Philadelphia Chapter Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation

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Overnight trip to Harpers Ferry in April, 2001

John Powell describes the Park's Six Paths through History, especially that of John Brown.

Behind Frank Muhly is a mural showing the Federal armory and arsenal in the mid-nineteenth century.

"John Brown's Fort" was built as the Armory's fire engine and guard house. Here John Brown and several of his followers barricaded themselves during their raid in October 1859.

 

 

In preparation for the Bicentennial Celebration of the Lewis and Clark expedition (1803-1806), 17 members of the Philadelphia Chapter of the national Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation traveled to Harpers Ferry National Park in West Virginia for tours hosted by park rangers on Saturday and Sunday, April 28 and 29. Saturday's tour began at 2 pm at the Visitor's Center. Ranger John Powell explained the various strands that make Harpers Ferry such an important historical site: Industry, John Brown, Civil War, African American History, and Transportation. The group stopped at the many preserved buildings and points of interest. In the evening everyone gathered for dinner at the Anvil Restaurant.

On Sunday morning, with the weather again clear and cool, Park Ranger David Fox spoke about Meriwether Lewis in Harpers Ferry. Members entered a now empty building and learned what plans are being made for the Bicentennial Exhibit of Meriwether Lewis's visits there in 1803 as he prepared for the fabled exploration of the West by the "Corps of Discovery."

Ranger David Fox and the Philadelphia Chapter visitors outside the building which will house the Meriwether Lewis exhibit in 2003.

A view of the town from the stone pillar that marks the original site of John Brown's Fort.

Friends and family gather at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers.

The view from Jefferson's Rock. Thomas Jefferson stood here on October 25, 1783. He described the scene in Notes on the State of Virginia. "The scene is worth a voyage across the Atlantic," he wrote.

Redbud trees were blooming in the Park and along the roads and highways on the beautiful April weekend.

WHY HARPERS FERRY?

From mid-March to mid-April of 1803, Captain Meriwether Lewis stayed at the US Army Arsenal at Harpers Ferry to supervise the building of a portable iron frame boat which he had designed to put together and cover with animal skins when the waterway became too narrow, and to order 15 "Pennsylvania" rifles, munitions, 36 pipe tomahawks, and other supplies to add to the 3,500 pounds of equipment, scientific instruments, books and Indian trade goods which he would later purchase in Philadelphia during May and June, 1803. Lewis would dovetail this latter shopping spree with "instructional visits" in the City-- time spent with four of five learned mentors who were friends of Jefferson. These were members of the American Philosophical Society, physicians Caspar Wistar and Bejamin Rush, mathematician and scientist Robert Patterson, and Dr. Benjamin Smith Barton, botanist at the University of Pennsylvania.

Between his month at the Arsenal and his arrival in Philadelphia in mid-May, Lewis would stop in Lancaster, PA, with the mentor with whom he spent the greatest period of time. Andrew Ellicott, noted astronomer and mathematician, polished Lewis's use of the sextant and chronometer, celestial navigation instruments essential in determining latitude and longitude, imperative for producing accurate maps of the unknown lands to be explored. Lewis also bought more rifles in Lancaster during this visit. (The Philadelphia Chapter of LCTHF has previously visited Ellicott's house for the installation of a Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission sign commemorating Lewis's visit there.)

While spending May and part of June in Philadelphia, Lewis attended to several personal tasks that Jefferson had assigned him. While visiting his mentors, he sought their comments on a draft of Jefferson's long detailed letter of instruction for the journey which the President had sent to him for just that purpose. Upon his return to Washington, he and Jefferson attacked the task of completing the highly specific letter of instructions for the journey. Jefferson wanted to be clear on what he expected.

Throughout this entire period, Lewis used his many military contacts in a search for appropriate men for the "Corps of Discovery," a job he considered to be of utmost importance. While in Washington in June, he wrote his famous letter to William Clark, retired from service in the Army during the Whiskey Rebellion, inviting him to be his co-captain of the journey. Clark's positive response has become a classic among letters related to the expedition. His last days in Washington were spent in a maelstrom of activity but on July 2, he paused to write a letter to his mother Lucy Marks at the family plantation at Locust Hill, Virginia. He said he would have no time to visit and gave instructions himself as to the education of his half brother, John Marks.

Before leaving Harpers Ferry, Lancaster, and Philadelphia, Lewis ordered the"impedimenta" he had collected in each locale shipped by various transport to Pittsburgh where he later ordered the building of a 55-foot keel boat. For two days over roads which could only be covered at 7 or so miles per hour, Meriwether Lewis traveled from Washington to his rendezvous with his supplies. He left on July 5, a day after receiving confirmation that Napoleon had sold all of Louisiana to the United States. He was carrying with him Jefferson's competed letter of instructions and the most liberal letter of credit ever issued by the United States Army. It would take him until August 31 to insure that all his cargo had converged upon the meeting point and that the keel boat was completed to satisfaction and loaded. On that day, Lewis, with the first 12 of what would become a "Corps of Discovery" of over 40 men, had loaded his keel boat and a couple of "pirogues" or dug-out canoes to take the overload, and was piloting them with difficulty down the drought-stricken Ohio River to meet his co-captain William Clark, accompanied by his black slave, York, at Clarksville, Indiana Territory. The Mississippi, Missouri, and Columbia Rivers, and countless yet un-named tributaries, Sacagawea and her infant son, the Rockies, starvation, hostile and helpful Indian tribes, vast herds of buffalo, the prairie dog, more that 200 new plants, 122 animals new to American science, myriad readings of the stars, pages of journal notes, handfuls of "bilious pills" and 3,700 miles lay ahead in a fascinating saga which began in 1803 right here in our backyard. And the findings are here in our institutions as well.

 

For more information about Harpers Ferry, go to Maps and Information and Notable People

 

Updated August 13, 2001
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