Lewis & Clark: The Men Who Opened up the West.Meriwether Lewis and William Clark: The Only Known Document Bearing the Signatures of Both Legendary Explorers in Private Hands, a land indenture signed "Meriwether Lewis" and "Wm. Clark." Two pages, 12.5" x 15.75", St. Louis, August 23, 1809.
In July, 1803, the United States, at the price of four cents an acre (totaling $15 million), purchased 828,000 square miles of land from France. The Louisiana Purchase was arguably the most important land deal of the nineteenth century, doubling the size of the United States and giving it control of the important port city of New Orleans.
Shortly after its acquisition, newly elected President Thomas Jefferson organized a scientific and commercial venture to explore the vast swath of land. The expedition would be funded by Congress and headed by Jefferson's personal secretary, Meriwether Lewis. The purpose of the journey, which was explained to Lewis in a letter from Jefferson dated June 20, 1803, was "...to explore the Missouri river, & such principal stream of it as by it's [sic] course and communication with the waters of the Pacific ocean whether the Columbia, Oregon, Colorado or any other river may offer the most direct & practicable water communication across this continent for the purposes of commerce." (Library of Congress. Rivers, Edens, Empires: Lewis & Clark and the Revealing of America.) Additionally, Lewis was to emphasize the sovereignty of the United States government to all Indian tribes he would encounter along the way. Due to the immense undertaking the journey would prove to be, it was determined that Lewis would need help in leading the party. William Clark, who at one time was Lewis' commanding officer, was chosen personally by as his co-captain.
The group of 33 men, known as the Corps of Discovery, set out on their epic journey from Camp Dubois on May 14, 1804. During their two and a half years of exploration, the group produced over 140 different maps; documented nearly fifty different Indian tribes, including ethnographic and linguistic data; and recorded 300 previously unknown (at least to European Americans) species of plants and animals. After reaching the Pacific Ocean, the group turned back eastward and arrived back in St. Louis on September 23, 1806.
In 1807, President Jefferson appointed Meriwether Lewis governor of the Territory of Upper Louisiana with William Clark as an agent of Indian affairs as well as brigadier general of the militia of the territory. Meriwether Lewis signs this land indenture to prominent fur trader Pierre Chouteau (named in the document as Peter) as governor, six weeks before his death. William Clark and William C. Carr sign as witnesses. It reads, in full:
"This Indenture made this twenty third day of August eighteen hundred & nine by & between, Meriwether Lewis of the one part, and Peter Chouteau Senior, by Peter Chouteau Junior his attorney in fact, of the other part, and both of the town of St. Louis territory of Louisiana, witnesseth that the said party of the first part for & in consideration of the sum of forty three hundred and fifty five dollars fifty cents [illegible] in hand paid the receipt whereof is hereby acknowledged, that this day bargained sold & conveyed & by these presents doth bargain sell & convey unto him the said party of the second part, all & each of those several tracts or parcels of land, situate lying & being in the district of St. Louis territory aforesaid, at or near the village of St. Ferdinand containing sixteen hundred & sixty nine arpents, forty four perches of land in two tracts as conveyed and described in a certain deed for the same from the said party of the second part & his wife to him the said party of the first part, dated the third day of August eighteen hundred & eight and to be found on Record in the Recorders office for the said district of St. Louis in Book B pages ninety seven & following. Also two undivided third parts of that certain tract or parcel of land, situate in the said district of St. Louis, and described in a certain deed of conveyance from them the said Peter Chouteau & wife to him the said Meriwether Lewis, dated the third day of August eighteen hundred & eight & to be found on Record in the Recorders office for the said district of St. Louis in book B pages one hundred & six & following. To have & to hold the aforesaid several tracts or parcels of land [here is found a large ink stain which obscures some of the text] Peter Chouteau [here is found a second ink stain, but the text is still visible] his heirs & assigns forever in the same complete manner that he the said Meriwether Lewis acquired them from them the said Peter Chouteau & wife, together with all & singular the privileges & appartenances thereunto belonging or in anywise appertaining. Upon these terms & under these conditions & limitations towit that whereas the said Peter Chouteau did receive from him the said Meriwether Lewis, his notes for the aforesaid sum of money towit the sum of forty three hundred & fifty five dollars fifty cents in two notes the one payable the first day of May last for two thousand five hundred dollars, the other payable the first day of May next for eighteen hundred fifty five dollars fifty cents. Now therefore it is hereby expressly agreed & understood that of the said Meriwether shall pay or cause to be paid the aforesaid sum of forty three hundred fifty five dollars fifty cents on or before the first day of May next then this Indenture to be null & void; otherwise the above recited deed for the lands at St. Ferdinand from the said Peter Chouteau & wife to the said Meriwether Lewis, shall be null & of none effect, & the said lands be considered as entirely the property of him the said Peter Chouteau as though the same had never been conveyed to him the said Meriwether Lewis. And also as much of the land contained in the second above recited deed from said Peter Chouteau & wife to him the said Meriwether Lewis as is above mentioned towit two undivided third parts, shall be considered as entirely the property of him the said Peter Chouteau as if the same had never been conveyed to him the said Meriwether Lewis and the deed for the same to be from and after date null & void & no effect to him the said Meriwether Lewis.
