status of Clark's slave York (the first African American known to have crossed the continent from coast to coast), and other matters of historical significance.

There are letters concerning the establishment of the Corps of Discovery's first winter camp in December 1803, preparations for setting out into the country west of Fort Mandan in 1805, and Clark's 1807 fossil dig at Big Bone Lick, Kentucky. There are also letters about Lewis's disturbed final days that shed light on whether he committed suicide or was murdered. Still other letters chronicle the fate of York after the expedition; we learn the details of Clark and York's falling out and subsequent alienation. Together the letters and the richly informative introductions and annotations by James J. Holmberg provide valuable insights into the lives of Lewis and Clark and the world of Jeffersonian America.

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Editorial Reviews

William Ascher
The best primer on how the resource analyst,manager,or activist should understand natural resource policy issues and operate effectively in the policy process.
Library Journal
Holmberg (curator of special collections, Filson Historical Society) presents a fascinating and informative collection of 54 letters William Clark sent to his older brother Jonathan and other family members, many of which are published here for the first time. The letters begin in 1792 and end with Jonathan's death in 1811. Clark writes about his experiences in the U.S. Army (1792-96), his business travels, the Corps of Discovery epic, his time as Superintendent of Indian Affairs in the Louisiana Territory, plus plenty of family gossip and news from the neighbors. Detailed notes regarding places, events, and people follow each letter. Of special interest are the letters Clark wrote concerning Meriwether Lewis's suicide, which reveal the depths of Clark's anguish. Also of interest are the references to York, Clark's slave who journeyed to the Pacific with the Corps. With the upcoming bicentennial of the Lewis and Clark expedition in 2004 and continued interest in the lives of these great explorers, this book will surely be popular. Recommended for all libraries. Margaret Atwater-Singer, Univ. of Evansville, IN Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780300101065
  • Publisher: Yale University Press
  • Publication date: 8/1/2003
  • Series: The Lamar Series in Western History
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 354
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Read an Excerpt

Dear Brother

Letters of William Clark to Jonathan Clark


Copyright © 2002 Yale University
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-300-09010-2

Chapter One

"The Sport of Fortune"

Prologue to Exploration, 1792-1802

It can be said that William Clark was in preparation for his historic trek to the Pacific for most of his pre-expedition life. A childhood on the Clark family plantation in Virginia, a good education by the standards of the day, growing to manhood on the Kentucky frontier, and the life of a Kentucky farmer, together with his brothers' military exploits, his own military experience, and extensive travel concerning military and civilian affairs, were all excellent preparation for the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

The seven letters in this chapter, written prior to 1803 and the beginning of the expedition, illustrate Clark's life as a soldier and civilian and how well qualified he was to help lead the Corps of Discovery. When William Clark joined the United States Army in March 1792 he was following what must have seemed like a natural calling. His five older brothers had all served as officers in the Revolutionary War. Jonathan and George Rogers had attained the rank of general in the Virginia militia, and brothers John and Richard had made the ultimate sacrifice in their young nation's service. George's star had declined by 1792, when the first letter in this collection was written, but not before it had reached its zenith in the war in the West. He had become the Conqueror of the Northwest, the Hannibal of the West. The famous exploits of his idolized older brother together with the solid service of Jonathan, Edmund, and John as officers in the Virginia Continental Line set a high standard for William to follow.

Always concerned that he pass on as much news-and upon occasion gossip-as possible, William Clark strived to write an informative letter. Consequently, he wrote not only frequently but often at length. The result? Informative, newsy letters not only for those who read them some two hundred years ago but for those who read them today. In September 1792 Clark had been in the army only six months but already had traveled east to Virginia and back west again. His recruiting duties kept him on the move and put him in contact with a variety of people and news. This is evident in his 1792 letter, as is the social network of which he was the beneficiary because he was a Clark. The Clarks were a well-respected family in Virginia who could count Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, and George Mason among their friends. Their military and civilian contacts established in Virginia extended to Kentucky when they settled there. William enjoyed access to the highest levels of society, government, and the military because of the family's status and connections. That position, earned over several generations, provided an extensive network that he benefited from and in turn benefited. His family name and who he was himself foretold success for the educated, cultured, and ambitious young Kentuckian. William Clark was very aware of his place in society and was determined to assume that place. He was happy not only to enjoy the benefits but to shoulder the responsibilities of that position.

