William Clark: Biography, Expedition & Facts

Instructor: Nate Sullivan

Nate Sullivan holds a M.A. in History and a M.Ed. He is an adjunct history professor, middle school history teacher, and freelance writer.

Most of us have heard of the 'Lewis and Clark Expedition,' but probably know little about who William Clark actually was. In this lesson, we will learn about William Clark and explore the role he played in the famous 'Lewis and Clark Expedition.'

William Clark: Introduction

William Clark

William Clark was an early American explorer who, alongside Meriwether Lewis, led the Lewis and Clark Expedition into the Louisiana Territory between 1804-1806. Incidentally, he was the younger brother of the Revolutionary War hero George Rogers Clark. Clark was recruited into the Corps of Discovery by Lewis, who had been appointed by President Thomas Jefferson to explore and map the newly acquired region.

Technically, Clark served as Lewis's lieutenant, even though Lewis wanted him to be a co-captain, and treated him as such. The objective of the expedition was to find a passable route to the Pacific Ocean, explore and map the region, and conduct scientific investigations. The expedition was also useful in securing American sovereignty over disputed territory in the Northwest. The expedition was a major success, and helped pave the way for westward expansion.

Biography of William Clark

William Clark was born in Caroline County, Virginia, in 1770. He was one of ten children! One of his older brothers, George Rogers Clark, became a famous Revolutionary War hero. While a teenager, William moved to Kentucky with his family. As a young man, Clark joined a local militia, and was engaged in skirmishes with various Native American tribes. Over time he rose to the rank of captain.

In 1803, Meriwether Lewis asked Clark to co-lead the Corps of Discovery which Jefferson had commissioned to explore the newly purchased Louisiana Territory. Lewis wanted Clark to be co-captain, but bureaucratic mistakes prevented this from happening. Nevertheless, Lewis regarded him as an equal and shared responsibility with him.

After the expedition, Jefferson appointed Clark chief agent of Indian Affairs and the Brigadier General of the Louisiana Territory Militia. Clark participated in the War of 1812, and was later appointed governor of the Missouri Territory by President Madison. In 1822, he was appointed Superintendent of Indian Affairs by President Monroe. In this capacity, he played a central role in carrying out President Andrew Jackson's controversial Indian removal policies. Clark died at the age of 68 in September 1838.

The Lewis and Clark Expedition
lewis and clark

After President Jefferson purchased the Louisiana Territory from France in 1803, he needed to know what the region was like. To this end, he commissioned Meriwether Lewis to lead an expedition into the interior. Lewis recruited Clark, and they set out from St. Louis with a small band of volunteers in May 1804. Following the Missouri River westward, the corps mapped the region and interacted with a number of different Native American tribes.

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