This exhibition marks two major events in American history: the ratification of the Louisiana Purchase, in October 1803, more than doubling the territory of the United States, and Thomas Jefferson’s appointment of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark to lead a Corps of Discovery up the Missouri River to find a route to the Pacific across the North American continent. Gathering first in St. Louis in the fall of 1803, the Corps of Discovery set out in May 1804, reached the Pacific coast in November 1805, and returned in triumph to St. Louis in September 1806. They had traveled more than 8,000 miles over a period of 864 days. They mapped their route in detail, brought back much new scientific and geographical information, and made the first European contact with several groups of native Americans.
The same years also saw the first book purchases made for the South Carolina College library. Chartered in 1801, the College opened to students in 1805, while Lewis and Clark were still making their journey. In its early years, the library acquired many of the most important contemporary publications on the exploration, ethnography and natural history of the American west, from Vancouver’s Voyages and Jefferson’s message to Congress about the Louisiana purchase (1803) to McKenney and Hall’s folio History of the Indian Tribes (1836-1844), Karl Bodmer’s illustrations for Maximilian’s Travels in the Interior of North America (1839; English ed. 1843), and Audubon and Bachman’s Quadrupeds of North America (1845-48).
The exhibition is arranged chronologically, beginning with early maps and books on the American west and on the Louisiana Purchase, following the expedition’s progress in printed accounts and through early 19th-century illustrations of the peoples, animals and places they encountered, and concluding with a selection of later exploration narratives. It draws both on items from the antebellum College library and on the strong Americana holdings in the Alfred Chapin Rogers Collection, donated to the University through Mrs. Elizabeth Pyne and Charles French, which brought the first British edition of Lewis and Clark’s Travels (1814), with its fine map of the expedition route. The exhibit also includes individual items from the Kendall Collection, the John Shaw Billings Collection, the South Caroliniana Library, and the Map Library, volumes donated by Mrs. J. Henry Fair, and one of two additional Bodmer illustrations purchased with funds from the Barbara L. and David M. Graham Endowment.
Director, Rare Books & Special Collections