Meriwether Lewis by Saint-MeminArtist/Maker: Charles Fevret de Saint-Mémin (1770-1853)

Created: 1802

Origin/Purchase: Washington, D.C.

Materials: engraving

Dimensions: 5.6 (2 3/16 in.)

Location: Tea Room

Owner: Library of Congress

Historical Notes: Thomas Jefferson described the leader of the Lewis and Clark Expedition as having undaunted courage and "firmness & perseverance of purpose which nothing but impossibilities could divert from it's direction ...."[1] Jefferson knew Lewis and his family from his native Albemarle County, Virginia. As early as 1792 Lewis expressed his desire to lead a western expedition. He was serving as Jefferson's personal secretary when Congress approved the 1803 expedition to explore the northwest, and Jefferson did not hesitate to name Lewis leader of the exploring party.

Under Jefferson's direction Lewis studied with leading scientists in preparation for the expedition. Lewis recruited his fellow Albemarle County resident William Clark to accompany him. From 1803 to 1806 these two men led the expedition to the Pacific Ocean and back, all while making meticulous notes on their activities. Lewis and Clark's journals contain descriptions and drawings of virtually everything they encountered: plants, animals, minerals, weather activity, landscapes, and Indians. Jefferson was the recipient of three shipments of artifacts from the expedition, which he distributed to the Peale Museum and the American Philosophical Society. Select specimens, many specifically procured by the explorers for the president, were displayed at the President's House and remained in Jefferson's collection at Monticello.[2]

Jefferson appointed Lewis governor of Louisiana after his return in 1806. Lewis held that position until his mysterious death in 1809, the cause of which remains undetermined. Although many believed that Lewis was murdered, Jefferson concluded that he died by his own hand:

[A]bout three aclock in the night, he did the deed which plunged his friends into affliction, and deprived his country of one of her most valued citizens ....[3]

Lewis sat for Saint-Mémin twice, before and after the expedition, and Jefferson may have owned both images.

- Text from Stein, Worlds, 201

Further Sources


  1. ^ Jefferson to Paul Allen, August 18, 1813, in PTJ:RS, 6:421. Transcription available at Founders Online.
  2. ^ The documentation of the expedition is copious. The most recent comprehensive works on the subject are Donald Jackson, ed., Letters of the Lewis and Clark Expedition (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1978), and Gary E. Moulton, ed., The Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, 13 vols. (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1983-2001).
  3. ^ Jefferson to Allen, August 18, 1813, in PTJ:RS, 6:424. Transcription available at Founders Online. For a summary of the views on Lewis's death, see Jackson, Letters, 2:573-75.