Wages of the Lewis and Clark Expedition


Photo: Creative Commons

While there are lots of factors to consider, in 1805 the average adult male wage-earner across all types of employment earned between $400 to $450 per year, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

How does this compare to the men of the Expedition, most of whom worked for about 33 months during their service in the Corps?

First, keep in mind that Congress approved on March 3, 1807 double-base-pay for the officer, enlisted men and civilian employees of the Corps.

A Captain earned $40 per month, so $480 annually, plus a subsistence allowance. Meriwether Lewis received a total of $2,776.22 (including his allowance) for 47 months of work, along with 1,600 acres of land*. Captain Clark, earning lieutenant’s pay of $30 a month, received a total of $2,113.74 (including subsistence allowance), plus the 1,600 acres of land.

The Corps’ sergeants received $16 per month, or $192 annually, plus 320 acres of land anywhere west of the Mississippi River where surveyed public land was for sale. Privates earned $10 per month, or $120 annually, plus the 320 acres of land.

As civilian employees, George Drouillard earned a total of $1,666.66 and Toussaint Charbonneau received $818.32. York and Sacagawea received nothing.

*The federal Land Act of 1804 established the value of western public lands at a minimum of $1.64 per acre.

Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail

Last updated: November 15, 2018