Meriwether Lewis, American explorer, soldier, and politician, was born on this day in 1774. Born in Virginia, Lewis joined the American military, where he stayed until President Thomas Jefferson chose him to lead an expedition across the continent. Choosing William Clark as his companion for the trip, Lewis set out for the Pacific Ocean in 1803, along with Sacajawea, a fifteen year old Shoshone woman and the wife of a French-Canadian trader. The trio made their way to the West Coast, and reached the Pacific Ocean in 1805, twelve years after Canadian Sir Alexander Mackenzie had reached the Pacific.
Upon their return, Lewis was awarded a vast plot of land, and he became involved in politics, building roads in Louisiana, which had recently been bought from the French. He also became involved in disputes with nearby Native American tribes, and he helped to end disputes with them many times. In 1809 he traveled to Washington, D.C. to meet his friend, Thomas Jefferson, but along the way, on October 11, 1809, he died of gunshot wounds. The origin of the wounds remain uncertain, as reports conflict on whether there was a murder, but many scholars of the time, including Jefferson, accepted his death as a suicide.
Lewis and Clark’s expedition to the Pacific set up America’s expansion to the West Coast, leading to the rapid increase of immigration, along with enabling the California Gold Rush.