Meriwether Lewis


October 11, 2009 marks the bicentennial of Meriwether Lewis’s death. As the leader of the Lewis and Clark expedition, an epic exploration of uncharted territory west of the Mississippi, Lewis has been the subject of several biographies, yet much of the published information is unreliable. A number of myths surrounding his life and death persist.

Now independent scholars Thomas C. Danisi and John C. Jackson have written this definitive biography based on twelve years of ...

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October 11, 2009 marks the bicentennial of Meriwether Lewis’s death. As the leader of the Lewis and Clark expedition, an epic exploration of uncharted territory west of the Mississippi, Lewis has been the subject of several biographies, yet much of the published information is unreliable. A number of myths surrounding his life and death persist.

Now independent scholars Thomas C. Danisi and John C. Jackson have written this definitive biography based on twelve years of meticulous research. They have re-examined the original Lewis and Clark documents and searched through obscure and overlooked sources to reveal a wealth of fascinating new information on the enigmatic character and life of Meriwether Lewis.

Instead of focusing on the Lewis and Clark expedition, the authors concentrate on what Lewis was doing immediately before and after the journey through Western territory. They assess his role as a natural scientist and as governor of the Louisiana Territory. His lifelong mentor, Thomas Jefferson, thrust the latter role upon Lewis during a time of crisis. As Danisi and Jackson reveal, he would much rather have devoted this time compiling his notes and scientific findings into a vivid narrative of the expedition’s adventures.

Finally, using medical documentation, the book reveals the actual cause of Lewis’s untimely death. The authors address both the conspiracy theories regarding murder as the cause of Lewis’s death and the longstanding belief that he committed suicide.

The Meriwether Lewis that emerges from this thoroughly researched biography is a man of honorable intentions who met severe challenges and handled difficult confrontations with patience and diplomacy. Both professional historians and armchair devotees of American history will want to add this important new work to their libraries.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Independent historians Danisi and Jackson offer a meticulously researched, if occasionally obsessive, account of Meriwether Lewis's life, focused primarily on the tragically short years after the famous Lewis and Clark expedition of 1804-1806. The authors propose the novel but credible theory that Lewis's mysterious 1809 death, generally considered a suicide, was a result of unwitting self-poisoning with mercury treatments for his recurring, debilitating bouts of malaria. In the process, the authors also effectively debunk conspiracy theorists' suggestions that Lewis was murdered. After the expedition, Lewis served as governor of the Louisiana territory, was embroiled in the convoluted and harsh politics of the territory and worked sedulously on Indian affairs. Although Danisi and Jackson's choice to focus on Lewis's post-1806 life is understandable given the numerous expedition histories, Lewis's last years will be less compelling to many readers than his iconic journey across the American continent. In the end, regardless of how well researched and insightful, this work is likely to be appreciated almost exclusively by professional historians and Lewis and Clark enthusiasts. (Mar.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Children's Literature - Greg M. Romaneck
2009 marks the bicentennial anniversary of the suicidal death of Merriwether Lewis, one of the co-commanders of the famed Lewis and Clark expedition. While Lewis' death remains a grim reminder of the sad effects of mental health concerns, his life is still one that combines fascinating adventure with true talent. In this recent scholarly biography of Merriwether Lewis two independent historians of the American Northwest have combined to produce a definitive work. In this comprehensive work the authors trace Lewis' life from his birth in Virginia, through his years as President Jefferson's clerk, along the pathway of the immortal Corps of Discovery years, and finally to the untimely death while serving as a territorial governor. Throughout this carefully researched and engagingly written biography readers learn not only the obvious facts of Lewis' life but also the back-story to his years as a public servant. Of particular interest are the chapters dedicated to the Lewis and Clark expedition within which readers are allowed a look at a journey that still remains almost impossible to imagine. Finally, the death of Lewis by his own hand is realistically recreated and then analyzed using the most valid and up-to-date sources. This eye for both detail and the story of a man's life makes this a comprehensive biography and a book that will appeal to a serious student of history. Reviewer: Greg M. Romaneck
Library Journal

Meriwether Lewis was famous for two things: leading the Corps of Discovery expedition (1804-06) and committing suicide. Danisi and Jackson (The Piikani Blackfeet: A Culture Under Siege) focus on Lewis's life before the expedition and his term as governor of the Louisiana Territory thereafter. By contrast, Stephen E. Ambrose's Undaunted Courage focuses on the expedition and Lewis's suicide. Danisi and Jackson introduce readers to the rough and tumble of Louisiana Territory politics, both internationally (Spanish territory to the southwest, British to the north and on the seas) and locally, including confusing French-Spanish land claims and relations with various Indian tribes. Through exhaustive, well-sourced research, the authors demonstrate Lewis's competent management of the territory until days before his death in October 1809, highlighting the bitter political battles and indifferent Washington bureaucrats and clearly refuting claims of diminished mental capabilities. They further confirm that Lewis suffered from recurring bouts of malaria, reinforcing a sense of his suffering as a motive for suicide. Whatever the cause of Lewis's early death, the nation has struggled to accept that a hero's life was cut short. This excellent biography does much to let the man shine forth. Highly recommended.
—Margaret Atwater-Singer

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781591027027
  • Publisher: Prometheus Books
  • Publication date: 3/24/2009
  • Pages: 384
  • Sales rank: 950,828
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Thomas C. Danisi (St. Louis, MO) and John C. Jackson (Olympia, WA) are freelance writers and historians. In 2004, they received a grant from the Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation to research this book. Danisi is the author of Uncovering the Truth about Meriwether Lewis and numerous articles on the history surrounding Meri­wether Lewis and the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Jackson is the author of four books on the history of the Pacific Northwest, including By Honor and Right: How One Man Boldly Defined the Destiny of a Nation.

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Table of Contents

Foreword Robert J. Moore Jr. 7

Preface 17

Acknowledgments 23

Abbreviations 27

One Prelude to a Great Adventure 29

Two Presage of the Garden 47

Three Organizing a Western Journey 63

Four Trouble in the Expedition's Blood 86

Five A Field Scientist and the American Philosophical Society 105

Six Return to St. Louis 120

Seven Welcome and Unwelcome Rewards 129

Eight The Seeds of a Masterpiece 147

Nine Lewis in Love 168

Ten The Shadow of Aaron Burr 178

Eleven Taking Over as Governor 189

Twelve Reflections in a Cesspool 213

Thirteen Nails in a Coffin 230

Fourteen Beginning a Fatal Slide 252

Fifteen Documents of a Decline 267

Sixteen Appointment with Destiny 284

Seventeen Last Journey 297

Eighteen Devils in the Blood 307

Nineteen Echoes of a Tragedy 326

Appendix Meriwether Lewis: Observations and Reflections 349

Bibliography 375

Index 402

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