Meriwether Lewis and William Clark are deservedly famous for their remarkable, 28-month voyage of discovery across the North American continent to the Pacific Ocean and back (1804-1806). But they were not the first white men to accomplish that feat. Alexander Mackenzie, an employee of Great Britain’s Northwest Company, took a 10-man exploring party across Canada by birch bark canoe to the Pacific and back in 1793 – more than a decade before Lewis and Clark. He and his party completed the arduous journey in little less than four months without a casualty.
Mackenzie, probably with the help of a ghost writer, finally published his diary of the journey in 1801. President Thomas Jefferson, always the bibliophile, obtained the book and read it at Monticello in the summer of 1802 along with his personal secretary, Meriwether Lewis. Its contents rekindled Jefferson’s long-held ambition to send an American expedition across the continent to the “waters of the Pacific ocian.” As they say, the rest is history.
Dr. H. Carl Camp
Stephen E. Ambrose, Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and
the Opening of the American West (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996), pp. 73-75.
Alexander Mackenzie, Voyages from Montreal, on the River St. Lawrence, through the
Continent of North America, to the Frozen and Pacific Oceans …. 2 vols. London, 1801.
Little Known Fact - 1
Last updated: December 13, 2016