Birthday: August 1, 1770
Died At Age: 68
Sun Sign: Leo
Born in: Caroline County
Famous as: Explorer
Spouse/Ex-: Harriet Radford, Julia Hancock
father: Jonathan Clark
siblings: George Rogers Clark
Died on: September 1, 1838
place of death: St. Louis
William Clark was an American explorer who along with Meriwether Lewis led an epic expedition to the Pacific Northwest. Named after these great explorers, the Lewis and Clark Expedition was undertaken following the Louisiana Purchase and aimed at claimed the Pacific Northwest for the United States before any of the European powers did. Before being selected for the expedition Clark served in a militia. Born into a large family of tobacco planters in Virginia, he enjoyed an adventurous childhood filled with fox hunts, cockfights, and shooting tournaments. His five older brothers fought in the American Revolutionary War but William was too young at that time. On growing up he joined a volunteer militia force under Major John Hardin to fight in the American Indian conflicts of the Ohio frontier. He then entered the U.S. Army and commanded a company of riflemen at the Battle of Fallen Timbers, playing an important role in the decisive U.S. victory that brought the Northwest Indian War to an end. He eventually retired from the army due to poor health. After a few years he was invited by his friend Meriwether Lewis to join him on an expedition to the Pacific Northwest. The expedition which took several long months to complete was a resounding success which catapulted both Clark and Lewis to the status of legendary explorers.
Childhood & Early Life
William Clark was born on August 1, 1770, in Virginia, to John and Ann Rogers Clark. He was the ninth of their ten children.
He was primarily tutored at home and did not receive any formal schooling. When he was a child his family regularly participated in activities such as fox hunts, cockfights, and shooting tournaments.
His five elder brothers fought in the American Revolutionary War where his oldest brother, Jonathan, served as a colonel, and another brother, George, rose to the rank of general. After the war the two brothers arranged for their parents and siblings to relocate to Kentucky in 1785.
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As a 19 year old William Clark joined a volunteer militia force under Major John Hardin in 1789. The next year, General Arthur St. Clair, governor of the Northwest Territory, commissioned him as a captain in the Clarksville, Indiana militia.
He served as an ensign and acting lieutenant under generals Charles Scott and James Wilkinson in 1791. In 1792, he enlisted in the Legion of the United States and was commissioned by President George Washington as a lieutenant of infantry under General Anthony Wayne.
Clark commanded the Chosen Rifle Company, which participated in the Battle of Fallen Timbers (1794) and successfully drove back the enemy securing a resounding victory for the U.S.
He was sent on a mission to New Madrid, Missouri, in 1795. However, his health began to suffer and he resigned from his commission in July 1796 and returned home to manage his parents’ estates.
During his years in the army he had become friends with a fellow army man, Meriwether Lewis, with whom he regularly corresponded in the years following his retirement. In 1803 he received a letter from Lewis that would completely change the course of his life.
The U.S. Army had newly formed the Corps of Discovery with the mission of exploring the territories of the Louisiana Purchase and claiming the territory for the U.S. before European nations did. President Thomas Jefferson who commissioned the Corps of Discovery had chosen Lewis as its leader who in turn asked Clark to join him.
The perilous expedition lasted for over two years from May 1804 to September 1806. Clark was given equal authority along with Lewis on the mission. He also brought his slave York who proved to be a great help on the journey. A skilled hunter, Clark led the hunting expeditions and managed the expedition’s supplies. He also drew the maps required for the journey.
The expedition was a success—the Corps reached the Pacific and established their presence for a legal claim to the land, and formed diplomatic relations and trade with at least two dozen indigenous nations. The explorers returned to a triumphant welcome back home in 1806.
William Clark was suitably awarded for his efforts and In 1807 Thomas Jefferson appointed him brigadier general of militia for the Louisiana Territory.
He played a very active role during the War of 1812. He led several campaigns and when the Missouri Territory was formed in 1813, Clark was appointed as the governor by President Madison. He was reappointed to the position in 1816 and in 1820.
He was made the Superintendent of Indian Affairs by President James Monroe in 1822, a post he served in until his death. In this position, Clark was the most important man on Native American matters west of the Mississippi. He also served as the surveyor general of Illinois, Missouri and the Territory of Arkansaw in 1824-25.
William Clark was one of the leaders of the Lewis and Clark Expedition commissioned by President Thomas Jefferson shortly after the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. The expedition which took over two years to complete was a huge success and immortalized both Clark and Lewis as major figures in the history of American exploration.
Awards & Achievements
Clark was elected a member of the American Antiquarian Society in 1814.
Personal Life & Legacy
William Clark married Julia Hancock, a girl several years his junior, in 1808. They had five children. He named his eldest son Meriwether Lewis Clark, Sr. in the honor of his friend.
Julia died in 1820. He then married her cousin, Harriet Kennerly Radford. This marriage produced three more children. Harriet died in 1831, leaving him a widower for the second time.
He spent the last months of his life with his eldest son and died on September 1, 1838 at age 68.
The Clarks River in western Kentucky, the Clark Fork in Montana and Idaho, and the Clarks Fork Yellowstone River in Montana and Wyoming are named for him.