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Category Archives: Exploration

You lessened what we did not know. Thanks!

thanks for the Chart of the coast of Florida, & mouth of the Missisipi which he has been so good as to send him. at a time when we are endeavoring to acquire exact knolege of that country, in order to make our first arrangements understandingly, so accurate a chart whose existence was not before known here, is doubly precious …
To William Marshall, December 24, 1803

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Smart leaders appreciate those who make everyone smarter.
Marshall, a South Carolina lawyer, had come into possession of a map which he claimed to be an accurate chart of the coast of West Florida (the panhandle), the coast of Louisiana, and the mouth of the Mississippi River, plus river depth soundings some distance north of New Orleans. He forwarded that map to the President.

Accurate knowledge about Louisiana in 1803 was as miniscule as the territory was large. Anything that expanded its documentation was like gold to Jefferson. He contended the purchase of Louisiana, vast lands west of the Mississippi, also included some land on the east side of that river known as West Florida. That portion was the Gulf Coast east to the Perdido River, the current boundary between Alabama and Florida. This map provided additional intelligence toward that end.

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Well, you just never know. (Or, size does matter.)

I was favored … about 4 years ago, with a piece of the rock Salt of Louisiana; and judging from your communication to congress, in which mention is made of that Salt mountain, that you had never seen a specimen of the Salt, have taken the liberty of forwarding to you a piece thereof;
To Thomas Jefferson from John Bradford, November 29, 1803

Th: Jefferson presents his salutations to mr Bradford and returns him thanks for the specimen of rock-salt from the Missouri which he has been so kind as to send him, and which came safely to hand.
To John Bradford, December 24, 1803

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
We should desire leaders with curious, inquisitive minds.
The President had forwarded to Congress a quantity of mostly speculative written material about Louisiana, but he hadn’t read it and didn’t vouch for its accuracy. One account was of a great salt mountain “about 1,000 miles up the Missouri … 180 miles long and 45 miles wide.” Kentuckian John Bradford had been given a chunk of Louisiana salt from a man in St. Louis. Familiar with the salt mountain reference and Jefferson’s lack of evidence, Bradford shared a specimen. The ever-gracious Jefferson acknowledged the gesture and expressed his thanks.

The opposition Federalist press had a field day ridiculing the salt mountain! In the footnotes accompanying Bradford’s letter, that press also speculated on the existence of:
– “an immense lake of molasses”
– “an extensive vale of hasty pudding”
– “vast river of golden eagles [$10 gold pieces] ready coined”
– “immense mountain of solid refined sugar
– “a considerable lake of pure Whiskey”
– or perhaps the salt mountain was “… Lot’s wife, magnified by the process of time”

The “salt mountain” was mostly likely a salt plain along the Cimarron River in western Oklahoma.

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Keep your focus. DO NOT do that!

… one thing however we are decided in: that you must not undertake the winter excursion which you propose in yours of Oct. 3. such an excursion will be more dangerous than the main expedition up the Missouri, & would, by an accident to you, hazard our main object, which, since the acquisition of Louisiana, interests every body in the highest degree. The object of your mission is single, the direct water communication from sea to sea
To Meriwether Lewis, November 16, 1803

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Effective leaders derail risky tangents.
Lewis’ last letter to the President on October 3 had been from near Cincinnati on the Ohio River. By November 16, Lewis would have been in the St. Louis area, on the Illinois side, and considering his winter plans before leading the Expedition the following spring. Lewis told Jefferson he was planning on a solo horseback trip west, something of a personal scouting effort prior to the main event. Lewis was also recommending his co-leader William Clark take a separate solo trip for additional reconnoitering.

Jefferson was horrified at his protégé’s suggestion but handled it diplomatically. He began with news about the Louisiana acquisition, plans for a government in New Orleans, and the need to avoid offending Spain until the new territory was officially in American possession. There were several matters he left to Lewis’ discretion, affirming his confidence in the man’s judgment. Then he dropped the hammer.

Under no circumstances was Lewis to risk his life or health, or Clark’s, with these unnecessary explorations! There was a single goal before them, finding a water route to the Pacific, and nothing must be allowed that would unnecessarily jeopardize that endeavor.

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Go this way or that way but NOT that way.

… you will find us in the hilliest & healthiest country in the world. I would recommend to you to come & return by different routs. the shortest and levellest is by Fairfax court house, Songster’s, Brown’s, Slate run church, Elk run church & Orange court house. the best country and entertainment, tho’ along a hilly road, is by Fairfax C. H. the Red house Prince Wm. C. H. Fauquier C. H. Culpeper C. H. and Orange C. H. the worst, longest, & most uninteresting road is by Fredericksburg.
To Henry Dearborn, August 13, 1803

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Thoughtful leaders encourage exploration and provide options.
Jefferson was at Monticello for two months, escaping what he called the “sickly season” along the coast and tidewater region, where the yellow fever sickened and killed many in late summer. Learning that Dearborn, his Secretary of War, was traveling with his family to see James and Dolley Madison at their home, the President invited him to come 30 miles further and visit him.

