Meriwether Lewis

Meriwether Lewis (1774 - 1809)

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Captain Meriwether Lewis
Born in Locust Hill, Ivy, Albemarle County, Colony of Virginiamap
Ancestors ancestors
Died in Grinder's Stand, Lewis, Tennesssee, United Statesmap
Profile last modified 19 Jan 2020 | Created 27 Nov 2011 | Last significant change: 19 Jan 2020
00:26: Bo (Lewis) Saunders answered a question about Meriwether Lewis (1774-1809) [Thank Bo for this]
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Meriwether Lewis was involved in the westward expansion of the USA.
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Preceded by
1st Territorial Governor
James Wilkinson
Meriwether Lewis
2nd Governor
of Louisiana Territory
State Seal of Missouri
Succeeded by
3rd Territorial Governor
Benjamin Howard



Meriwether Lewis is Notable.

Meriwether Lewis was a soldier, public administrator, and most often noted, part of the North American explorer team of Lewis and Clark, on their Corps of Discovery.[2][3][4][5]


Meriwether Lewis born in Albemarle County, Virginia August 18,1774. [5] [6] [7] [8] [9] [3] [10] [11] He was the second child and first son of William and Lucy Meriwether Lewis. [7] [3] [8] [9] [12] Their other children included Jane Meriwether Lewis (later Anderson), Reuben Lewis, and Lucinda Lewis (who died as an infant). Meriwether's father, who served in the Continental Army, died after his horse fell into an icy stream in 1779.[3][13][12] Six months later, his mother married another Army officer, Captain John Marks, who raised Meriwether and his two siblings while managing a 1,000 acre plantation about 10 miles from Monticello.[14][3][12] Captain John and Lucy had two children as well, John Hastings Marks and Mary Garland Marks.

As a young boy, Lewis showed an interest and skill in plant knowledge. His mother, an herbalist, encouraged that interest, which would later be useful in his expeditions.[3]

Meriwether was not known to have married (though he apparently considered it at one point).[12] Some family traditions holds that Meriwether Lewis and a Teton Sioux woman named Ikpsapewin (Winona) conceived a child. The boy, known both as Turkey Head and as Joseph Lewis DeSmet, lived until the age of 84. His baptismal record, which was written when he was an elderly man, lists Meriwether as his father.[4][10]

The standard history of the county in which Joseph DeSomet Lewis's descendants live, Early Settlers in Lyman County[15], identifies Mamie DeSmet Thompson and Amy DeSmet Carpenter as the great granddaughters of Meriwether Lewis and their grandfather as the son of Meriwether Lewis.[16][17]

On January 30th, 1946, Samuel Charger, a grandson of Joseph DeSmet Lewis, wrote a letter to Doane Robinson[18], in which he recounted a story told to him by his aging uncle John Lewis Desmet (Joseph's son). In the letter, Samuel stated that his grandfather, Joseph, was invited to visit an uncle, who was an Indian agent[19]. That uncle gave Joseph two horses, a gun, and ammunition so that he may train the horses to chase and hunt buffalo. The uncle also offered young Joseph the opportunity to live with the family, but Joseph decided, instead, to live with his Indian family in South Dakota. Some surmise the uncle may have been Merwether's brother, Reuben.

According to other traditions, Meriwether fathered a man named Martin Charger when among the Sioux. Other sources list Joseph Lewis DeSmet as the father of Martin Charger.[4] Martin Charger is, in fact, the son of Joseph.

To date, no DNA research has been able to confirm any of the familial traditions surrounding Meriwether's possible children.[4]

Side by side images of Meriwether Lewis and Joseph Lewis DeSmet

Meriwether was described as a lean man of six feet in stature.[3] He was considered fiercely loyal, disciplined, and flexible, while also prone to being moody, speculative, and melancholic.[3] His developed sense of observation and detailed written accounts of what he observed would prove to be ideal as a leader of the important Discovery expedition. [3]


"Lewis was a member of Door to Virtue Lodge, No. 44, Albemarle Co., Virginia, having petitioned the Lodge on December 31, 1796. He also received the Royal Arch Degree in Staunton Lodge, No. 13 but the exact date is unknown, however, a diploma in the Library of Congress is dated October 31, 1799. Lewis was one of the petitioners to the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania for authorization to form St. Louis Lodge No. 111 and this Lodge was constituted on November 8, 1808, with Meriwether Lewis as its first Master."[20]

