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Historical Background

Survey of Historic Sites and Buildings

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Lewis and Clark
Survey of
Historic Sites and Buildings

National Park Service Meriwether Lewis Park
(Natchez Trace Parkway)


Location: Lewis County, just northwest of the junction of the Natchez Trace Parkway and Tenn. 20, about 7 miles southeast of Hohenwald.

This park, a unit of Natchez Trace Parkway, contains the site of the frontier inn where Meriwether Lewis died and his grave—far from that of his partner in discovery, Clark. The parkway, a scenic road now about two-thirds completed, generally follows the route of the old Natchez Trace, which extended from Natchez to Nashville. Originally a prehistoric Indian trail and later used by the Spaniards, French, British, and Americans, the trace was for several centuries an important trade and emigrant road in the old Southwest.

On October 10, 1809, Lewis was traveling along the trace en route from St. Louis to Washington, D.C., where he hoped to straighten out his affairs as Governor of Louisiana Territory and conduct other business. That morning, his traveling companion, Maj. James Neelly, had remained behind to look for two lost packhorses. Lewis and the two servants accompanying him stopped for the night at an inn named Grinder's Stand. In the early hours of the morning, Lewis died of two gunshot wounds, apparently self-inflicted. Neelly, arriving later that morning, buried his body nearby.

gravesite monument to Lewis
Monument to Lewis at his gravesite, in Meriwether Lewis Park, Natchez Trace Parkway. The broken column is symbolic of his untimely death. (National Park Service.)

Although some writers have contended Lewis was assassinated for political reasons or murdered, possibly while being robbed, his agitated mental state during most of the trip, reflected in two previous attempts to kill himself, and the recorded circumstances of his death stress the probability of suicide. Also, before he left St. Louis, he had granted to three of his friends power of attorney so they could dispose of his property to satisfy his creditors. And, en route, on September 11, he prepared a last will and testament. Whatever the facts surrounding his death, his sudden and tragic demise at an obscure place in a remote wilderness ended the career of one of the Nation's most noted explorers.

Except for a "post fence" built in 1810, the gravesite remained unmarked until 1848. That year, the State of Tennessee erected a broken column, symbolizing Lewis' untimely death at the age of 35.

On its east side is the following inscription:

In the language of Mr. Jefferson:— "His courage was undaunted; his firmness and perseverance yielded to nothing but impossibilities; a rigid disciplinarian yet tender as a father of those committed to his charge; honest, disinterested, liberal, with a sound understanding and a scupulous fidelity to truth."

Five years before construction of the monument, the State had also created a new county, Lewis County, which included the area of the gravesite.

In 1925 President Calvin Coolidge designated the site as Meriwether Lewis National Monument, and in 1961 it was redesignated as Meriwether Lewis Park and became a unit of the Natchez Trace Parkway. In addition to the monument and gravesite, an interpretive marker on the foundation site of Grinder's Stand, in a well-maintained grass area about 700 feet from the grave, outlines the building's dimensions. A small museum displays exhibits commemorating Lewis' career. Depressions and old road remains mark the route of the trace in the vicinity.

Last Updated: 22-Feb-2004