While this region of central Virginia was dotted with towns, there were no public roads to speak of, only acknowledged bare-earth segments or trails from one courthouse, tavern or inn to another. Fording creeks and climbing hills in a horse drawn carriage, especially after a rain, added extra challenges. Ever the explorer, Jefferson advised Dearborn not to come and go by the same route but to see more of the countryside.

Jefferson suggested the three most likely routes:
1. The shortest, fastest and most level (If you just want to get here)
2. The most appealing, though hillier (Challenging but enjoy the journey)
3. “the worst, longest, & most uninteresting” (You have been warned!)

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If something is not the truth, is it a lie?

… the idea that you are going to explore the Missisipi has been generally given out: it satisfies public curiosity, and masks sufficiently the real destination. I shall be glad to hear from you, as soon after your arrival at Philadelphia as you can form an idea when you will leave …
To Meriwether Lewis, April 27, 1803

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Do all leaders hedge the truth occasionally?
Meriwether Lewis left Washington for Philadelphia where some of the nation’s preeminent scientists would tutor him further in mathematics, astronomy, botany and medicine. It was common knowledge that Lewis was mounting some type of exploration, but very few knew that he was heading west, up the Missouri River. The President dribbled out some misdirection, that Lewis was going north, up the Mississippi.

Diplomatic overtures to Spain and France over New Orleans and shipping on the lower Mississippi had not been resolved. It was common knowledge that Spain was ceding Louisiana back to France, and that had serious repercussions for America. (France had not yet offered to sell Louisiana, and that possibility had never been considered on this side of the Atlantic.) Jefferson wanted to avoid offending other nations unnecessarily with the idea of sending American explorers through foreign lands without permission.

Lewis was the President’s personal secretary. With all of his travel, it was obvious Lewis was up to something. Thus, Jefferson deliberately promoted something less than the truth … a lie? … to protect his diplomatic maneuvering, provide cover for Lewis, and satisfy “public curiosity.”

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This is your homework for the NEXT THREE YEARS.

… The object of your mission is to explore the Missouri river, & such principal stream of it, as, by it’s course & communication with the waters of the Pacific ocean, may offer the most direct & practicable water communication across this continent, for the purposes of commerce.
Beginning at the mouth of the Missouri …
Instructions for Meriwether Lewis, June 20, 1803

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders provide detailed instructions when oversight isn’t possible.
This 2,400 word document outlined the goals for Meriwether Lewis’ mission west the following year. The heart of that mission was described above: Find a water route across the continent for the purpose of commerce. Everyone knew that route, the fabled Northwest Passage, existed, but no one had found it. Lewis’ main job was to find it. That passage would allow travel by water between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

As he went, this was to be a scientific mission as well. They were also to:
– Document all animal and plant life, paying particular attention to those species unknown in the U.S.
– Learn as much as possible about the native people and remain on the best possible terms with them.
– Document the land itself, its geography, geology, topography, resources and rivers.

When the Corps of Discovery returned in May 1806, the men had written about 1.5 million words in their journals, fulfilling most of President Jefferson’s instructions.

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Director of Education, Indiana Historical Society
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This is gonna be BIG!

the river Missouri, & the Indians inhabiting it, are not as well known as is rendered desireable by their connection with the Missisipi, & consequently with us … an intelligent officer with ten or twelve chosen men … might explore the whole line, even to the Western ocean, have conferences with the natives on the subject of commercial intercourse, get admission among them for our traders as others are admitted, agree on convenient deposits for an interchange of articles, and return with the information acquired in the course of two summers … The appropriation of two thousand five hundred dollars ‘for the purpose of extending the external commerce of the US,’ [is needed] …
To the Senate and House of Representatives, January 18, 1803

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Smart leaders know huge accomplishments have humble beginnings.
Tucked in near the end of a long letter to the Congress on improving relations with the Indian tribes east of the Mississippi River was this innocent-sounding suggestion: We should know more about the Missouri River and the people who live along it. He proposed a dozen men led by a single officer to explore the whole length of the Missouri and perhaps all the way to the Pacific Ocean at a cost of $2,500. He stated four goals:
1. Confer with the Indians about commercial opportunities
2. Arrange for American traders to come among them
3. Scout locations for trading posts
4. Gather information about the land along the river.

