Dear Brother: Letters of William Clark to Jonathan Clark

By Smith, Gene A. | The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, April 1, 2002 | Go to article overview
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Dear Brother: Letters of William Clark to Jonathan Clark


Smith, Gene A., The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography


Dear Brother: Letters of William Clark to Jonathan Clark. Edited and with an introduction by JAMES J. HOLMBERG. Foreword by JAMES P. RONDA. Yale Western Americana Series. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, Published in Association with the Filson Historical Society, 2002. xxx, 322 pp. $30.00.

FOR those who study the early republic, the year 2000 brought many reasons to celebrate; it initiated the new millennium and set in motion a series of bicentennial celebrations that will continue for the next fifteen years. Perhaps the most ambitious of these will be the bicentennial of the Louisiana Purchase and of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, as communities from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Coast embrace and celebrate these two watershed events. One of the largest will surely be in January 2003 when the Historic New Orleans Collection and the Louisiana Historical Association will sponsor a three-- day symposium that seeks to revitalize the study and public awareness of the Louisiana Purchase territory and its peoples.

Another noteworthy contribution is the publication of fifty-five William Clark letters, compiled, edited, and annotated by James Holmberg-the curator of special collections at the Filson Historical Society. This Clark legacy, including forty-six letters written during a nineteen-year period (1792-1811) to his older brother Jonathan, sheds marvelous light on the details of the epic Lewis and Clark Expedition, "the mysterious death of Meriwether Lewis," and "the status of Clark's slave York (the first African American known to have crossed the continent ... )."

Seven letters in the first chapter describe Clark's life as a soldier and civilian and his qualifications for leading the Corps of Discovery. His four years of military service provided the opportunity for extensive travel and access to the highest levels of society, government, and the military. The experience and connections laid the groundwork for his appointment to the famous 1803-7 expedition, which is chronicled in the eight letters of the second chapter.

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