York's Early Life

York statue

Photo: Creative Commons/Don Sniegowski

York, a slave of William Clark, is a remarkable yet mysterious part of the Expedition. Little is actually known about him, and what we do know is primarily revealed through the journals or correspondence by Clark.

Clark family records indicate that York was the son of Rose and “old” York, who were also owned by the family. As with most slaves, they had no surname. Records, manifest and documents of the Expedition referred to him as just York. Clark’s journals often refer to him as his “servant” which likely indicated York was his “body servant,” a term that signified the assignment of a young slave to be a companion to an equally young master.

While York’s exact birth date is not known, it can be assumed he was born in Virginia about 1770 and was approximately the same age as Clark – 34 years old at the beginning of the Expedition. We do know that York was married because Clark notes in a letter sent back home from Fort Mandan on the returning keelboat that York was sending two buffalo robes back downriver – one for “his wife and one for Ben.”

Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail

Last updated: January 29, 2019