What the President had in mind, of course, was what he would call the Corps of Discovery, known to us as the Lewis & Clark Expedition. His message to Congress was confidential, and he wanted it kept that way for the time being.

The Louisiana Purchase, not even imagined by the visionary Jefferson when this letter was written, would change the entire scope of this exploration. Instead of a small company quietly exploring Spanish territory, it would become a military venture of some four dozen men, led by five officers, establishing their claim to American soil. (The $2,500 Jefferson requested here would be dwarfed by the cost of the much larger mission, about $38,000.)

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There is ALWAYS a reason to explore, regardless of the results.

If mr Peale can succeed in producing fresh from salt water by a filtering apparatus, it will be a valuable discovery. there are parts of the world where a want of pure water may render the separation of impurities by filtration of value, provided they are better separated, or more cheaply, than by distillation. but besides the utility of the immediate discovery, no discovery is barren. it always serves as a step to something else.
To Robert Patterson, April 17, 1802

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders encourage experimentation, regardless of results.
Patterson (1743-1824, compared to Jefferson, 1743-1826) was a noted Irish-born mathematician, scientist, and professor at the University of Pennsylvania. He was one of Meriwether Lewis’ tutors, at Jefferson’s request, before the young man headed up the Missouri River with William Clark in 1804.
Here, Jefferson commented on another scientist’s (Charles Willson Peale) efforts to desalinate ocean water. He lauded the experimentation, because it might prove cheaper than distillation, the only other method available.
While Jefferson hoped for an immediate application, he would not be dismayed if that did not happen. He was noted for taking the long view. “No discovery is barren,” he wrote. “It always serves as a step to something else.”

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Serve not at my command but only as you see fit.

If I can at any time be of any Service to you, I hope you will command me, and permit me to assure you, it will give me unmixed pleasure to Serve you at any time
William Clark, Louisville, to Thomas Jefferson, June 8, 1808

… the world has, of right, no further claims on yourself & Govr Lewis, but such as you may voluntarily render according to your convenience or as they may make it your interest.
To William Clark, September 10, 1809

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Extraordinary leadership earns one the right to say no.
In 1803, President Jefferson commissioned his personal secretary, Meriwether Lewis, to lead an expedition of discovery though Louisiana and on to the western sea. Lewis wanted a co-commander, and he chose a close friend from army days, William Clark of Kentucky. Together, the two men successfully completed Jefferson’s assignment, leading a company of about 30 in a danger-filled 2 1/2 year journey through the wilderness to the Pacific Ocean and back.

After their return, the President named Clark Brigadier General of the militia and principal Indian agent for northern Louisiana. In his 1808 letter, Clark told the President he was about to leave for St. Louis to take up his new duties. He offered, with “unmixed pleasure,” to be at Jefferson’s command for any future service.

Clark’s letter was delayed 13 months in its delivery, and it was three more months before the retired President could respond. He turned aside Clark’s offer to serve wherever commanded. The service he had already given his country earned Clark the unqualified right to say no, unless it was convenient or personally desirable for him to say yes.

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Does a family compromise your value to society?

You mention in your letter that you are proceeding with your family to Fort Massac. this informs me that you have a family, & I sincerely congratulate you on it. while some may think it will render you less active in the service of the world, those who take a sincere interest in your personal happiness, and who know that by a law of our nature we cannot be happy without the endearing connections of a family, will rejoice for your sake as I do.
To William Clark, September 10, 1809

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Leaders with strong family connections make for happy leaders.
Clark wrote Jefferson in June, 1808, but the letter took 13 months to reach its destination. That letter mentioned the skin of a Rocky mountain sheep and a blanket manufactured by the Indians that he had already sent to Jefferson and three boxes of bones yet to come. The latter he would deliver to Fort Massac, Illinois country, on the Ohio River, for shipment through New Orleans and on to Virginia, when he moved his family from Louisville to St. Louis. Two months later, the former President wrote his thanks for the sheep skin and blanket he had received and the bones that had not yet arrived. (See “Enclosure” for a description of the bones.)

The last Jefferson knew, William Clark was single. Now he learned that Clark would be traveling with his family to St. Louis to take up his new duties there. Jefferson was delighted to learn that his accomplished explorer was now a family man! (The 37 year-old Clark had married 17 year-old Julia Hancock in January, 1808. A year later, they named their firstborn son, Meriwether Lewis Clark.)

Jefferson disagreed with those who claimed family responsibilities made one less capable of public service. Citing his desire for Clark’s “personal happiness” coupled with “a law of our nature” that family connections were essential to that happiness, he congratulated the new husband and father. Those connections would make him a happier … and better … leader.

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