The Library of Virginia


Lewis and Clark: "We send from this place with dispatches."


In the late fall of 1803 the impatient assemblage had reached the Mississippi near its juncture with the Missouri. With cold weather imminent, the captains decided to spend the winter of 1803 - 1804 in the area, modifying their boats (a keelboat especially designed for the journey and two pirogues*), recruiting additional men, and seriously augmenting their supplies. Further, they awaited the official transfer of the Louisiana Territory to the United States, which took place on  December 20,** as reported by the Virginia Gazette and General Advertiser on  January 21, 1804.

Virginia Gazette & General Advertiser January 21, 1804

Through the winter Clark camped with the members of the expedition at Wood River on the Illinois side of the Mississippi, while Lewis coordinated preparations for the journey, mainly in St. Louis.

His efforts included arrangements for a visit to Washington for a group of Osage Indian chiefs. A delegation led by Peter Chouteau, a prominent St. Louis fur trader and friend of the captains, departed in mid-May 1804. Their progress en route was noted by the Kentucky Gazette and General Advertiser of June 12, 1804.

Kentucky Gazette and General Advertiser June 12, 1804

When the entourage arrived in Washington, D.C., Jefferson assured his visitors of the good intentions of their new "fathers" and encouraged alliances with their eastern friends.

Another of Lewis's pre-departure requests for information for the president concerned a review of the number and location of lead mines in Upper Louisiana. Some months later the Washington and Philadelphia newspapers covered the results of both of these endeavors.

By May 20, 1804, Lewis was ready to leave St. Louis. Clark and the rest of the Corps of Discovery had left the Wood River Camp, crossed the Mississippi, and moved a few miles into the Missouri on May 14. Lewis joined them at the small settlement of St. Charles, where on the afternoon of  May 21 the expedition began its ascent of the mighty Missouri with cheers from the banks and celebrations in the surrounding area.


*Varying definitions of this type of craft exist from different sources. Lewis apparently referred to a vessel larger than a standard canoe, probably with a flat bottom and a mast for sails.

**The formal transfer of Upper Louisiana did not occur until 9 March 1804 in St. Louis.


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