By Den Ardinger 32° KCCH
Among America’s long list of successful explorers over the past few centuries, few have earned the esteem that Lewis and Clark have established in our history. Immediately following the 1803 “Louisiana Purchase” from France of a vast expanse of western territory now within the United States, President Thomas Jefferson, directed a thorough scientific expedition across the land with the hopes of opening trade, establishing a legal claim to the territory, and finding an all water route to the Pacific Ocean. This long trek took more than two years and was officially known as the “Corps of Discovery Expedition.” This historic endeavor was led by two close friends who were Master Masons; Captain Meriwether Lewis and Lieutenant William Clark.
Setting off from Fort Dubois, Illinois on May 14, 1804 the hardy group travelled down the Ohio River and up the Missouri. They crossed the Rocky Mountains and the Continental Divide and explored the Columbia River. In time they reached the Pacific Ocean. Along the way they recorded the tribes they encountered, the geography of the land, and identified new species of plants and animals not known to those in the east. Encountering constant challenges and demanding conditions, the expedition of 42 people did what had not been done before; they explored the western two thirds of our continent in the name of the United States. On September 23, 1806 the well-seasoned party returned with tales, specimens, and journals that inspire us to this day having covered over 8,000 miles.
Captain Meriwether Lewis was born on Locust Hill Plantation in Albemarle County, Virginia on August 18, 1774. He was the son of William Lewis and Lucy Meriwether. He joined the Virginia militia in 1794 and rose to the rank of captain by 1800.
Meriwether Lewis became a Master Mason in Door to Virtue Lodge No. 44 in Albemarle, Virginia between 1796 and 1797. In August 1808, Lewis and several friends submitted a petition to the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania requesting dispensation to establish a lodge in St. Louis, Missouri. It was granted, and Lewis then became the first Worshipful Master of Lodge No. 111 on September 16, 1808.
In 1806, after returning from his year’s long journey, President Jefferson appointed him governor of Upper Louisiana.
He died under mysterious circumstances by multiple gunshot wounds on October 11, 1809 only three years after returning from his historic expedition. Arguments concerning whether his death was murder or suicide continue to this day. His close friends Thomas Jefferson and William Clark both accepted the suicide verdict as did historian Stephen Ambrose.
Lieutenant William Clark was born in Caroline County, Virginia on August 1, 1770. He was the ninth child of ten of John Clark and Ann Rogers. One of his older brothers was the famed General George Rogers Clark who taught his younger brother how to survive in the wilderness.
He joined the militia in 1789 and was commissioned a captain in the Indiana militia by General Arthur St. Clair in 1790. From 1790 to 1795 he served in a number of officer positions in the Northwest Territory and was active at the Battle of Fallen Timbers as a Lieutenant under General “Mad” Anthony Wayne in 1794. Interestingly, President Bill Clinton promoted him to captain posthumously in 2001.
In 1807, after returning from his famous exploration of the west, President Thomas Jefferson appointed Clark a Brigadier General in charge of the Louisiana Territory militia. He set up his headquarters in St. Louis, Missouri and it was here he became a Master Mason. Although the details of how he was initiated, passed and raised no longer exist, he was granted a traveling certificate from St. Louis Lodge No. 111 on September 18, 1809 where his friend, Meriwether Lewis, was Worshipful Master.
William Clark died in St. Louis, Missouri on September 1, 1838. He had lived his final years serving the Indian Nations as the government’s agent. His funeral procession stretched out for more than a mile and he was given full military honors.
Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, more than just men, they were Masons.