The United States bought the Louisiana Territory from France in 1803, which doubled the size of the nation. After the Louisiana Purchase, someone needed to explore all that extra land.
President Thomas Jefferson sent Captain Meriwether Lewis to lead a group across the new land. Lewis chose Second Lieutenant William Clark to help him lead. On May 14, 1804, they set out with 41 explorers from St. Louis, Missouri, and headed for the Pacific Ocean.
The Northwest Passage
Many people believed the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean could be connected by rivers big enough for boat travel. They called this the Northwest Passage. Now, we know there isn’t any Northwest Passage, but President Jefferson hoped that Lewis and Clark would find one.
Jefferson also wanted them to explore and create a map for the new territory. Britain hoped to set up a colony in Oregon, so Jefferson wanted Lewis and Clark to get there first. The explorers recorded all the unknown creatures and plants they found along the way. They also worked to set up peaceful trade with Native American tribes across the country.
Lewis and Clark needed a guide and a translator for their long trip west. Native tribeswoman Sacagawea took the job. She was pregnant when they left, and she had her baby on the trip. She helped navigate and translate, but she also helped convince the Native Americans across the nation that the group was peaceful.
The Lewis and Clark Legacy
Lewis and Clark and their team came back to St. Louis in 1806. They achieved several missions. They had claimed Oregon. They had made a map of the new territory, and many pages of information to study. They had started friendly trade with some tribes along the way. If they had never left on their journey, the country might look very different today.