The Quest for Knowledge: Lewis in Philadelphia

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Philadelphia in 2003: the time, place, plans, schedules, photos, memories, and highlights of the Annual Meeting
 

Dick Brooks writes about Philadelphia and the Annual Meeting

"The City of Brotherly Love"..... do you believe that? The name stems from the fact that William Penn, a Quaker, founded Philadelphia, and it became a Quaker community, but one which welcomed various religions, albeit with varying degrees of enthusiasm. Our Boston Puritans did in fact come here for religious freedom....their religious freedom. They, at first, were not real tolerant of other religions. Those early Protestant sects, however formed parish laws and procedures which were very democratic, and led to many of the precepts in our governmental laws which we enjoy today. My interest in Philadelphia this year is sparked by the fact that Thomas Jefferson sent Meriwether Lewis there exactly 200 yrs ago to bone up on a whole range of topics....things he'd need to know and have to execute the Lewis and Clark Expedition up the Missouri and across the mountains to the Pacific Ocean. The trip actually started with a confidential letter from Jefferson to Congress on Jan 18th 1803, requesting money for the trip. In 1803 Philadelphia was the largest city in the USA, by far. It was called the "Athens of America". It was the center of intellectual pursuits in many fields. Ben Franklin started a whole bunch of stuff in Philadelphia: the first hospital, the University of PA, Fire Dept, Postal Service, and The American Philosophical Society (1724) among others.

In 1803 while President, Jefferson was the President of the APS. Members were the leading authorities in medicine, botany, ethnology, etc. of the times. So he sent Lewis there to get educated for a few weeks, starting in June of that year. The Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation had its annual meeting this month (Lewis' birthday is the 18th) in Philadelphia. We studied the men under whom Lewis studied and visited the various sites most relevant to Lewis' time there. Of course the Holy Grail of the whole Lewis and Clark experience is the actual JOURNALS.

And eleven of these, the great majority, are at the APS in Philadelphia. Now my readers in Madrid may not have the emotional response to the existence of these leatherbound journals that I share with the other 3600 LCTHF members, but I can assure you that seeing them, reading the neat handwriting, two and a half yrs in the writing, knowing that our heroes toiled over these very pages was indeed, worth the trip. My surprise at seeing the journals was at how small they are: 5"X 8". I guess they were standard Army issue. The expedition was, in fact, a military, a US Army, endeavor. Very few Americans ever saw or will see these journals. There are several edited versions of the journals in print, the most recent edited by Dr Gary E. Moulton of the Univ of Nebraska at Lincoln. You can purchase these from them or from Barnes & Noble, among other places. The Moulton edition of the journals is far and away the best so far.

An awful lot of study and research has been done on Lewis and Clark since the 1960's. Stephen Ambrose wrote a best selling book, "Undaunted Courage", about 10 yrs ago which has spurred interest in Lewis and Clark. The book is worth everything good said about it...very readable and exciting. (Ambrose died last year). The Journals were the work of Meriwether Lewis, William Clark, Patrick Gass and others. The scientific stuff mostly came from Lewis. Clark was the mapmaker and had tremendous understanding of the Indians. He also had his slave, York, with him! Jefferson saw to it that the Journals went to the APS, after the Expedition was completed, and Lewis had commited suicide in Tennessee...but I digress, that's another story. So we spent four days studying such 1803 luminaries as Barton (botany) Ellicott (celestial navigation) Patterson (geography) Rush (medicine) and one Caspar Wistar (anatomy, and fossils). Heavy stuff.

Of course a trip to Philadelphia would not be complete without a visit to Independence Hall. There is more US history packed into that little place than in most states of the US, or of Washington, DC for that matter. And it was the National Capitol after New York and before the Washington DC Capitol was made available. One comes away from there with a fresh appreciation of the brainpower and the leadership of Jefferson, Washington, Franklin and the others. Without them, this would be just another banana republic.

Dick Brooks August 27, 2003

(Dick wrote this for local website in Rangeley Maine.)
Updated October 13, 2003
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