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Great Adventures: Lewis and Clark

It was an 8,000-mile mission into the unknown. Pat Kinsella follows the men that canoed uphill across a continent to unite America with its manifest destiny…

President omas Jefferson was a man with a vision. When serendipity gifted the United States a vast swathe of new and unexplored territory, he immediately sent a handpicked team of soldiers and frontiersmen across the Mississippi and into the void beyond, to explore North America’s longest river, the mysterious Missouri, and push his newborn nation’s horizons as far as they could go.

GO WEST, YOUNG MEN The expedition’s punishing river and mountain journey brought them into contact with many Native American tribes

The 35-man expedition was spearheaded by Jefferson’s personal secretary and, besides surviving whatever the wilderness threw at them – including bone-crunching rapids, mountains, grizzly bears and unknown tribes – the explorers had to become cartographers, journalists and scientists on the hoof. Their journey is one of the most celebrated feats of endurance and discovery in the history of the US. Indeed, it was a crucial part of the jigsaw puzzle that pieced the country together in the first place.


In late 1803, the United States of America suddenly doubled in size when Napoleon - preparing to recommence war with Britain – flogged the country 828,000 square miles of land at a bargain price, in a flash sale known as the Louisiana Purchase.

Little was known about this immense territory, which sprawled across land that now forms all or part of 15 modern-day states, other than that it offered the ambitious young nation a springboard for further exploration and expansion – potentially all the way to the west coast.

200 The number of dogs eaten by the party (only Seaman, Lewis’s Newfoundland, completed the expedition)

This brought the realisation of Manifest Destiny (the belief that the US would and should ultimately span the continent from Atlantic to Pacific) a significant stride closer – a concept that horrified Britain and Spain. But Europe was embroiled in the Napoleonic Wars, and Jefferson acted swiftly. He founded the Corps of Discovery and commissioned a task force to explore and chart the vast wilderness that had suddenly become bolted onto the US.

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The August 2015 issue of History Revealed