The Corps of Discovery

Meriwether joined the Army in 1794 and served six years in the Frontier Army, serving during the "Whiskey Rebellion".[5][3][11][21][22][23] In 1801, he was appointed personal secretary to President Jefferson.[3][11][5] Jefferson had mentored Meriwether in his youth and was a friend, as well as appreciative of Meriwether's unique skills.[3] His party affiliation didn't hurt, either.[3] It was at Jefferson's suggestion that the Corps of Discovery expedition was undertaken and Meriwether put in charge.[3]

The mission of the Corps of Discovery was to explore the territory of the Louisiana Purchase, establish trade and sovereignty over the natives near the Missouri River, and claim the Pacific Northwest and Oregon territory for the United States before European nations.[11] The expedition also collected scientific data, and information on indigenous nations.[2][3] The expedition was approved by Congress in 1803.[3][11][5]

Following the Louisiana Purchase, it was clear that the expedition was more important than previously understood. Meriwether needed someone else to help him lead the expedition.[3] Both President Jefferson and Meriwether showed support in adding William Clark to the group, the president offering Lewis and Clark both a permanent rank of Captain as part of his proposal. Clark graciously accepted, having remembered his time spent with Meriwether during their Army service.[3][11][5]

In addition to his role as naturalist, Meriwether also served to represent the new government which had purchased the area to the native peoples living there.[3] The trip had many perilous moments for Meriwether, who managed to survive falls, gun shot wounds, and accidental poisoning.[3] The group returned to St. Louis in 1806 to start reporting their findings and accomplishments.[3][11][5]

President Thomas Jefferson appointed Lewis governor of Upper Louisiana in 1807, as part of his payment for successfully completing the expedition, in addition to 1600 acres of land and double pay.[2][3][11][5]

Meriwether's life degraded, as did his relationships, as he aged.[3] He attempted marriage but never followed through, and started drinking excessively, which negatively affected his relationship with Jefferson.[3] Conflicting information from sources indicate he was either rather ill (possibly from the drinking) or had trouble with hypochondria and visited his mother in hopes of some care.[5] He didn't even make it to St. Louis, the Upper Louisiana Territory capitol, to take his position as Governor, until a year after being named as such.[3]


Meriwether was overcome by the rapid changes happening in St. Louis, and fled to Washington to plead his case to the administration there.[3]. On the riverboat, he twice attempted to take his own life.[3] Meriwether Lewis died of gunshot wounds in what was either a murder or suicide, at a roadhouse near Natchez Trace, October 11, 1809. [5] [7] [8] [9] [2] [11] [3] [12] [24] [10] He was buried next to the tavern, where a monument now stands in his honor.[3][10]

Counties in six U.S. states have been named in Meriwether Lewis's honor: Idaho, Kentucky, Missouri, Montana, Tennessee, and Washington.


