A thumbnail sketch of Meriwether Lewis

Posted: Monday, January 13, 2003

Meriwether Lewis was born Aug. 18, 1774, in Albermarle County, Va., a neighbor of Thomas Jefferson. He was an Army officer when Jefferson, as president, named him his private secretary in 1801; two years later, he appointed him to lead the expedition to the Pacific. Lewis prepared by studying botany, medicine and other subjects under the leading scientists of the day.

After the expedition, Lewis became governor of the Louisiana Territory, but his fortunes declined. He also failed to make any progress on a promised edition of the expedition journals.

Lewis died mysteriously of gunshot wounds on Oct. 11, 1809. At the time, he was in rural Tennessee, en route to Washington to justify some expenses that federal auditors declined to pay. He had been troubled by that and had a history of intermittent depression, but whether he committed suicide has long been debated.

Hours before he died, an innkeeper said, he sat on a porch at sunset and looked ''wishfully towards the West.''

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