MY VISIT TO FORT CLATSOP: LEWIS AND CLARK EXPEDITION, MAY 12, 2023
May 12, 2023
Excerpt from Eleonora and Joseph, print version, pp 92-94:
Back at the house, Jefferson brought me to the parlor, suggesting we talk first and then play a game of chess. "My dear Abbé, I need to ask a favor of you, when you get back to Philadelphia. The greatest achievement of my presidency was the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. With this acquisition from France, the United States more than doubled its size."
"It was quite an event!" I said.
"We got it only because Napoleon Bonaparte needed money for his conquests in Europe. What timing!" Jefferson had a smile on his face.
"Yes, he wanted to rule an empire and his need for financial resources favored America. Sending the French Army to Naples in 1798—following the conquest of the northern Italian peninsula—was only the beginning. But even then it was clear, the French didn't have the means to hold on to an empire. The troops in Naples were ill fed, unpaid, and their military uniforms in pieces," I said.
"I'm proud to have negotiated Louisiana." Jefferson continued. "I led secret talks with France for a while and, suddenly, the right moment to agree on the price came along."
After a pause Jefferson added. "The favor I need from you in Philadelphia is related to this matter. Could you help me secure the documents pertaining to the Lewis and Clark expedition? I commissioned the voyage as soon as I could, following the Louisiana Purchase. As you might have heard, Captain Meriwether Lewis, unfortunately, died under mysterious circumstances."
"Yes, I heard of that," I said.
"Captain Lewis left sketches, maps, drawings, and many other documents. These papers need to be retrieved and properly archived. They are of immense value to the geographical study of this country. All of these materials are currently with the widow of Dr. Benjamin Smith Barton in Philadelphia. He also died recently. Dr. Barton, a university professor, was helping Captain Lewis to classify the specimen to be introduced in his journals. The expedition was funded by Congress on my request, therefore these papers belong to the public."
"The Corps of Discovery was a monumental expedition, comprised of a crew of four-dozen brave volunteers. Imagine how for two and a half years these daring men chronicled and mapped out our wilderness. They travelled up the Missouri River intending to reach the Pacific Ocean. The journey had a human toll for all involved, but only one man died. Thanks to their heroism, we established an American presence in those uncharted lands."
I listened to Jefferson's description in silence. I had heard members of the American Philosophical Society talking about the event. The dangers these indomitable men had faced confronting wild animals and hostile Indian tribes had made horror stories.
Jefferson continued, "The group made observations of soil, climate, animals, plants, and the region's native peoples. Obviously, their findings are invaluable."
"Just a detail, if I may," I said. "I've seen drawings of the unique bow-wood—also called osage orange—done during the trip. The beauty of this species is extraordinary. The botanist in me was forever coming out.
"So I have heard," Jefferson said.
"It will be an honor to be of help, Sir." I said. "My service will give us more opportunities to correspond, something that has given me so much pleasure over the years."
Jefferson agreed and said, "I'll give you the contact information for Dr. Barton's widow before you leave."
Together, Jefferson and I moved to the chessboard to conclude another memorable day at Monticello.