Hoping to purchase the city of New Orleans from Napoleon, in early 1803 a group of American diplomats sailed to Paris to inquire about its availability. More in need of cash to fight the British than of North American territory, on April 30, 1803 the French government agreed to sell the entire 850,000 square mile French territory of Louisiana to the United States for 3 cents per acre.
As anyone who just bought a piece of property would do, President Thomas Jefferson was curious to determine just what exactly he bought. Unavailable to go himself, Jefferson retained Army Captain Merriwether Lewis, a known frontiersman to command a "Corps of Discovery" to see what he would find. The Corps orders were concise:
"The object of your mission is to explore the Missouri River, & such principle stream of it, as, by its course and communication with the waters of the Pacific ocean, whether the Columbia, Oregon, Colorado or any other river may offer the most direct & practicable water communication across this continent for the purpose of commerce"
Captain Lewis selected William Clark as his second in command. The Corps of Discovery consisting of 9 young men from Kentucky, 14 Army volunteers, 2 French watermen, and Lewis's black servant crossed the Mississippi River just north of the confluence of the Missouri River upriver from St. Louis on this day 1804. Clark and his party joined the Corps 2 days later at the Missouri river town of St. Charles.
The crew left St. Charles, to begin their 2 year expedition, the morning of May 15, camping that night on an island located a short walk from where I sit.