After four years in the military, the appeal of the soldier's life waned for Clark. Anthony Wayne's campaign against the Northwestern Indians had ended successfully, and peace reigned on the frontier. The excitement of battle was replaced with the tedium of garrison life. Promotion would be slow. Clark suffered from bouts of ill health. His aging father John Clark needed help running the family plantation. William hoped to enter lucrative commercial trade. He despaired of ever rising to a degree of fame and fortune in the army and believed that commerce might provide them. Did family expectations influence him? Perhaps. Success in both military and business pursuits had been achieved by Clarks, Clark relatives, and Clark associates. The letters William wrote to Jonathan demonstrate his desire to achieve and assume his place-what he believed was his proper place-in the world. The financial success he sought would elude him, but the fame and respect would not. Extensive travel on legal and commercial matters provided excellent experience. This, added to his military experience, made William Clark eminently qualified to lead an expedition into the wilderness. His financial fortunes had declined by mid-1803 to the point that he may have welcomed an opportunity to set those matters aside and undertake a new venture, a venture of momentous scale.

Not fond of dwelling on his failures, Clark provides a clue to his distasteful situation in one of his letters. His dedication and commitment to his brother George had cost him dearly. William and other family members had struggled with George's tangled and daunting financial and legal difficulties for years. Virginia's penurious and ungrateful refusal to honor many of George's Revolutionary and Indian Wars debts incurred in prosecuting campaigns against the commonwealth's enemies had ruined him. Creditors and lawsuits were a regular part of George's life. William traveled thousands of miles and impoverished himself in assisting his brother. His 1798 letter was written well into a 4,000-mile trip made in pursuit of business and to help George. Trips had also been made to Washington and Richmond in the east and Vincennes and St. Louis in the west toward these same ends. Once brothers Jonathan and Edmund settled near Mulberry Hill, William probably thought things would be all right. He had moved Jonathan's slaves from Virginia to Kentucky early in 1802 and supervised the building of Jonathan's house to prepare the way for his esteemed brother's move to Kentucky. But it was not to be. Limited success had been achieved in business and in helping George, with the result of pushing William to the brink of financial ruin. Consequently, William and George moved across the Ohio to land they owned in Clarksville, Indiana Territory, in early 1803, hoping for a reversal of their financial fortunes. William sold his plantation to Jonathan and his mill to Edmund. Settling in on his farm at Point of Rocks overlooking the Falls of the Ohio in the summer of 1803, ready to pursue opportunities in order to recoup his fortunes, he received an unexpected invitation from an old army friend to accompany him on a "western tour," an invitation that changed William Clark's life and supplanted thoughts of business and legal affairs for the next four years.

Fort Stuben Falls Ohio Septr. 2d. 1792

Honbl. Sir

I receved your offectionate lettor of the 18th. of June by Captain Rogors, wherein you exprest a desire of Knowing ^my[^] particular Situation. I arived here Safe after a Tegious journey of near two months. __ I am ordered to recruit my part of the Company in this State, and have already Inlisted ten men, I expect to Start in a few days to Lexington to Compleat my quota of men. __ I am not yet informed particularly who will Comd. the Rifle Regt. it is Supposed Colo. Dark will. __ Genl. Wilkinson Comds. the Troops of this department at present, our Number of Regulars, do not exceed 1000 offective men __. when we Shall be of Strength Sufficient to take the field, I can't determin; as Recruiting Service go on So Sloly, I fear it will be next, Fall before we Shall have men Sufficnt to Carry out a Suckcessfull army ^Campain[^] __ I fear that the 5000 men that are to be rose will not be Seckcessfull, as the Inds. are imbodering [embodying], in different quarters to oppose us. we are informed that the Momis Indians that defeated our army, last fall with 500 warrurs, have Sent runs. [runners] to invite all the Lake Indians to Join them, we are likewise informed that the Creek nation had declar'd war, and are daly on the Frontiers of the Combarland Settlements Killing ^men[^] and Stealing horses __. Congress has ordered a Treaty with all the Northern Indians, to be held at St. Vinceence, this month, __ about five hd. warreers have arrived there for the purpose I Sups. of Treating, tho we have not receved any answr. from them ^by messengers Sent to invite them to a Treaty[^] our messengers being all Kill'd by them at their arrival in their Towns __ Genl. Putnam one of our Briga: Genls., also an Indian Agent passed this about Eight days ago on his way to St. Vinceence, on his way to the Treaty I fear this Treaty will be of no advantage 'us, as the Indians Say they will Treat untill they can get their prisoners from from the White people, those prisoners are goin on to be given up at this Treaty __ This will give you an Idea of the Situation of Indian afs. in this Quarter __

I Shall afr. [refer] you to Capt. Rogers for the Police [policies or politics] of Kentucky, as I Kno verry little of them at present.

my Bro: George talks of going to Virga. this Fall; he has Collected Some certifects respecting claims on the State of Virginia, which he will Send by an early oppertenity __ our Friends in Kentuky are well, Capt. Hite is Mard. to Miss Erickson from Merreland __ you will pleas to Give my most respectable compliments to Sister Clark & chidren. Tell Sister Clark, I Shall think my Self honor'd if I am mentioned at her daughters Christning as a Sponsir.18 you will please to favour me with a lettor when you can make it conveniant, if you will address yoer lettors to Capt. Tanekill at Pittsburgh they will come to me Safe. __ I Shall not lose an oppertunity but will at every one, wright to you, my situation, and the State of the army in this department and I reman with the Sincearest offection and Due rspect your oft. Bro:

William Clark


I in close you a plat of your 2000 acres Survey that one coast [cost] was left out, and the Entreys of all your other Tracts, they are Said to be all good Entres except the one that calls for the Lead mine, I can find no man that Knows where this mine is, if you think proper, I will have it withdrawn and Enterd. on the NW. Side of the Ohio __ W C.

