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Thomas Jefferson Writes to Meriwether Lewis

This letter from Thomas Jefferson to Meriwether Lewis suggests the secretive atmosphere under which diplomatic preparations for the Lewis and Clark Expedition were made. As the letter indicates, initial information about the expedition was intended to give the impression that the expedition was to explore the region around the Mississippi, rather than the Missouri and Columbia rivers, its true goal. The letter also mentions John Connor, a frontier fur trader and Indian interpreter who ultimately declined to join the expedition.

Washington, April 27. 1803

Dear Sir 

We have received information that Connor cultivates in the first degree the patronage of the British government; to which he values ours as only secondary. As it is possible however that his passion for this expedition may overrule that for the British, and as I do not see that the British agents will necessarily be disposed to counterwork us, I think Connor’s qualifications make it desireable to engage him, and that the communication to him will be as useful, as it was certainly proper under our former impression of him. The idea that you are going to explore the Missisipi has been generally given out: it satisfies public curiosity, and masks sufficiently the real destination. I shall be glad to hear from you, as soon after your arrival at Philadelphia as you can form an idea when you will leave, & when be [here.] 

Accept assurances of my constant & sincere affection.

Th. Jefferson

Source | Donald Jackson, ed., Letters of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, with Related Documents, 1783-1854, (Urban: University of Illinois, 1978), 44.
Creator | Thomas Jefferson
Item Type | Diary/Letter
Cite This document | Thomas Jefferson, “Thomas Jefferson Writes to Meriwether Lewis,” SHEC: Resources for Teachers, accessed April 21, 2021,

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