The Lewis and Clark Expedition

Discovering the American West

The Unknown Interior and French Louisiana

click on the images for a link to related text or larger illustrations

Thomas Jefferson’s Visionnotes on virginia

Jefferson, Thomas, 1743-1826.
Notes on the State of Virginia. Written by Thomas Jefferson. Illustrated with a map, including the states of Virginia, Maryland, Delaware and Pennsylvania.
Second English edition.  
London: J. Stockdale, 1787.  Bookplate of Alfred Chapin Rogers

Long before he became President, and long before the Louisiana Purchase, Thomas Jefferson had envisioned the potential of the Missouri river as a route into the American west.   Jefferson’s Notes on the State of Virginia had first appeared in French, in Paris, in 1784.

An Early European Image of Native Americansvivae imagines

Bry, Theodor de, 1528-1598.
Plate 17, from Vivæ imagines et ritus incolarum eius provinciæ in America in Admiranda narratio, fida tamen, de commodis et incolarum ritibus Virginiæ Anglico scripta sermone à Thoma Hariot . . . [Greater Voyages, Part 1].

Francoforti ad Moenum: Typis Ioannis Wecheli, Sumtibus Theodor de Bry, 1590.   

The American West as Terra Incognitaamerica

John Ogilby,  1600-1676.
"Totius Americae Descriptio," frontispiece map in his America: being the latest, and most accurate description of the New World; containing the original of the inhabitants, and the remarkable voyages thither. . . adorn'd with maps and sculptures.
London: Printed by the author, 1671.  Contemporary brown panelled calf. Kendall Collection.

This late seventeenth-century map illustrates the reliance of early European settlers on rivers as their main routes for inland exploration.  Where the interior of South America has significant settlement, the map of North America is still largely blank.  Despite the claims of his title-page, Ogilby’s account (including his maps and pictures) was taken wholesale from the work of Arnoldus Montanus, published in Dutch the previous year. 

The French in North Americanouvelle map

Charlevoix, Pierre-François-Xavier de, 1682-1761.

Histoire et description generale de la Nouvelle France, avec le journal historique d'un voyage fait par ordre du roi dans l'Amérique septentrionnale. 3 vols.  
Paris: Rolin, 1744.  Modern half morocco.  Bookplate of Alfred Chapin Rogers

In the first part of the eighteenth century, most of the territory between the Mississippi and the Rocky Mountains was claimed by France.  Even after the end of the Seven Years War in 1762, when formal control was yielded to Spain, the predominant settlement throughout "Louisiana" remained French.   

moeurs des sauvages

Rivers and Transport before European Settlement

Lafitau, Joseph-François, 1681-1746.
Moeurs des sauvages ameriquains, comparées aux moeurs des premiers temps. . . . enrichi de figures en taille-douce. 
2 vols. 
Paris: Saugrain l'aîné, 1724. Contemporary sprinkled calf. Label and stamping of South Carolina College library.

The Jesuit missionary Lafitau was chiefly concerned with native American life in the upper mid-West.    

French Settlement Moves Inlandhistoire de la louisiane

Le Page du Pratz, d. 1775.
Histoire de la Louisiane, contenant la decouverte de ce vaste pays. 
3 vols. Paris: De Bure, l'ainé, 1758.  Contemporary mottled calf.  Stamp of South Carolina College Library.

The map and illustration from Le Page’s account indicate the way that throughout the eighteenth century French settlers steadily pushed north and west from New Orleans up the Mississippi and Red rivers.

The American West before European Settlementbisons and elks

Karl Bodmer,
"Herds of Bisons and Elks," Plate 47, from Maximilian, Prince of Wied, 1782-1867, Travels in the interior of North America. . . . Translated from the German, by H. Evans Lloyd.
London: Ackermann, 1843.

Many of the illustrations of Indian life and the American West in this exhibition come from Prince Maximilian’s account of his travels in the United States in 1832-34, first published in German in 1839, and widely regarded as "the most Celebrated Book on Indian Life and the American Frontier".  The illustrator was a previously little-known Swiss artist, Karl Bodmer, who traveled with Maximilian up the Missouri on the steamboat Yellowstone. The plates were hand-colored aquatints, with the legend in three languages. 

River Travel in the Opening of the American Interiordelaware, I

Karl Bodmer,
"View on the Delaware near Bordenton," Vignette II,from Maximilian, Prince of Wied, 1782-1867, Travels in the interior of North America. . . ., 1839.

This is one of two Bodmer illustrations recently purchased with funds from the Barbara L. and David M. Graham Endowment for Library Acquisitions and Preservation as replacements for plates missing in the South Carolina College copy.

River Travel in the Opening of the American Interioremcampment, II

Karl Bodmer,
"Encampment of the Travellers on the Missouri", Vignette  XXII, from Maximilian, Prince of Wied, 1782-1867, Travels in the interior of North America. . . ., 1839. 

This illustration, drawn by Bodmer on his return journey downstream in November 1833, shows the isolation of travel on most of the Missouri, even thirty years after Lewis and Clark.

A British Military Expedition to Explore the American Westtravels interior 1766

Carver, Jonathan, 1710-1780.
Travels through the interior parts of North-America, in the years 1766, 1767, and 1768. 
First edition. London: Printed for the author, and sold by J. Walter, 1778. Two folding maps, plates.  Full tree calf, gilt, by Sangorski and Sutcliffe.  Bookplate of Alfred Chapin Rogers.

Carver, a British officer who with a small group of soldiers penetrated further into the west than any previous explorer, was the most widely-read of Lewis and Clark’s immediate precursors.  The Travels were probably ghosted for Carver by Dr. John Lettsom. 

columbia river

The Race to the Northwest, I

Vancouver, George, 1757-1798.

A voyage of discovery to the North Pacific ocean, and round the world; in which the coast of north-west America has been carefully examined and accurately surveyed. Undertaken by His  Majesty's command, principally with a view to ascertain the existence of any navigable communication between the North Pacific and North Atlantic oceans; and performed in the   years 1790, 1791, 1792, 1793, and 1795, in the Discovery sloop of war, and armed tender Chatham, under the command of Captain George Vancouver.3 vols. and atlas.  London: G. G. and J. Robinson, 1798.  Contemporary diced calf.  Label of South Carolina College library ["No. 346"].

The full subtitle of Vancouver’s account indicates clearly the national rivalries contending for the upper west coast of North America in the 1790's.   Both Britain and the United States were racing to join their eastern and western territories.  In 1792 Captain Robert Gray had brought his ship Columbia to a great river mouth that he named the Columbia River and claimed as American territory, and Vancouver was anxious to counter this claim. 

voyage from monteal

The Race to the Northwest, II

Mackenzie, Alexander, Sir, 1763-1820.
Voyages from Montreal, on the river St. Laurence, through the continent of North America, to the frozen and Pacific oceans; in the years 1789 and 1793.  
1st American ed.  
New York: G. F. Hopkins, 1802.  Modern red cloth.

The urgency of the international rivalry to find a route across North America was sharpened by this account by a Scot, Alexander Mackenzie.  While Mackenzie made his way successfully across from what is now Canada to the Pacific coast, he found no practicable transcontinental trade route.


Columbia Departments Campus Libraries
Columbia Libraries and Collections