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Biography on Meriwether Lewis

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    Meriwether Lewis was born on August 18, 1774. He was born on the eve of the revolution. His family was also part of the western movement. The first Lewis to come was named Robert. Robert was a Welshman and an officer in the British army. The family slogan was:" Omne Solum Forti Patria Est,"which means, "Everything the Brave Man Does is For His Country." Robert came with a grant from the king for 33,333 1/3 acres of Virginia land in 1635. Then a long chain of marriages between the Lewis's and the Meriwether's and finally a marriage between William Lewis and Lucy Meriwether, which led to the birth of Meriwether Lewis (isn’t weird that his first name was the last name of his mother?). Lewis had two siblings. One older sister named Jane and a younger brother named Rueben. Lewis didn't really know his father (Lieutenant Lewis now) because he was away making war the first five years of his life.

    On November 1779 Lieutenant Lewis was going to ride to Secretary's Ford across the Rivanna River. Attempting to cross the river his horse was swept away but Lieutenant Lewis managed to get to shore and hike back to Cloverfields, completely drenched. Two days later pneumonia set in and he died. So Nicholas Lewis, Lieutenant Lewis's brother, was Meriwether's guardian. Then six months later his mother married Captain John Marks. As a child he learned a strong anti-British sentiment from his parents. When he was about eight or nine years old he moved to Georgia where he lived there for three to four years. Georgia was a frontier country and it was here that he learned his frontier skills. He also learned the different types of herbs and the plants in the wilderness such as trees, bushes, shrubs, and grasses from his mother, who owned a garden. In addition to the plants he learned the names of the different kinds of fish, birds, insects, and mammals. Lewis wanted more knowledge though. So he was taught by boarding with teachers because there were no public schools. He wanted to learn how to be a priest.

    In October 1791 Lewis received a letter, while he was at school, from his mother who told him that Captain John Marks had died and she needed him to come home to help her move back to Virginia. When Lewis was eighteen he was the head of a small community with about twenty-four slaves and almost two thousand acres of land. His lessons now would include management, soils, crops, distillery, carpentry, blacksmithing, shoemaking, weaving, coopering, timbering, repairing farming instruments, killing, skinning and dressing sheep and cattle, preserving food, caring for horses and dogs, and treating the sick, as well as other tasks. He was extremely unhappy with the life as a planter. He wanted more excitement and adventure. At the age of twenty he volunteered in the militia under General George Washington to defeat the Whiskey Rebellion.

  Lewis was one of the first people to enlist as a private. The militia gave severe punishments especially for desertion. For example in the year of 1795 a private had ran off. The captains offered two Shawnee Indians a reward of ten dollars for him and twenty dollars for his scalp. They returned the next day with the soldier’s scalp. Lewis's views and his drinking habits got him in to trouble. He was brought before a judge and was then transferred to the Chosen Rifle Company of elite riflemen- sharpshooters. It was there where he met Clark. They became friends and admirers of each other.

      On February 23,1801 President Jefferson wrote to Lewis asking him to be his secretary. His salary would be five hundred dollars a year and he would be able to live in the President's house as a family member. Lewis's response was yes. Since Lewis didn't have real father Jefferson was more like a father to him. Between the years of 1750-1802 Lewis and Jefferson prepared the expedition across the United States. Lewis was the first person that popped into Jefferson's head because when Lewis was about eighteen years old Jefferson asked Michaux to lead an expedition across the United States as well. Lewis volunteered but Jefferson thought he was too young. Jefferson later found out that Michaux was a spy for the French Republic. Preparing for the expedition was highly expensive for their time. For fishing tackles, lead canisters, medicines, dried goods, tobacco, and shirts was $2,324. Lewis started the expedition on August 31, 1803 at 10:00 a.m.

   Writing about the whole expedition would take forever and I want to leave a little bit for you to read Undaunted Courage. So I will just skip that part and tell you the end of his life. Well Lewis never married for one thing. He wanted a wife though. Lewis had problems that got in the way such as his drinking, depression, debt and his celebrity status. Lewis did meet someone though. Her name was Letitia Breckenridge but another man married her. Lewis got really crazy and depressed the night of October 10, 1809. Lewis got out his pistols and loaded them. He then shot himself in the head. The bullet only skimmed his skull. Lewis got up then shot himself again. This time in the breast and the ball entered and passed downward through his body and then to his backbone. He survived this. Then he managed to get a razor and start cutting himself from head to toe. Lewis then told his servants: " I am no coward: but I am strong, [it is] so hard to die." Then he begged his servants to get his rifle and blow out his brains, telling them not to be afraid, for he would not hurt them, and that they could have all the money in his trunk. After sunrise at about 3:00 a.m. on October 11, 1809 his heart stopped beating. After Lewis's death his half-brother John Marks did some research on Lewis's debts. He had private debts which where $4,196.12 and protested drafts totaling to $6,956.62 for a total of $11,152.74 in debts.

   Lewis's suicide had put a dent in his reputation. He would probably be more honored today and maybe have a river named after him. But through most of the nineteenth century he was ignored and almost forgotten. If he had lived he would have seen steamships and railroads. He would have seen a lot of things that future technology would bring but he didn't because of the bad choice he made to end his life.

UNDAUNTED COURAGE gave me all this info. Read it for yourself! This book is reccomend for 14 years and up.

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