1. Fort Steuben was located on the north bank of the Ohio River about one-half mile above the Falls of the Ohio at present Jeffersonville, Indiana. It was constructed in 1786 and first named Fort Finney, for its founder and first commander Maj. Robert Finney, but was later renamed for Revolutionary War hero Baron Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben. Sources state that it was a strong, defensible fort built of blockhouses and pickets about ninety yards from the bank of the river. It was garrisoned by regular army troops until sometime in 1793. A diagram and sketches of the fort are in the Northwest Territory Collection, Indiana Historical Society. (The Encyclopedia of Louisville [hereafter cited as EL], 312; Baird, 1:138-41; History of the Ohio Falls Cities and Their Counties [hereafter cited as HOFC], 2:453.)

2. The Falls of the Ohio were the only major obstacle to navigation on that waterway. It was for that reason that the area on the south side of the Falls had already been identified as a good site for a town by the early 1770s, and that George Rogers Clark established what became Louisville there in 1778. The Falls actually were a series of rapids that included very small falls with an overall drop of some twenty-six feet over approximately two miles. The Falls area is the largest exposed Devonian coral reef in the world. In periods of high to moderate water the Falls could be run, usually by pilots familiar with them. In periods of low water and as large steamboats increasingly were used on the river, goods had to be portaged around the Falls, where they were transferred to another boat or reloaded on the same boat once that craft had carefully been navigated through the rapids. During Louisville's early years inhabitants and visitors sometimes referred to their locale as being the "Falls of the Ohio," "Falls of Ohio," "Rapids of the Ohio," or even "Falls Ohio," as Clark does here, instead of stating the town, usually Louisville. Six towns eventually were established at the Falls, three on each side of the Ohio: Louisville, Portland, and Shippingport on the Kentucky side, and Jeffersonville, Clarksville, and New Albany on the Indiana side. (Verhoeff, 68-69; HOFC, 1:41-42; EL, 279-80; Yater (1), 1.)

3. Captain John Rogers (1757-1794) was a native of Caroline County, Virginia, and one of the sons of Clark's uncle George Rogers (1721-1802). He was appointed a second lieutenant in the 4th Virginia Infantry Regiment in 1776 and served as a captain in George Rogers Clark's Illinois Regiment from 1778 to 1782. He commanded the detail that escorted Henry Hamilton and other British prisoners from Vincennes to Williamsburg, Virginia, in 1779. Rogers lived in Kentucky and Virginia, apparently never settling for long in one place, traveling frequently. He never married, and died at the Eagle Tavern in Richmond, Virginia. (Gwathmey, 675; Thruston, 24; Edmund Rogers Miscellaneous Papers, The Filson Historical Society [hereafter cited as TFHS], Louisville, Kentucky.)

4. William Clark had been commissioned a lieutenant in the United States Army in March 1792 and at this time was on recruiting duty. He had been in Virginia two months before and had only recently reached the frontier and begun his assignment. Regular army as well as militia companies were being raised throughout Kentucky to fight Indians. Recruitment often went slowly, and there was friction between the regular army and state militias owing to different opinions and objectives and the two disastrous defeats the regular army had suffered, under Josiah Harmar in 1790 and Arthur St. Clair in 1791, at the hands of confederated Northwestern tribes under the leadership of Little Turtle. (Jonathan Clark to William Clark, 18 June 1792, William Clark Papers-E.G. Voorhis Memorial Collection [hereafter cited WCP-VMC], Missouri Historical Society, St. Louis, Missouri.)

5. Lexington, Kentucky, was founded in 1779 by Robert Patterson, and named in honor of the American victory over the British in April 1775 at Lexington, Massachusetts. Patterson had been in the area with a small party of surveyors in the spring of 1775 when they received word of that battle, and he had vowed to return to the area someday and establish a town named for that victory. Lexington was one of Kentucky's leading towns from its earliest days and earned the nickname the "Athens of the West." Even though Clark wrote the letter from Fort Steuben in Indiana Territory, he is referring to Kentucky when he writes "this State."


Excerpted from Dear Brother Copyright © 2002 by Yale University. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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