The Lewis and Clark Expedition

In 1804, America was excited to know what lay out there past the Mississippi in that new purchase called the Louisiana Territory. President Thomas Jefferson would appoint his Secretary Meriwether Lewis to lead an expedition with an assignment to find a passage to the Pacific Ocean, thinking the Missouri River would take them there. Lewis chose his friend William Clark to accompany him. Since the final word on the purchase had not reached the Spanish Commandant, the Corps of Discovery was not allowed passage across the Mississippi River, and would be forced to spend the winter of 1803-04 in preparations on the Illinois side of the river. Today Hartford, Illinois is the site of a fantastic museum that shares this story.

Artwork of Artist Gary Lucy

A fair morning, Set out at 5 oClock passed the Coal hill (Called that by the native Carbonear [Charbonnier]) this hill appears to Contain great quantytes [sic] of Coal, and also ore of a rich appearance haveing greatly the resemblance of Silver. Arrived Opposit St Charles at 12 oClock, this Village is at the foot of a Hill from which it takes its real name Peeteite Coete [Petite Côte] or the little hill, it contains about 100 indefferent houses, and abot 450 Inhabetents principally frinch, those people appear pore and extreemly kind, the Countrey around I am told is butifull. interspursed with Praries & timber alturnetly and has a number of American Settlers Took equal altituds with sextion M a [median altitude?] 68° 37′ 30″ Dined with the Comdr. & Mr. Ducetts [Duquette] family— May 15, 1804– William Clark

Discovery Expedition of St. Charles reproduction featured in several documentaries.

From the Journal of Joseph Whitehouse, a member of the Lewis and Clark Expedition in May of 1804. Wednesday the 16th We set out this morning, having clear weather, and proceeded on very well, about 2oClock P. M we arrived at Saint Charles, where we passed the Evening with a great deal of satisfaction, and chearfulness, and all our men appeared to be in good spirits.

We shall waite here for Captain Lewis, who is to meet us from Saint Louis. Saint Charles is a Village settled by French Inhabitants. It is a handsome situation, laying on the North side of the River contains about 80 Houses, built in the french fashion, and has a small Roman Catholic Chapel. its Inhabitants are chiefly canadian french; who are chiefly concerned & employed by others Trading with the Indians who reside on the River Mesouri, and other Rivers that empty into it. The land adjoining it appear to be hilly, but the soil is good and fitting for Agriculture.—Saint Charles lies in Latitude 38° 54′ 39 North & 19 Miles from the Mouth of the Mesouri River,

Artist Gary Lucy portrayal of the Village of St. Charles

St. Charles is the earliest white settlement west of the Mississippi and north of the Missouri. As Captain William Clark notes, the place was first called Les Petites Côtes (the Little Hills). In 1787, Auguste Chouteau surveyed the settlement, and soon after the district of St. Charles was established. The parish church, and hence the settlement, was named for St. Charles Borromeo. To the Spanish it was San Carlos del Misuri. By the time of the Louisiana Purchase, the French inhabitants of the town were surrounded by American settlers in the countryside, including Daniel Boone and his family who had settled in the area in the late 1790s. Missouri Guide, 260–64; Houck, 2:79–86; Osgood (FN), 41 n. 8.

Because of discrepancies in the records and journals, especially concerning the French boatmen, it is difficult to determine exactly the number of men who left River Dubois with Clark. George Drouillard was absent on an errand and may not be the Frenchman singled out by Clark; possibly he was Baptiste Deschamps, the patroon (foreman) of the hired French boatmen, although later he seems to have been in charge of a pirogue..

The exact number and names of the French boatmen remain unclear throughout (see Appendix A). Clark may not have counted York, an African American and his personal servant, in his total. Among those leaving Wood River, besides Clark and York, were twenty-five members of the permanent party, as then planned, who were to make the full trip to the Pacific: Sergeants Floyd, Ordway, and Pryor, and Privates Bratton, Collins, Colter, Reubin and Joseph Field, Gass, Gibson, Goodrich, Hall, Howard, McNeal, Newman, Potts, Reed, Shannon, Shields, Thompson, Werner, Whitehouse, Willard, Windsor, and Weiser. Corporal Richard Warfington’s detachment, who were to return from some point up the Missouri with dispatches, then included Privates Boley, Dame, Frazer, Tuttle, and White. Private John Robertson (Robinson) may also have been present at this time; perhaps he was one of the six soldiers in a pirogue—probably Warfington’s squad.

St. Charles location on the map by James Mackay used for the Lewis and Clark Expedition of 1804

The enlisted men’s journals all state that there were three sergeants and thirty-eight “working hands”; whether York (An African American enslaved person owned by William Clark) counted as a working hand is not clear. If one counts twenty-five in the permanent party and seven men in Warfington’s detachment, nine French boatmen are necessary for the three sergeants and thirty-eight hands. Adding York, one has forty-two men leaving River Dubois with Clark. Other Frenchmen may have been hired at St. Charles, notably Pierre Cruzatte and François Labiche, who became members of the permanent party. Appleman (LC), 367 n. 64. (back)

Statue of William Clark, Meriwether Lewis and Seaman the dog that accompanied the Corps to the Pacific. Located in City of St. Charles Riverfront Park.

The Corps would await Meriwether Lewis who was in St. Louis attending to some business. Everyone would enjoy themselves for one last time in the village, waiting for the expedition to begin.

Visit the Lewis and Clark Boathouse and museum that shares the story of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, and houses reproductions of the Keelboat and the white and red pirogues. For more information see