lewis and clark interpretive sign in harpers ferry, wv
Lewis & Clark interpretive sign in Harpers Ferry, WV

NPS Photo/Marsha Wassel

Meriwether Lewis traveled to Harpers Ferry for supplies needed for his journey. He relied on the U.S. Armory and Arsenal at Harpers Ferry for guns and hardware - among other things - that would meet his unique requirements. On March 16, 1803, Lewis arrived with a letter from Secretary of War Henry Dearborn addressed to Armory superintendent Joseph Perkins:

Sir: You will be pleased to make such arms & Iron work, as requested by the Bearer Captain Meriwether Lewis and to have them completed with the least possible delay.


In addition to procuring supplies, Lewis also attended to the construction of a collapsible iron boat frame. It comprised of an iron frame, which came apart in sections, over which animal hide could be placed. It could be used high in the mountains if they were unable to make dugout canoes. The mechanics building the boat, however, had difficulty assembling the iron frame. Lewis had only expected to stay in Harpers Ferry for a week, but instead was forced to stay over a month as the boat frame was built.On April 20, 1803, Lewis wrote President Jefferson:

“My detention at Harper's Ferry was unavoidable for one month, a period much greater than could reasonably have been calculated on; my greatest difficulty was the frame of the canoe, which could not be completed without my personal attention to such portions of it as would enable the workmen to understand the design perfectly. -My Rifles, Tomahawks & knives are already in a state of forwardness that leaves me little doubt of their being in readiness in due time.”

By April 18, 1803, when the boat frame was finished, Lewis left Harpers Ferry for Lancaster and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Eleven weeks later, on July 7, Lewis returned to Harpers Ferry to pick up his supplies. He secured a driver, team and wagon to haul the supplies to Pittsburgh, and Lewis finally left for the last time on July 8, 1803.