Textbooks Ignore His Contribution To American History

Lewis and Clark expedition
Abeni Jones
January 28, 2020

In 1804, Thomas Jefferson asked Lewis and Clark to explore the newly-purchased “Louisiana Territory.” That wilderness expedition, and their names, have become part of American history.

But it wasn’t just the two of them. There were 45 people on the journey, including York - Clark’s enslaved servant.

York was Clark’s “body servant,” who accompanied Clark wherever he went. And on this expedition, he was an essential member.

He handled guns, hunted buffalo, navigated trails and rivers, and even swam across a river to find herbs to help Clark with a severe cold. Crucially, he also negotiated and traded with the indigenous people who already lived in much of the territory America now “owned.”

After being an integral part of the expedition, York returned to Missouri with Clark - and back into slavery. The rest of the members had gotten paid extremely well and were given land, so York asked for his freedom.

He was denied.

“I do not think… that his Services has been So great,” wrote Clark later about York’s request, and punished York for wanting freedom - by whipping him severely.

What eventually happened to York is unclear. Clark claimed he eventually freed him, but other accounts indicate that Clark was hostile to York until his last breath. Some accounts say he may have escaped.

History books largely ignore York’s contributions and Clark’s cruelty toward him. It’s our duty to set the record straight and honor York, an extraordinary explorer in American history!

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