Greenville shaped Lewis & Clark’s future


By Cait Clark

Darke County Parks

By the time Lewis and Clark set off on their historic expedition of discovery, they had already known each other for nearly a decade. Having shared many experiences while in the military together while at Greenville, they were able to gain invaluable knowledge and skills that would later aid them during their expedition. But even though they knew each other for so many years before the expedition’s departure, the mere fact that they became friends at all is a bit of a surprise within itself.

Despite their evident legendary partnership, it is safe to say that Meriwether Lewis and William Clark met under less than desirable circumstances. At the time of their meeting, Clark was a highly praised young soldier, his accolades sung by more than one of his superior officers. He had been noticed early on for his abilities as a natural leader and was given his own group of men to command as a result. His nuclear family was populated by heroes, one of which was the revered George Rogers Clark of Revolutionary War fame.

But while Clark enjoyed the praise of Anthony Wayne, James Wilkinson and even George Washington himself, Meriwether Lewis was preparing to represent himself in a military court. At the young age of twenty-one, the young neighbor of Thomas Jefferson found himself facing the possibility of a career-ending court martial, one that had the potential to not only result in young Lewis being drummed out of the fort, but to irrecoverably ruin his reputation. But somehow, despite having such diverse military backgrounds, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark still managed to find common ground during their time in Greenville, Ohio, founding a lifelong friendship on what was then the western frontier.

Even after the culmination of the expedition itself, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark continued to draw upon their experiences in Greenville. Upon his triumphant return, Lewis would once more find himself in court, this time to represent Thomas Jefferson himself during the trials of former Vice President Aaron Burr and Lewis’ own former commander from Greenville, General James Wilkinson. Meanwhile, Clark established treaties with the native tribes around St. Louis during his time as a territorial governor there, using the same strategies he’d witnessed at the Treaty of Greene Ville so many years earlier to negotiate with them.

From the hotbed of political intrigue that was the White House under the Jefferson administration to the blood-steeped frontier town that was early 19th century St. Louis, Lewis and Clark were continuously called to revisit what they learned in Greenville, repeatedly forced to draw upon what they learned during their years there in order to succeed at their posts. But their early friendship prior to the Expedition is all too often overlooked.

Cait Clark recently released the book From the Treaty City to the Western Sea: Lewis and Clark in Greenville, Ohio. Her in-depth research takes readers through the muddy waters of frontier politics throughout their subsequent tenures in government office. The book is available at Garst Museum.

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