The World They Left Behind

The U.S. in 1804

1803: The Preparation
1804: Up The Missouri | 1805: To The Pacific
1806: Returning Home | 1800's Post Expedition

covered bridge

The members of the Lewis and Clark Expedition came from a variety of backgrounds. Many were born in the original Thirteen States on the East Coast, and then migrated to the interior states of Kentucky and Tennessee. The life they knew on the East Coast and in the Ohio River Valley was very different from what they would encounter while on the expedition. Covered bridges like this one were common during the era. The cover kept snow and ice off the bridge during the winter months.

Building types known by the explorers would have included stone warehouse buildings like this one.
log cabin
Cabins and homes made of horizontal logs were common in the East and on the frontier of Kentucky and Tennessee. Well to do people were able to add frame portions to their houses as their prosperity increased.
woman cooking at fireplace
For the most part, family life centered around the kitchen of the home. Some houses were so small that there were only one or two rooms, each used for a variety of purposes. Nearly all houses had at least one wide fireplace used for heating and cooking. Pots were hung on an iron or wooden crane over the fire, while baking could be done in a flat-bottomed, covered iron "Dutch oven" using coals from the hearth. Big fires were rarely built; small fires and hot coals were the secret to early American cooking. The smells of the kitchen - burning wood, drying herbs and fruit, and the aroma of cooking food like hominy, "hasty pudding," and sometimes dried, salted or even fresh meat were memories taken by the men of the expedition into the wilderness.
Most communities had a thriving religious life in the early 1800s. It was a period of religious revivalism, tent meetings and evangelical crusades. Most Americans from the East Coast were members of a Protestant Christian sect, although there were large numbers of Jews (particularly in New York and Rhode Island) and Roman Catholics (particularly in Maryland). Some villages had large churches made of framed wood or stone like this one. Protestant church services typically were all-day affairs, having morning and afternoon sessions every Sunday.
crude log cabin
Settlers in the frontier areas of America like Kentucky and Tennessee built crude log cabins to live in, like this one, with log outbuildings. Abraham Lincoln was born in a log cabin in Kentucky in 1809, just three years after the Lewis and Clark Expedition ended. Many of the men of the expedition were poor, and knew what life was like in log cabins like this.
With just 5.3 million people, the United States was sparsely settled and very rural in 1803. Pastoral scenes like this one were common. Many people never traveled more than 25 miles from their homes from the time they were born until they died.
Mills like this one performed the tasks too heavy for men to carry out ably on their own. These included grinding grain into flour and cutting lumber. They were powered by water via a water wheel and a system of gears.
snow covered barn
Winters were often harsh, much worse than 21st century people are used to.
small log house
The small log house, with just one or two rooms and a loft, was the most common type of home seen along the roadsides of Kentucky and Tennessee, as well as other portions of the country. Large families were sometimes raised in such small dwellings, which were gradually enlarged as their owner's ranks increased.
bridge deck
Most bridges in the east were simple affairs like this one. Many rivers and streams did not have bridges and had to be forded by wading through them or by walking on stepping stones.
farm house
Many houses of the "middling sort," farmers who had property but were not among the nation's rich, looked like this in the Northeast.
Wealthy persons big home
The houses of the wealthy were larger, like the Deane House in Weathersfield, Connecticut, shown here. Although proportionately few people in the United States lived this well in 1804, these houses have survived in greater numbers than the houses of the poor and middling sort. The Deane House is one of several open for tours in Weathersfield.
old farm house
As a farm family became more prosperous, they built nicer homes and used older dwellings for livestock and storage.
water well
Most water was obtained from a well. Fresh water was an important aspect of choosing the site for a farm.

Professions and Trades of the Lewis and Clark Period

Last updated: April 10, 2015

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