York as Clark's Body Servant

closeup of York statue

Photo:  Creative Commons, 2.0

In 1784, an enslaved boy was assigned to be 14-year-old William Clark’s personal “body servant.” Like many slaves, the boy didn’t have a legal right to a last name, so he was known just as York.

All that is known about York’s parents are their first names, which were listed in John Clark’s will of 1799. York’s father was called Old York, and his mother was named Rose. It’s possible that Old York was John’s personal servant, and Rose may have been a house servant.

According to Rhonda Blumberg’s “York’s Adventures with Lewis and Clark,” black household servants like York were “upper-class slaves.” He would have slept in the Clark’s home, within earshot of William. He wore nicer clothing than those of field slaves, probably hand-me-downs from William and his brothers. He would have eaten better foods from the family’s kitchen and would have acquired refined manners and speech patterns. But slaves of all classes were typically forbidden from learning reading and writing.

Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail

Last updated: October 16, 2019