  1. On June 4, 1812, the Territory of Louisiana was renamed to the Territory of Missouri to avoid confusion with the newly admitted state of Louisiana formed from the Territory of Orleans.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 "Meriwether Lewis." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 23 Oct. 2012. Web. 25 Oct. 2012.
  3. 3.00 3.01 3.02 3.03 3.04 3.05 3.06 3.07 3.08 3.09 3.10 3.11 3.12 3.13 3.14 3.15 3.16 3.17 3.18 3.19 3.20 3.21 3.22 3.23 3.24 3.25 3.26 3.27 3.28 PBS Biography of Captain Meriweather Lewis
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Frances Hunter's American Heroes Blog - "Did Lewis and Clark Father Indian Sons" NOTE: this blog does not cite a source for the claimed baptism record of Joseph Desmitt. In fact, this blog questions the validity of the claimed paternity.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 5.6 5.7 5.8 5.9 Appletons' Cyclopedia of American Biography, 1600-1889; Ancestry Record 61360 #9257; Name: Meriwether Lewis; Birth Date: 18 Aug 1774; Birth Place: Near Charlottesville, Virginia; Death Date: 8 Oct 1809; Death Place: Near Nashville, Tenn; Occupation: Explorer.; Ancestry Record 61360/47194_5475 #00739
  6. Family Data Collection - Births; Ancestry Record 5769 #2747320; Name: Meriwether Lewis; Father: Robert Col Lewis; Birth Date: 1774; State: VA; Country: USA.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Family Data Collection - Individual Records; Ancestry Record 4725 #3122072; Name: Meriwether Lewis; Parents: William Lewis Lewis, Lucy Meriwether; Birth Place: Albemarle Co, Locust Hill, VA; Birth Date: 18 Aug 1774; Death Place: Franklin, TN; Death Date: 11 Oct 1809.
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 Family Data Collection - Individual Records; Ancestry Record 4725 #1567757; Name: Meriwether Lewis; Parents: William Lewis, Lucy Meriwether; Birth Place: Middletown, Locust Hill, VA; Birth Date: 18 Aug 1774; Death Place: Natchez Trace, TN; Death Date: 11 Oct 1809.
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 Family Data Collection - Individual Records; Ancestry Record 4725 #1567755; Name: Meriwether Lewis; Parents: William Lewis, Lucy Meriwether; Birth Place: M, Ivy, VA; Birth Date: 18 Aug 1774; Death Place: Murdered, N, TN; Death Date: 11 Oct 1809.
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 Find A Grave, database and images ( : accessed 20 May 2019), memorial page for Meriwether Lewis (18 Aug 1774–11 Oct 1809), Find A Grave: Memorial #623, citing Pioneer Cemetery, Hohenwald, Lewis County, Tennessee, USA ; Maintained by Find A Grave .
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 11.4 11.5 11.6 11.7 11.8 Oregon, Biographical and Other Index Card File, 1700s-1900s; Ancestry Record 9056 #176081; Name: Meriwether Lewis; Ethnicity: English; Occupation: Capt USA; Birth Date: 18 Aug 1774; Birth Place: Albemarle, VA; Location Date: 7 Dec 1805; Location: Oregon, USA; Death Date: 11 Oct 1809. Image
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 12.3 12.4 Application of William Lewis's widow, 915 (pdf), transcribed by Will Graves and posted by Southern Campaign American Revolution Pension Statements & Rosters (accessed 23 April 2019).
  13. Daughters of the American Revolution, DAR Genealogical Research Databases, database online, ( : accessed 23 April 2019), "Record of Lieutenant William Lewis", Ancestor # A070178.
  14. Solve the Mystery: --Gov Meriwether Lewis Family Tree
  15. Early settlers in Lyman County by Lyman County Historical Society; Published 1974 by Lyman County Historical Society in Presho, S.D; LOC: F657.L9 L94 1974
  16. Harry F. Thompson, "Meriwether Lewis and His Son: The Claim of Joseph DeSomet Lewis and the Problem of History," in North Dakota History, Vol. 67, No. 3, 2000; pp 24-37.
  17. The page from the Lyman County History
  18. Digital Archive of South Dakota Doane Robinson Collection, Folder 58, Martin Charger
  19. Genealogy of the Lewis Family in America page 25
  20. From a paper by a. George Mallis in The Trowel Grand Lodge of Massachusetts, Fall 1996
  21. U.S., General James Wilkinson's Order Book, 1796-1808; Ancestry Record 2975 #2797; Name: Merriwether Lewis; Rank: 1st Lieutenant, Captain; Service Place: Washington City. Image
  22. U.S., General James Wilkinson's Order Book, 1796-1808; Ancestry Record 2975 #2743; Name: Merriwether Lewis; Rank: Ensign, Lieutenant; Service Place: Washington City. Image
  23. U.S. Army, Register of Enlistments, 1798-1914; Ancestry Record 1198 #1308133; Name: Meriwether Lewis. Image
  24. U.S., Newspaper Extractions from the Northeast, 1704-1930; Ancestry Record 50015 #138460; Name: Gov Merriwether Lewis; Event: Death; Death Date: 11 Oct 1809; Death Place: Tenn; Newspaper: New York Weekly Museum; Publication Date: 25 Nov 1809; Publication Place: New York, USA; Call Number: 486670. Image

See also:

  • Ancestry Profile
  • Thornton 1300 -1917 by Mrs. Lola Jane Carr-Bates
  • WikiData: Q313492 Wikidata Information Reasonator enwiki Ancestors (about wikidata)
  • American Genealogical-Biographical Index (AGBI); Ancestry Record 3599 #340721; Name: Meriwether Lewis; Birth Date: 1774; Volume: 103; Page Number: 464; Biographical Info: explorer; Reference: Charles Willson Peale. By Chas. Coleman Sellers. Philadelphia, 1947. (2v.) (Genealogy of the "first three generations of the American Peale family", v.2,p.412-23):2: 240-1
  • Biography & Genealogy Master Index (BGMI); Ancestry Record 4394 #10546049; Name: Meriwether Lewis; Birth Year: 1774; Death Year: 1809; Source: American Heroes. Three volumes. Pasadena, CA: Salem Press, 2009. (AmHer);
  • Family Data Collection - Births; Ancestry Record 5769 #2747321; Name: Meriwether Lewis; Father: William Lewis; Mother: Lucy Ann Meriwether; Birth Date: 1774; State: VA; Country: USA.
  • Richmond, Virginia Newspaper Obituaries, 1804-38; Ancestry Record 4183 #1945; Prim:Name: Meriwether Lewis; News: Enquirer; News:Date: 17 Nov 1809; OSPage: 2; 3.
  • U.S. Census Reconstructed Records, 1660-1820; Ancestry Record 2234 #122166;Name: Merewether Lewis; [Meriwether Lewis];Gender: M (Male); State: Virginia; County: Albemarle County; Town: District of Fredricksville Parish; Residence Year: 1800; Household Remarks: "White males above 16 yr. old": 0; "Blacks above 16 year old": 5; "Blacks between 12 & 16 yrs. old": 1; "No. of horses": 3; "Stud horses": 0; "Ordinary licence": 0; "Cariage wheels": 0; "retailing Mer.
  • Dennis, Yvonne Wakim and Hirschfelder, Arlene, A Kid's Guide to Native American History, pgs 116-117, Chicago Review Press, 2010
  • Colonial Families of the USA, 1607-1775; Ancestry Record 61175 #69344; Name: Capt. Merreweather Lewis; [Capt. Meriweather Lewis] ; Page Number: 571. Image

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Comments: 24

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Thanks, Traci! That was very interesting.
posted by Abby (Brown) Glann
Story recently recommended by NEHGS: The Mysterious Death of Meriwether Lewis
posted by Traci Thiessen
Meriwether was a member of Door to Virtue Masonic Lodge #44, Albemarle, Virginia. If there is no objection, I will add this information to his profile.

posted by David Thomson III
Kathie, have you ever worked a crossword puzzle before? The answers are not spelled out in advance. You have to look at all the information in the puzzle and put the pieces together. It was your assertion that Joseph was taken to see his father as expressed in the letter. The writer of the letter expressly communicated that father could also mean uncle. Joseph claimed Meriwether was his birth father. Meriwether has a brother Reuben who was an Indian agent and who traveled with Meriwether and traded from St. Louis from 1810 to 1820. The encounter took place about 1820. Since Joseph claimed Meriwether was his father, and he claims to have met an uncle who was an Indian trader, who do you think the trader could possibly be? Meriwether had only one brother, who was a trader, and in St. Louis.
posted by David Thomson III
Remaining records from the Indian missions of the Episcopal Church in South Dakota are located at the diocesan headquarters, but don’t appear to be publicly available. They do have a form to request genealogical research. form
posted by Kathie (Parks) Forbes
Reuben Meriwether is neither named nor mentioned in Samuel Charger’s letter. No names of any white people are given in conjunction with the story. Samuel only says that his great-grandfather was born about the time that Lewis and Clark passed through.
posted by Kathie (Parks) Forbes
I'd like to see the actual baptism and marriage records where Joseph names his father please.
posted by Jillaine Smith
It's pretty far back 15th cousin 8x removed.
posted by Krystal Davison
The letter states, "One day one of the Post Traders told my grand father that he has a relative who is well to do, and this man is my grandfather..." referring to Reuben Lewis (who was the trader). According to the letter, Indians considered full blooded uncles as "fathers." Reuben gave him a choice to remain with him or return to the Indians. Samuel made it a point to explain that full blooded uncles were considered fathers, which explains why he said he saw his father, the trader. Reuben is Meriwether's brother, and it is recorded that he was a trader in the "far West," which you confirmed. Taken with the claim by Joseph that he is the son of Meriwether, and the physical likenesses of Meriwether and Joseph, the evidence overwhelmingly supports Joseph's claim.
posted by David Thomson III
The letter from Sam Charger, Joseph's grandson, found at letter

makes no such claims. It says that an unnamed trader told Zonie (Joseph) that he had a relative who was well-to-do, that the traders took Joseph with them on a trip down river to an unnamed place, that they introduced him to an unnamed white man and his two daughters, and stated that this was his white family.

No names are given, no place is identified. Other documents suggest this took place sometime between 1820 and 1824.

Reuben Lewis, Meriwether's brother, was involved in the fur trade from St. Louis from about 1808 to 1810. He was Indian agent to the Cherokee and Osage on the Arkansas River from about 1810 to 1820. He was not married until after he returned to Virginia, where he remained until his death in 1844.

posted by Kathie (Parks) Forbes

Meriwether is 19 degrees from Danielle Liard, 12 degrees from Jack London and 11 degrees from Henry VIII of England on our single family tree. Login to find your connection.