Our Lewis and Clark Journal – Day 2
Day 2: Monticello, Virginia (The Corps of Discovery is Commissioned)
The second day of our family vacation was dedicated to visiting Monticello, the home and slave plantation of Thomas Jefferson, primary author of the Declaration of Independence and third President of the United States of America.
It was at Monticello that Jefferson and Lewis first began to dream of an exploration team to the undiscovered West. Prompted by their reading of Alexander MacKenzie’s Voyage from Montreal, on the River St. Lawrence, Through the Continent of North America, to the Frozen and Pacific Ocean (London, 1801), they sought a practical water route to the Pacific. Most of their assumptions (easy portage, mountains comparable to the Appalachians, ) would prove false, and the goal of an easy commercial route across the continent would prove a failure. Nevertheless, the pioneering work of the Corps (in terms of biological discovery, navigation, native relations, national identity and imperial ambitions) would leave an unsurpassed legacy to an expansive new nation.
We spent a full day at Monticello, soaking in the architecture of independence , the amazing library of over 6700 volumes, and the paradox that the champion of liberty was the owner of hundreds of slaves and the father of several children by the slave woman Sally Hemmings, and the amazing land.
Though most of the artifacts from the Lewis and Clark Expedition have been lost, the photo below shows our son August gazing at the authentic Elk Antlers sent by Meriwether Lewis to his President, Thomas Jefferson, now displayed in Jefferson’s “Trophy Room.” The articles displayed on the wall behind August are reproductions.
Recommended Reading: Stephen Ambrose, Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West. (Simon and Schuster, 1997).