"In testimony whereof I have herewith set my hands & affixed my seal at the town of St. Louis the day & year above written in the presence of (the words "hand" "third day of August" "fifty cents" interlined before signed)."
William Clark first met Pierre Chouteau, a French Creole from New Orleans and brother of Auguste Chouteau, one of the founders of the town of St. Louis, in 1797. When Clark returned to the area in 1804 to prepare for the expedition west, he was reacquainted with Pierre and introduced the Chouteau brothers to Meriwether Lewis. The foursome got on well despite the language barrier (Lewis and Clark spoke no French and the Chouteaus spoke little English). Upon their return to St. Louis in 1807, Clark entered into business with Pierre Chouteau and others (with Lewis possibly acting as a silent partner) in the St. Louis Missouri Fur Company. After Lewis, as governor, funded an expedition (to the tune of $7,000) by the company to escort Mandan chieftain White Coyote back to his village, his superiors in Washington went on the attack, one of the many factors that led him back to Washington (and his death) in the fall of 1809.
Two hundred years later, Lewis' death remains a mystery. What is known is that he died (from a gunshot wound to the head and chest) en route to Washington, D. C. to take care of some financial business and explain his failures as governor. His administrative capabilities were questioned due, in part, to his increasingly heavy drinking , his procrastination in returning to St. Louis to take up the responsibilities of governor, and his failure to mediate between the Indians and local merchants. On the morning of October 11, 1809, Lewis met his end at Grinder's Stand, a tavern located some 70 miles southwest of Nashville, Tennessee. It is generally accepted by scholars (and at the time by Thomas Jefferson and William Clark) that he committed suicide, but his family insisted that he was murdered. In any case, the death of Lewis fell so near to the signing of this indenture that William C. Carr, an original witness to the signing, was called upon a second time to attest to the document's legality. The document was notarized on the verso on January 5, 1810, and reads: "Before me the Subscriber one of the Justices of the peace in and for the township aforesaid - Personally came and appeared William C. Carr Esqre one of the Subscribing witnesses to the within Instrument of writing , who being duly sworn on the Holy Evangelists of Almighty God deposeth & saith that he was present, when Meriwether Lewis signed & sealed & delivered the same as his act & Deed that he the deponent subscribed his name thereto as a witness to the Same as well as William Clark."
Lewis' signature itself is very scarce, but the signatures of both Lewis and Clark found on a single document is, to our knowledge, not to be found in any private collection. Both the American Philosophical Society and Yale University have the journals of Lewis and Clark and some of them are annotated by both men, but not necessarily signed. Careful research has confirmed that the Library of Congress does not contain anything signed by both. Apparently, there are one or possibly two land grants signed by both held in other institutional collections. Auction records dating back to the 1970s fail to disclose another example.
Considering the manner in which the names Lewis and Clark are linked both by historians and in the popular mind, it is nothing short of amazing that this should be the only surviving document bearing both their signatures. As such, its historical significance and romantic appeal cannot be overstated. A wonderful and unique acquisition for any private buyer or institution.
Light, uneven toning with slight chipping along the edges. Smoothed folds are weak and separated in places, but have been archivally repaired. Damage along the left edge has also been repaired. As has been previously stated, there are two large ink stains, one of which obscures a few words of text.
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