Tag Archives: Exploration
… 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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… The work we are now doing, is, I trust, done for posterity, in such a way that they need not repeate it. for this we are much indebted to you not only for the labour & time you have devoted to it, but for the excellent method of which you have set the example, and which I hope will be the model to be followed by others. we shall delineate with correctness the great arteries of this great country: those who come after us will extend the ramifications as they become acquainted with them, and fill up the canvas we begin…
To William Dunbar, May 25, 1805
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Visionary leaders pioneer so others can follow.
This excerpt came the end of a long, technical letter about Dunbar’s commission to explore Red River from its mouth on the Mississippi between Natchez and Baton Rouge. It flows from the northwest, forms much of the southern border between Oklahoma and Texas, and has its source in the Texas Panhandle near Amarillo. Jefferson considered its exploration second only to the one Lewis & Clark had begun of the Missouri River a year before.
This would be the first investigation of the Red River. Jefferson wanted it done in such a manner that it provided an accurate foundation for future explorations. He commended Dunbar for his labor, time, and skill and the excellence of his example. It was for Jefferson’s generation to begin documenting the great rivers, so subsequent generations could “fill up the canvas we begin.”
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My last accounts of Ledyard were from Grand Cairo. He was just been plunging into the unknown regions of Africa, probably never to emerge again. If he returns, he has promised me to go to America and penetrate from Kentucky to the western side of the continent.
To William Carmichael, 1789, 4563
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Visionary leaders encourage grand exploits.
Jefferson met the Connecticut-born explorer John Ledyard in Paris in 1786, later describing him as “a man of genius, of some science, and of fearless courage and enterprise.” (Autobiography, 1821) Ledyard had already explored the Pacific with Captain Cook and had published an account of that adventure.
Jefferson encouraged Ledyard to explore the American west by going east, through Europe and Russia to the Pacific Ocean, catching a ship to the northwest American coast (probably what is now Alaska) and making his way back across the continent to the United States. Ledyard almost succeeded, covering thousands of miles before being arrested 200 miles short of Kamchatka and the Pacific. He was hauled back to Poland and released.
Several years later, Jefferson reported that Ledyard was in Africa, poised to penetrate the African unknown, where he would probably disappear forever. Still, Ledyard promised his fellow “explorer” that if he survived, he would once again explore the American west, but by a more direct route.
Ledyard got no further than Cairo. There, he was treated with vitriolic acid, an accepted remedy for “a bilious complaint” (a common description for any number of internal, digestive upsets). He received an overdose (self-administered?), was poisoned and died January 10, 1789. Read of Ledyard’s end here, page 416.
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